We try to do some research before we go on a hike. We look at Trails.com first, usually, and then check out some of the other local hiking blogs when we choose a place to go. We want to know if it is worth seeing, and if it is within our general fitness/ability range. We download maps onto our GPS and usually carry a paper map and trail guide as well. So it’s kinda annoying when we actually do our homework and things don’t work out as planned. Big Dalton Dam would be one of those hikes.
The write-up on Trails.com, originally written up in a book entitled “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Los Angeles“, talks about waterfalls, an experimental forest, and a reservoir surrounded by pretty birdies. Unfortunately, while the experimental forest does exist, it didn’t do us any good, as there was no obvious way to understand what we were seeing. But the biggest downer was that the reservoir and waterfalls described in the guide were apparently accessible only beyond a locked gate that very clearly said “no hikers.” Furthermore, the guide suggested we park behind a gate that no longer exists (or at least no longer is locked), and missed little details like a group campground, trailheads along the way, and a set of switchbacks up to the left at one point that is suspiciously like the switchbacks up the dam written about in the guide, if none of the other features on the trail guide match up, but isn’t.
So did this FUBARed trail suck entirely? No. But I don’t know if you’d ever seek it out unless you were desperate for alternatives.
From the 57 and 210, get thee to Glendora Mountain Rd, via Rte 66, Sierra Madre Blvd, or Valley Center Ave. From there, turn right onto Big Dalton Canyon Road. The hike is actually within the Glendora Wilderness Park, rather than the National Forest, so no Adventure Pass is required.
We rode in past the debris dam and significantly beyond where the guide said to park, shortening our expected mileage, even after two pointless detours looking for the dam later. The trail/road was paved most of the way through the canyon, which was mostly shaded and followed the course of a fairly lively creek below.
A little less than a mile from where we parked, there was a bridge over the creek that led to a road that switch-backed up the northwest wall of the canyon. It was similar to the description in the trail guide for getting to the reservoir, so we went up, looking for the trail to the reservoir. We took the trail to the right at the top (towards where our gps said the reservoir was), but it quickly dead-ended, so we headed back down the switchbacks to the main trail/road again.
About a half mile beyond the left turnoff, we came to a gate that went all the way across the road and made it very clear that we weren’t welcome to go any further (see photo at top of page). After scratching our heads, we decided we must have made a mistake and that we just had headed the wrong way on the switchbacks earlier. So we went back up the side of the hill and headed towards the left this time figuring that maybe the trail went behind the hill and emerged back above the reservoir to the right. But we were wrong. Again. It came to a dead end at a retention basin of some sort, so we headed back down to the the main road/trail. Again.
We then ran into a guy on the trail who was a regular. He told us that the gate we’d encountered was indeed the way to the reservoir. Apparently on some very rare days, it is open and you can sneak past it, or you can merely befriend the trolls who live in the house just beyond the gate as he had, and they will sometimes let you cross their property to the reservoir. So that was the bad news. The good news was that he did confirm that we weren’t incompetent, and he told us that the dirt trail along the other side of the creek that we had seen on the way up was passable, and we could at least take that route back down to the parking lot.
This turned out to be the best part of the day. The single track trail along the creek under the trees was way better than the paved road up above it. It was nicely shaded and the creek was quite scenic and cool for the walk back down.
The path required a crossing or two, but it was pretty much impossible to get lost as we followed the creek back down. There were even a couple of wooden bridges along the way to get back and forth across the creek. One that led to what looked like a storage shed, and one down at the group camp, where there were vault toilets, a small amphitheater, and a bunch of boy scouts camping just across the creek from the road.
In the end, the hike was nothing like we expected it to be, but the run along the creek redeemed the day and kept it from being a total loss. So if you’re looking for a grand hike up to a reservoir along an experimental forest, don’t bother. If you’re only looking for a short, scenic hike along a shaded creek just outside of town, you could do worse. Parking about where we stopped, going up the road to where the switchbacks start on the left, and then coming back down the other side of the creek to the campground is a nice little 2 mile hike that would be good for getting younger kids (or a dog) out of the house for a bit. But beyond that…