Hiking Big Santa Anita Canyon via the Winter Creek Loop


Big Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Loop

Date Hiked: July 5, 2010
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer Winter
Check Trail Conditions: San Gabriel River Ranger District (626) 335-1251
Notes: Add extra mileage for parking on Chantry Flat Road. Parking in the lot at the trailhead is nearly impossible. Our map shows us parking one mile down the hill--not an unusual occurrence.
  • Distance: 6.25 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 1,169 feet
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Trail Type: Dirt and fire road
  • Difficulty: Moderate
Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Trail

This gate across from the parking lot marks the official staring point for the hike.

During one of the heat waves last summer, we sought out a hike near water that wouldn’t leave us fully exposed to the hot sun.  Jeff picked this hike, after reading reviews that indicated we would do more than half of the hike under forest covering, and then climb up and along a canyon wall that  would only leave us exposed for short periods of time.  Adding icing to the cake for this history buff, the area is packed with local history.

The reviews were accurate.  This is a great hike even during summer.  We want to try to do it again this spring to check out the wildflowers and the creek after this winter’s heavy rain storms.  Plus, our GPS tracks from this first hike bit the dust, so we want to go back and re-track our route for an updated trail map.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Trail

Follow the access road just a few minutes to reach the Lower Winter Creek Trail.

This loop hike is split between the Lower Winter Creek Trail and the Upper Winter Creek Trail, which join up at the Chantry Flat Recreation Area.  Chantry “Flats” is a highly popular spot in the San Gabriel Mountains, which includes a big public picnic area, a historic pack house, and access to a handful of trails — including the eastern trailhead for the 28.5 mile Gabrieleno Trail (not listed on the Greene Adventures hiking wishlist…yet).

As this was our first visit to the Flats, we had absolutely no idea how crowded this area gets on weekends (Disneyland crowded).  Although there is a decent sized parking lot at the Flats, cars were parked for miles down narrow windy Santa Anita Canyon Road (aka “Chantry Flats Road”), wedged into every possible space along the sections of mountain and canyon walls that weren’t designated as No Parking zones.  Jeff and I calculated that we had to park a good mile from the Flats, adding an additional two miles to our round-trip hike (this is not factored into the trail distance noted above).

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Adams Pack Station in Chantry Flats is the last remaining pack station located in the Angeles National Forest, and has been in continuous operation since 1936. It is throwing a big 75th anniversary celebration on April 17, 2011, when a new historical marker will be unveiled. Expect big crowds.

After our 1 mile trek up to the parking lot, we hit a gate that marks the official starting point of our hike (as well as the start of the Gabrieleno Trail), a paved road that descends into the canyon.  This road gets really crowded with hikers, baby strollers and mountain bikes since it also serves as the starting point for the much more popular Sturtevant Falls hike.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Jeff marking our GPS with the start of the Lower Winter Creek Trail.

Fortunately for us, we only had to follow the road for a few minutes to the Lower Winter Creek trailhead (0.2 miles), which is located on your right (next to bench) just as the paved road makes a sharp turn to the left.

Lower Winter Creek Trail is a narrow dirt singletrack trail that quickly descends down to a cool shady protected canyon area that used to be named First Water Camp.

The creek canyon is dotted with a series of check dams consisting of massive cement “logs” that help keep potential flood waters under control (built in response to the great flood of 1938).1 Despite their unnatural look, the dams, which are overgrown with vegetation, and release trickles of waterfall-like spillover, are quite picturesque and soothing.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

One of the check dams along Lower Winter Creek Trail.

The approach to the first of these check dams proved a bit confusing for us, because the trail isn’t well marked here.  The trail — very well cleared and worn — appears to head straight towards the dam, resulting in what would be a scramble up the left bank of the dam.  After a bit more analysis of the area, we realized that the real trail actually crosses the creek prior to reaching this dam and picks up again on the opposite bank.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

We counted at least a half dozen creek crossings along Lower Winter Creek Trail.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

My favorite of the historic cabins along the Lower Winter Creek Trail.

Historic rustic cabins, built during Southern California’s “Great Hiking Era” — which took place between the real estate boom of the late 1880s and the great flood of 1938 — can be found throughout Big Santa Anita Canyon, along both the Lower and Upper Winter Creek Trails.1

Like the cabins in Holy Jim Canyon, these are privately owned recreational residences, on land leased through the Forest Service.

Continue along Lower Winter Creek Trail for 3/4 mile until it climbs to re-join the crowded Gabrieleno Trail, which is packed with people headed to Sturtevant Falls.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Where Lower Winter Creek Trail meets back up with the Gabrieleno Trail.

This trail junction marks the site of Roberts Camp (1912 – 1931), one of many trail camps that sprang up in the San Gabriels during the great hiking era.1

The camp, once one of the busiest tourist resorts in the mountains, was so popular that it housed a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library as well as a post office.  The abandoned lodge was destroyed in the big storm of 1938.

Robberts Camp, ca. 1912 - ca. 1931

The tent houses and cabins that made up Roberts Camp, ca. 1912 - ca. 1931. (Sierra Madre Historical Archives Collection, Sierra Madre Public Library)

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

This historical marker at the junction tells the story of Roberts Camp.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

All that remains is the stone steps, being reclaimed by nature.


Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Jeff and Holly catch the Upper Winter Creek Trailhead.

The trailhead to Upper Winter Creek is on the other side of the  Gabrieleno Trail, almost directly across from where you climbed up from the lower trail.

Upper Winter Creek Trail continues to meander through more historical cabins and concrete dams, with some additional water crossings.  Note what appears to be wiring strung through the trees, this is a phone line that connects scattered old crank-style emergency phones to the rangers at the pack station.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Jeff pretending to use the emergency phone that connects to Chantry Flats.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Big beautiful blooms we discovered along Upper Winter Creek.







At approximately 1.5 miles from the Gabrieleno Trail junction, you reach Hoegee’s Campground, a primitive hike-in trail camp that occupies the former site of Hoagee’s Camp, yet another popular trail camp that was in operation from 1908 to the 1950s.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Hoegee's Trail Camp. An excellent spot to rest a spell and enjoy lunch.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

An old stone chimney.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

The historical marker.

Hoegee's Camp

Hoegee's Camp dining room and store -- no date noted. (Sierra Madre Historical Archives Collection, Sierra Madre Public Library)

From Hoegee’s Camp, it’s approximately 3 miles back to Chantry Flats, continuing along the Upper Winter Creek Trail.  You will pass the junctions for both Mount Zion and Mount Wilson.  This section of trail starts to climb steeply up the canyon wall, and gets a bit narrow at times.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Parts of Upper Winter Creek Trail get quite narrow, with sheer drops to the canyon below.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Another section of very narrow footing on the trail, alongside a rocky escarpment.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Starting our descent down to Chantry Flats. You can see the parking lot, with Santa Anita Canyon Road in the background.

Upper Winter Creek Trail dumps you on to the paved access road that services the popular picnic grounds and the pack store. Follow it through the picnic area to return to the Chantry Flats parking lot.

If you’re not in a hurry, wander over to the pack store. There’s fun historical memorabilia on display, and listings of any historic cabins for sale. It’s staffed by friendly folks who grill big burgers made-to-order, and they sell cold drinks as well as ice cream and snacks. We spent a little time there relaxing and enjoying some of that cold cold ice cream…the perfect way to end a hike on a hot July day.

Santa Anita Canyon: Winter Creek Hike

Here the Upper Winter Creek Trail dumps us on to the paved road that winds through the Chantry Flat picnic area.

View larger map.

Elevation Chart: Upper & Lower Winter Creel Loop

Hike elevation profile. Click through for larger view.

1. Hoffman, A. (1976). Mountain Resorts and Trail Camps in Southern California’s Great Hiking Era, 1884-1938. Southern California Quarterly, 58:3, 381-406.


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