Powder Canyon via the Black Walnut-Powder Canyon-Nogales Trails Loop
Date Hiked: November 11, 2011
Best Season: Autumn Spring Summer Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Puente Hills Habitat Preservation Authority (562) 945-9003, extension 5#
Notes: If hiking during summer, do it early in the day.
- Distance: 2.4 miles round-trip
- Elevation Gain: 400 feet
- Route Type: Loop
- Trail Type: Dirt fire road and single track
- Difficulty: Moderate
On a recent Fall day, the local tv weather bimbettes had predicted rain all night and the following day, so we really hadn’t planned to get in a hike, even though we were both off work. But when we woke up at 930am (much later than “serious hikers”, I know, but we are rarely serious), there was still no rain. We had some coffee, and fired up our computers, and after re-checking the weather, decided that a nice cool, dry day was the perfect opportunity to check out one of our local hikes that we thought was too exposed to hike on a warmer SoCal day. Our late wake-up, also meant that it had to be relatively short and relatively close, as we had evening plans to deal with as well.
Our answer was to revisit the Whittier/Brea/Puente Hills area right in our back yard. We had previously hiked a piece of Hellman Wilderness Park on the far western end of the range, and enjoyed it, so we planned to come back and hit several other hikes along that stretch. On this particular day I had chosen to hike a short loop in Powder Canyon (links to a pay site), immediately east of Schabarum Regional Park, and basically the easternmost park in the hills. This is a part (as is Hellman Wilderness Park) of the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Preservation Authority, as you can see from this map here.
There are trails that will take you from one end of the range to the other, but on this particular day, we were just hitting a short loop of it in Powder Canyon, just off the 57 and the 60, where Harbor Boulevard basically ends. There are several access points to Powder Canyon on the north side of Fullerton Road, just west of Harbor Blvd (it is easier if you get on Fullerton Road from the northern junction with Harbor, rather than the southern one). From that northern junction, we parked on the street at the first trail access sign, though in the future we’d probably park by the stables in the dedicated parking lot, the road to which is the middle access on this road.
There was a kiosk with a map right here where we parked, but unlike the trailhead by the stables, there weren’t trail maps available to take with you. The trailhead is nicely shaded, and while it isn’t well-marked, it is basically a fire road, and pretty obvious which way you need to go. Within a few hundred feet is a road splitting off to the right, but you’ll just want to stay straight.
At the quarter mile mark, just as the trail starts to seriously climb, you’ll pass a trail junction with a sign indicating that you are on Black Walnut Trail (we actually thought we were on Powder Canyon up until now!), and indicating that you can turn left down a single track trail labeled as Nogales trail (which is actually how we came back to the trail to complete the loop).
At about 2.5 miles and a 400 foot elevation gain, so this is not a hardcore hike by any stretch, but ALL of the climbing is done in the first 3/4 mile (as you can see in the elevation profile below), and most of it is exposed to the sun, so we can’t quite call it easy, either. On this particular day, the sun surprisingly did break through, and even though it never got hot, it was still quite warm in the direct sun as we made the climb, so be aware of this possibility.
Just shy of the 3/4 mile mark, there is a fork in the trail/road that heads up to the right. The right fork is not part of the loop, but we highly recommend taking this spur up to a plateau with a big transmission tower on it. From here, you’ll have the best views you will get on this trail, with unobstructed shots of the San Gabriel Valley and the entire San Gabriel Mountain Range. This is also the highest point on the hike.
Return to the main trail and turn right, where you will begin to descend, though much more gradually than you climbed. At the one mile mark (including the side-trip to the tower plateau), you will start to enter a shaded canyon, with very nice trees and vegetation on both sides of the trail. You’ll make a sort of a hairpin turn in the trail, and from there it is a straight shot southwest towards the junction with Powder Canyon Trail at the 1.5 mile mark.
If you turned right, you would hook up with the Skyline Trail that connects the entire trail system all the way to Hellman Wilderness Park, but we turned left to complete the loop. This is the nicest stretch of the trail, with sections being fully beneath the oak canopy, and almost all the sights and sounds of civilization suddenly gone.
At the 1.7 mile mark, we passed a junction with the Gray Squirrel Trail, which we found out later would lead to the westernmost trailhead/parking area on Fullerton Road for this trail system.
We emerged from the shaded trail part of Powder Canyon right about at the 2 mile mark, and very shortly thereafter came to a horse corral, parking area, and an information kiosk with a map of the area, as well as paper trail maps to take with you (at least on the day we were there). The parking area is not large, but certainly larger than the street parking area where we stopped, so we would probably choose to park here in the future.
Just past the corral and parking area was the southern junction of the Nogales Trail. Having a decent map now, and remembering having seen it at the beginning of the Black Walnut Trail, we abandoned our original plan of just hiking to the street and finishing the hike along the pavement, and took the Nogales Trail uphill back to the Black Walnut Trail.
This stretch was exposed to the sun again, but it was only about 500 feet long and maybe 50 feet in elevation we had to climb, so it wasn’t bad at all–certainly better than walking the last stretch along Fullerton Road. We turned right when we hit the junction with Black Walnut Trail, and within 1,000 feet, we were back at the truck again.
Overall this was a surprisingly nice hike, considering how little we had planned for it and how close it is to, well, everyone! Its location not far from the 60 and 57 freeways makes it convenient to Orange, LA, and San Bernardino Counties puts it in the middle of everywhere, but despite that fact, it did feel relatively wildernessy at times. So if you’re looking to stretch your legs and don’t want to walk around the same paved park path you usually do when you don’t have time for a “real” hike, you might consider heading to Powder Canyon. We hear it is nice in the Spring when the wildlowers bloom, and we can vouch for how nice it is on a cool Fall or Winter day, but you might want to avoid it when the sun is blazing at full strength…
View Powder Canyon in a larger map