Big Santa Anita Canyon: Sturtevant Falls Trail
Date Hiked: February 5, 2011
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer Winter
Check Trail Conditions: San Gabriel River Ranger District (626) 335-1251
- Distance: 4.6 miles round-trip as hiked--3.5 from the trailhead
- Elevation Gain: 399 feet
- Route Type: Out-and-Back
- Trail Type: Dirt and fire road
- Difficulty: Moderate
The day before Super Bowl, we finally took our son Hunter hiking to Sturtevant Falls in the Angeles National Forest. I say “finally” because Jeff and I hiked a portion of this trail last summer for our Winter Creek Trail Loop hike in Big Santa Anita Canyon. We knew Sturtevant Falls was supposed to be very kid-friendly, and we wanted to wait until after a full winter rain season to visit.
Remembering the horrendous crowds at Chantry Flat Recreation Area (“Chantry Flats”) from our previous hike, we foolishly thought early February would still be a bit too early in the year for the masses to be out hiking, and that most people would opt to stay at home on Super Bowl weekend. We were wrong.
Chantry Flats was at least as crowded, if not more so, than last time. We again had to park a full mile away from the trailhead…and unlike last time, we actually saw the rangers giving out tickets to cars illegally parked in clearly marked “No Parking” areas or not displaying a Forest Service Adventure Pass.
If you haven’t read our previous post on Big Santa Anita Canyon, or aren’t familiar with the 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).
The official trailhead (which is also the start of the Gabrieleno Trail) is 1 mile up from where we parked, and is marked by a gate blocking vehicle access to a paved road that descends into the canyon. The trail is very crowded, and it stays crowded the entire way — Sturtevant Falls is the most popular hike in the area. Note: the mileage we list for this hike includes the extra mileage to and from our vehicle.
The paved section of trail ends at a wooden bridge that spans the creek. Our Beagle pup Holly isn’t too fond of wooden bridges, so we opted to cross the creek by hopping rocks at the base of the nearby cement check damn.
The foot bridge dumps you into the busiest intersection in the canyon. This trail junction marks the site of Roberts Camp (1912 – 1931), one of many trail camps that sprang up in the San Gabriels during Southern California’s “Great Hiking Era” — which took place between the real estate boom of the late 1880s and the great flood of 1938.1
The camp, once a major destination resort in the San Gabriel 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.
For history buffs like me, the hike to Sturtevant Falls is a pure treat. In addition to the sheer beauty of the area, Big Santa Anita Canyon, and the trail from Chantry Flats is packed with with history. The 50-foot waterfall is named after canyon pioneer William M. Sturtevant, who arrived in California from Colorado in the early 1880s.1
Sturtevant was the founding proprietor of nearby Sturtevant’s Camp, which opened in 1892, 1893 or 1898 (depending which account you read). The hike-in camp is still standing, and was until recently still in operation. Its website states the camp is temporarily closed, and news articles indicate it is in danger of being permanently closed. I left a voicemail at the reservation line last week, but haven’t received a return call from anyone.
The trail from Roberts Camp to Sturtevant Falls runs along the creek the entire way, and is very easy to follow. It is quite shady and protected most of the way, although there are a couple spots that open up to the exposed sun. And after winter and spring rains, do be prepared to get your boots a bit wet from the creek crossings.
There is a nice wide flat “beach” at the base of the falls that was crowded, even in early February, with people sitting and enjoying the beautiful 50-foot waterfall and the cool spray it generated. We were able to wander across to the far side of the falls to enjoy our picnic on a little more secluded area of beach. But, I have no doubt that on a warm sunny weekend, the entire beach — and especially the natural pool — gets absolutely packed with hikers.
After taking in the falls, retrace your route to return to the Chantry Flat parking lot. And be sure to stop by the historic pack station to grab a grilled burger or a cold ice cream.
3. STURTEVANT’S CAMP :Application for a New Permit to Keep Open This Oasis in the Mouutain Wilderness.. (1901, March 31). Los Angeles Times (1886-1922),p. B7. Retrieved March 28, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 – 1987). (Document ID: 326676652).