The West Fork: Fun For the Hiker of Any Level

This week's hike in the San Gabriels focuses on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, a relatively easy and enjoy hike that features an appeal for people of any skill level.

Ever wished there was a trail that was paved, flat, easy, and fun to hike on… and was in the middle of nowhere, seemingly? Well, there is, and it’s called the West Fork.

Nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains, 20 minutes north of Azusa, the West Fork trail is a quite an anomaly of hiking trails. The trail is actually a relatively flat paved road, which runs directly west of route 39, along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. There are multiple ways to recreate on the West Fork.  

Interested in swimming? For the first half mile of the trail, you will most likely see herds of peoples swimming in the relatively clean waters of this precious watershed

Interested in solitude? Once past the one-mile marker, the crowds die down considerably and the recreational landscape changes significantly. The trail conspicuously splits into two separate trails at the first bridge crossing. The trail that swings north, crossing in and out of a tributary, Bear Creek, and extends many miles up through the desolate San Gabriel Wilderness.  

Interested in fishing? The paved West Fork trail continues its westward trajectory past the Bear Canyon trail split and enters into an appointed catch-and-release section of the San Gabriel River. This is a popular place for fly fisherman to hook into rainbow trout and even features several handicapped-accessible fishing piers.

Interested in a day or overnight camping trip? The next four miles of the trail is laden with picnic table after picnic table, ripe and ready for an enjoyable picnic. At the 6-mile marker on the trail, Glen Campground appears. This well-maintained campground receives a surprisingly low amount of traffic and provides a convenient enough getaway from Los Angeles.

Finally, if you’re interested in a long hike or mountain bike ride, you can follow the paved trail up to Cogswell Reservoir (8 miles in) and past, up steeper terrain towards Rincon Road and Monrovia Peak.   The West Fork trail is an enjoyable and varied path that truly offers something for everyone!


Hike At A Glance:

Difficulty (1-10): 1

Distance: This hike can be anywhere between 1 and 15 miles long, depending on your goal.

Scenery: This trail runs adjacent to the rushing water of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.   Crowds often gather during the first mile but after that, crowds are rare.

Best time to go: This area can be extremely crowded on weekends – so I’d recommend weekdays.

Trail condition: This trail is paved.  It doesn’t get easier than that.

Other considerations: From time to time, I hear reports about car thefts around the West Fork area.   Before you leave your car, make sure everything in your car is out of view so as to minimize your risk. Even though this is an easier hike, be prepared for any of the common risks of hiking in our local mountains, including bears, snakes, and poison oak.  Also, display your Adventure Pass on the dashboard of your car.   If you don’t have one, they cost $5 for a day or $30 for a year and can be purchased at REI or most other sporting stores in the area.

Getting there: Take the 210 east to Azusa Ave./Route 39.   Take Route 39 north through Azusa and into Angeles National Forest.   A few minutes after passing East Fork Rd., you will see the clearly marked West Fork parking lots.

Ron Cooper July 25, 2011 at 08:48 PM
*Update to my previous post.* This article inspired me to dig into my archives and come up with a few more photographs from one of my rides. I believe that these were all taken 4 or 5 years ago by my good friend Mitch as we were riding the trail together. I highly recommend this trail for any level of rider. At this time of year, with the warm weather, it is also nice to be able to jump into the river and cool down. I have taken this ride wearing only a bathing suit expressly in order to enjoy that possibility. Ride on!
Crystal Lake July 26, 2011 at 01:29 AM
It is a good hike. On the 13th of May I encountered a mountain lion about 3.5 miles in along West Fork, I had laid down my sleeping bag around midnight not knowing that I has quietly "trapped" the critter up against the hillside on dry leaves so it felt it couldn't leave. Around about 3 in the morning in the pitch black it started to rain so I moved my hat to cover my face and not 30 feet from he it growled and then screamed -- which woke me up solid! I slapped the ground with my hat to avoid looking like food and it leaped back behind me then started *barking*. It was still barking in the dark after I hastily grabbed my things and pushed my bike back toward Highway 39; I could hear it barking -- rar! rar! rar! -- a quarter mile behind me after I walked away quickly, hoping it wouldn't follow. It is real wildlife in there.
Matthew Cavanaugh July 26, 2011 at 05:20 AM
Hey Everybody- Thanks for the feedback! Karen - Thanks for helping to clean up the trail. That's a brilliant idea, to take a garbage bag with, especially in an area like this that does get a good volume of traffic. Ron - thanks for the photos, as always! You're always free to post photos to these articles. I appreciate seeing the different perspectives in the photos, too. Crystal Lake - that's a crazy story! Are you sure that wasn't a coyote? In my experience, they seem to bark much more than a mountain lion typically.
West Fork Conservancy July 26, 2011 at 07:50 PM
Anyone who enjoys the West Fork as much as we do is encouraged to join us in it's preservation. The "West Fork San Gabriel River Conservancy" is focused on the preservation and restoration of his beautiful but highly stressed Tailwater. For a photo page on what we do, please visit http://www.westforksgrc.org/photo_album.html "Giving back" is a wonderful thing and we'd love to have you out!
Dan Abendschein July 26, 2011 at 08:37 PM
This is also a great trail to bike on. You can ride in 6 miles on pavement before it gets steep and requires serious leg work. I highly recommend this one on a sunny winter day - I last went in February and a unseasonably warm day- that time of year it is very green and the river levels are high. Also there are not nearly so many people there that time of year.


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