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Big Santa Anita Canyon
Map & Facilities

Table of Contents   (Visit the History of the Pack Station for background on Chantry Flat)

Click to EnlargeThe Facilities of BigSAC 

The Trails of BigSAC


   The Facilities of BigSAC

•   Adams' Pack Station is located at the south end of Chantry Flat, adjacent the picnic area and opposite the Firehouse. The privately-run store is open to the public (closed Mondays). We sell the parking passes and offer a fine selection of drinks, snacks and ice cream, among other things. Click Here for the store's page. (back to top)

•   Chantry Flat Picnic Area was officially designated as such in 1958 (Prior to that, the area above the parking lots was a public campground built by the Civilian Conservation Corps). Renovation and expansion of the picnic facilities started in late 2004. The project was delayed by washouts on the road up, and was finished at the end of August, 2006.
   The new "Picnic Grove", as it's known to locals, has 35 sites - all handicap accessible. Each has a new concrete picnic table and spacious charcoal BBQ's. Water spigots are installed throughout for cooking and clean-up. The concrete pads and walkways, poured with a tan coloring added, were cleverly stamped with wild animal footprints. Every effort was made to retain existing, historic rock walls. The flush toilet facilities were left intact and a double pit toilet was added at the Gabrielino Trail head. The gate to Chantry Flat is open 6am to 10pm. No camping is allowed in the picnic area. (back to top)

•   Hogee's Campground is 2.5 miles from Chantry by way of the Lower Winter Creek Trail, 3 miles by the Upper. The site is named for Hogee's resort which stood just upstream. The concrete foundation in the center of the campground was a private cabin which burned down decades ago.
   This facility has 15 campsites, each with table, fire ring and wood-burning stove. There are 2 men's toilets & 2 women's. Please pack out your garbage. Site is shady year round with perennial water. Popular with Boy Scouts. It is illegal to take wood and water from the nearby cabins. Please observe quiet time and don't climb the check dams. Emergency call box is 100 yards upstream on the other side. (back to top)

•   Spruce Grove Campground, named for the old stands of Big-cone Spruce in the area, is nearly 4 miles from Chantry. It has 7 sites w/ tables and wood-burning stoves. 1 men's toilets, 1 women's, pack out your garbage. Shady year round, perennial water. It is illegal to take wood and water from the nearby cabins. Please observe quiet time. Emergency call box is just upstream at Sturtevant's Camp next to the "Ranger Cabin". (back to top)

•   Cascade Picnic Area is listed as having two tables, but only has one. One toilet, no garbage service. If you can ignore the looming check dam this a beautiful location when the water is flowing well. The Cascades can be slippery and dangerous, so be careful. (back to top)

•   Newcomb Pass Picnic Area is probably not officially recognized and mostly used as a rest stop on the Gabrielino Trail, but I find the mysterious two tables a nice destination spot. There is a short spur of the Rincon-Red Box Road that leads you to Newcomb Saddle and views of the High Country. (back to top)

•   Sturtevant's Camp is privately owned and operated by the California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. However it is open to the public. Cabin capacity is 40 people - camp can be made exclusive with a reservation of 30 or more.
   Quarters consist of four identical cabins, each sleeping eight, a Honeymoon Cottage and the Retreat Lodge with its own kitchen and bath - sleeps 2-8. All cabins have electric lights in the evening and propane wall heaters. His & hers bath house has flush toilets and hot showers.
   Common facilities include a spacious dining hall and two fireplace rooms, one w/ a piano and the other the converted log ranger cabin; and an outdoor chapel. The industrial kitchen is at your disposal and offers three refrigerators, two Wolf ovens, one w/ 6-burner top and one griddle top, and all the plates, silverware, knives and utensils you could possibly need. Supply your own food or catering services may be arranged.
   Recreation at camp includes volleyball, badminton, ping-pong, tetherball, horseshoes, croquet, zip line, big swing, games, waterslide in summer, self-guided nature walk and, of course, swimming in the creek.
   Once there, you'll be amazed that all of this is in the middle of the forest, miles from any road, and that most of it came in, bit by bit, on the backs of donkeys. And you can't beat the hospitality of camp hosts Chris and Joan Kasten and Nattie. Dogs typically welcome but ask first.
   Both day rates and room rates are extremely reasonable. In fact, a stay at Sturtevant's is the best deal in Southern California! Contact the pack station if you would like your food and gear carried by donkey - it's part of the whole experience.

Visit their web site:
 (back to top)

         For reservations/availability:                For tour & more info:

           Camping Reservation Office                 Sturtevant's Camp
         P.O. Box 6006 / 110 S. Euclid Ave.                   P.O. Box 847
           Pasadena, Ca 91102-6006                                 Sierra Madre, Ca 91025-0847
        (626) 568-7333 or                                                (760) 249-4626
        (800) 244-8622 x333                                           fax (760) 249-4626

•   Restrooms: Flush toilets w/ sinks at Chantry Flat Picnic Area; pit toilets, officially known as "sweet smelling toilets", at Gabrielino Trail head, Roberts Camp, near Sturtevant Falls, Hogee's Campground, Cascade Picnic Area and Spruce Grove Campground. (back to top)

•   Garbage: There are many bear cans throughout the Chantry Flat Picnic Area, including one at the Gabrielino Trail head; garbage at the Pack Station is for customers only. One small can on the Roberts' Road at the First Water junction. More bear cans at Roberts' Camp and cans at the Sturtevant Falls toilet. The garbage cans have been removed from the campgrounds and Cascade. PLEASE, for the sake of longevity, do not throw garbage in the pit toilets! (back to top)

•   Emergency Phones: Yet another unique historic feature of this canyon is the crank-operated phone system, possibly the largest left in the country. Roughly half of the cabins are wired and there are nine call boxes for public emergency use. One ring will contact someone at the pack station who can then call out for help. Locations are: #1 in First Water next to cabin #7, #2 at Roberts' Camp 200ft. up Winter Creek, #3 in Winter Creek just before Cabin 115, #4 in Winter Creek halfway to Hogee's, #5 In Winter Creek across the stream and up from Hogee's, #6 missing, #7 at Fern Lodge Junction, #8 1/4 mile above Sturtevant Falls, #9 at Cascade Picnic Area and #10 at Sturtevant's Camp next to the log cabin. (back to top)

•   Other Infrastructure: You will notice, at Chantry Flat, several official-looking block buildings. The largest, at center, is a garage with maintenance yard for fire fighting equipment. Across the driveway is the firefighters' barracks. The office/visitors' center at the front of the garage was nicely remodeled then promptly shut down - never to be used (sorry, guys - had to tell the truth).
   The two structures up behind the garage are 3-bedroom houses rented to Forest Service Employees. Please do not disturb the residents.
   Also at Chantry, behind the picnic area is a large wooden shed. This was built by a group of volunteers, known as The Big Santa Anita Gang, to house trail tools. A corral and shelter was added by volunteer horse patrolmen.
   The water system for Chantry Flat has been ever evolving. Currently the source is a lateral well in San Olene Canyon, right next to the fire road. This is gravity fed to a pump house, also on the road, where the water is filtered and treated. From there it is sent to a 315,000 gallon storage tank just above the picnic area.
   On the ridge behind the Pack Station, at the end of the paved section of San Olene Road, is the Chantry Heliport. The office there is rarely used now, but once had a well-tended landscape including an outdoor dining room and an outdoor hot shower. The garage is now home to a microwave communications center which supplies telephone service to Chantry Flat; beamed up from the Forest Supervisor's Office on Santa Anita Ave. at the 210 Fwy.
   The Los Angeles County Public Works Department, Flood Control District, has made the largest impact on Big Santa Anita Canyon. On your way up the road, you can't help but notice Santa Anita Dam. It was completed in 1927 to store municipal water and to hold back debris. There is an associated guaging station, no longer used, just above Hermit Falls.
   The DWP and a very different Forest Service decided to build the many "check dams" in the canyon, also to control debris. The first construction road was started in 1959 and by 1966, every section of the watershed contained check dams except the East Fork. All the clear-cutting, blasting, gunite-spraying, trout-blocking and general defacement was in vain. Three years later, as the waters of the 1969 flood receded, the check dams had been filled, causing the loss of nine cabins and forever changing the natural hydrology.
* NOTE: The above information was taken from the Glen Owens book The Heritage of the Big Santa Anita. I have since been informed that the check dams were back filled as they were constructed - before the flood. My informants have witnessed photographic proof of this.  (back to top)

The Trails of BigSAC

•   Gabrielino Trail: When several existing trails were renamed to make a "new" 28.5 mile trail in 1970, in compliance with the National Trails System Act, the Forest Service's self-congratulatory announcement read as follows: "This trail has been created for you - the city dweller - so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature". The eastern end and six miles of it are in this canyon. This is also the starting point for most trips in the Big Santa Anita. The trailhead is at the white pipe gate just as you enter the Chantry parking lot. Follow the asphalt road 3/4 mile to the bottom. Here, where Winter Creek meets the main creek, is the site of Roberts' Camp and still so called. Ford the water or cross the green footbridge (relocated from First Water Camp) and continue on the broad center trail 1 1/4 miles to Fern Lodge Junction. Here you choose either the Upper Falls Trail or the Stock Trail that rejoin in one mile. At four miles from Chantry and past Spruce Grove you reach a 3-way junction. Left and center take you to Sturtevant's Camp in a hundred yards, right takes you to Newcomb Pass and out of the Big Santa Anita watershed. Going the distance takes you down into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, up to Red Box Saddle, then down the Arroyo Seco to JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). The other trail head is at Windsor Ave. in Altadena.  (back to top)

•   To Sturtevant Falls: Follow the directions for the Gabrielino Trail but stay forward, do not turn left at Fern Lodge Junction. The next stream ford has been known as Fiddler's Crossing since 1979. If your lucky you'll find out why. About halfway between Fiddler's Crossing and the mouth of Stumbledown Canyon, you may notice a clearing just up and across from cabin 87. This was the site of the Sierra Club's Muir Lodge, which was washed away in the 1938 flood. The last bit of trail, past the outhouse, is a boulder-hop to the falls. Many people have been injured attempting to climb to the top. To see the pools above, backtrack and use the Upper Falls Trail. (back to top)

•   First Water Trail: This trail roughly follows the original built by the Forest Service in the early 1900's. The trailhead was lost with the construction of the road and was relocated to the second bend in the Roberts Road. The obvious derivation of the name is that taking this trail took you to reliable water much sooner than by continuing on the Sturtevant Trail into Winter Creek. The trail is actually in two parts - the switchbacks that drop you to the streambed and the foot-worn tracks running from Roberts' Camp to the back of the reservoir. The first stream ford below Roberts' is known as Mexican Crossing; why I don't know. Where the switchbacks meet the bottom at cabin #7 is the site of First Water Camp. Continue downstream and you will find the swimming holes at the top of Hermit Falls, about 2 miles from Chantry. Be careful - NO DIVING! Just behind the reservoir, where the Alders end, you can spot a few Deodar Cedars on the east bank. This is the site of the Frank "The Hermit" Volvin's cabin.  (back to top)

•   Upper Falls Trail: Follow directions for Gabrielino Trail to Fern Lodge Junction. You will see cabin #76 just above the main trail with one trail on each side. To the left is the stock trail. Go right for the Upper Falls Trail. This will first take you to the pools immediately above Sturtevant Falls. DO NOT attempt to climb down to them - at least one person has died trying. There is much safer swimming to be had just upstream. This spot has a broad, shallow pool, sometimes with a small "beach", a deeper middle pool, then a narrow deep pool under a water drop. The trail continues up the canyon bottom passing cabin #94 and the foundations of several others. You will also see a check dam to the right of the trail. This is the mouth of the North Fork. The trail passes directly through the site of a former cabin where ivy grows over a large boulder forming a little grotto; this section is known as Laughing Waters. It is said that if you are very quiet, you can hear a little girl laughing. Just past here look keenly for a small footpath on the other side of the stream. This will take you up to Falling Sign Junction where you join the stock trail. Turn left here to make a 6-7 mile loop back to Chantry, turn right to continue on to Cascade, Spruce Grove, Sturtevant's Camp and Mt. Wilson or to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. (back to top)

•   Stock Trail: Follow directions for Gabrielino Trail to Fern Lodge Junction. You will see cabin #76 just above the main trail with one trail on each side. To the right is the Upper Falls Trail. Go left for the stock trail. You will pass through the site and concrete foundations of Fern Lodge. Shortly, the trail emerges from the trees and switches back. This is called Tin Can Point and one of the few locations for cell phone reception. The trail contours the hillside, passing through quaint place names like Step-On-My-Toe Canyon, Hogee's Drop-off, Jodi's Meadow and Tiger Lily Canyon. About one mile from Fern Lodge you will see the Upper Falls Trail coming up from the bottom at Falling Sign Junction. Turn right here to make a 6-7 mile loop back to Chantry, stay forward to continue on to Cascade, Spruce Grove, Sturtevant's Camp and Mt. Wilson; or to the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. (back to top)

•   Lower Winter Creek: Follow the Gabrielino Trail. At Roberts' Camp take the trail to the left of the toilets over the check dam. Just after the first crossing you will see a cave on your left. This was an exploratory tunnel left from Roberts' Mine. Note the spring drilled out just to the right of the opening. To get fresh water year round, insert the rounded end of a Bay leaf into the hole - this will act as a spout. The east end of the next check dam is covering the shaft of Roberts' Mine. In another short distance you will see the foundation of a cabin and a toppled chimney. This cabin burned down in the 1970's. While attempting to douse the flames, the firefighting helicopter crashed to the ground; no injuries. After you pass the second cluster of cabins, at the 2 1/2 mile mark, you reach Hogee's Campground, named in honor Hogee's resort, the site of which you will see in another 1/8 mile, across the stream. The junction at old Hogee's can take you up & over Mt. Zion to the right or stay left to cross the creek once more and join Upper Winter Creek Trail. The Lower Winter Creek Trail is most often combined with the upper to make a pleasant 5 1/2 mile loop, allow several hours. (back to top)

•   Upper Winter Creek Trail: 3 easy miles to Hogee's Campground. This trail is part of the old Burlingame wagon road from Sierra Madre built to retrieve timber. Take the asphalt road at the upper Chantry Parking lot, to the left of the Forest Service housing. In 1/4 mile, at the third sharp bend in the road, a wooden sign marks the trail to your right. In short distance you will cross a trickling little creek (unless after heavy rain). This is Santa Oline Creek and the source of water for Chantry Flat. It was named for one in a party of Sierra Madre socialites who took a particular liking to the spot when they stopped for a break here on opening day of the first five miles, Feb. 27,1896. Her name was Miss Oline Newall. It was meant as a joke but the name stuck after an account of the trip was published in a local newspaper. In about another mile you pass through a small canyon reminiscent of Santa Oline but with less water. This is Charlie's Canyon, named for former Navy cook Charlie McDaniel, who lived in cabin #116 where the canyon meets Winter Creek. In another mile or so, as the trail drops into the canyon. Just before you reach the streambed, as cabin #134 comes into view, there is a junction for Mt. Wilson left or Lower Winter Creek right. The Upper Winter Creek Trail is most often combined with the lower to make a pleasant 5 1/2 mile loop, allow several hours. (back to top)

•   Mt. Zion Trail: The last stretch of Sturtevant's second trail and a part he built himself. From Laanan Canyon (above Santa Anita Ave.) to Winter Creek he simply had to refurbish the old Burlingame wagon road, built to retrieve timber. To continue on to his camp, he had to contend with Zion Ridge. One story he told was that his choice in routing the trail was made simply by following a bear up the rugged south-facing slope, assuming that the bear knew the best way. This would account for the trail's haphazard quality and the 1,000ft gain in 1.5 miles, but it sounds absurd. He was also overheard to suggest that his stubborn nature was to blame, that when it was recommended he go around the ridge, he went over. I think he invented these stories when he realized that the Burlingame brothers' trail building skills were far superior to his own. There is also a strong possibility that this project was a dypsomaniacal event. From the junction with Lower Winter Creek Trail, about 2500', the trail climbs to Zion Saddle at just over 3500'. Here there is a 1/4 mile spur trail to the summit of Mt. Zion. The trail down the north side of the ridge is a pleasant 300' drop in 1 1/2 miles to Sturtevant's Camp.
   This lesser-used trail was almost lost until its renovation in the late 1970's and again in 1985. It is sometimes used by Winter Creek cabin owners when visiting Sturtevant's but combined with the Gabrielino Trail and Lower Winter Creek it makes a fine 9 1/2 mile loop; 10 miles by Upper Winter Creek. Because of the steep south side of Zion Ridge, the loop is best done counter-clockwise. (back to top)

•   Trail to Mt. Wilson #1: Read Upper Winter Creek Trail. At the junction stay left. Just after you pass the uppermost three cabins of Winter Creek, the trail switches back up to Manzanita Ridge. Here you follow the ridgeline to the Mt. Wilson Trail. Stay right and you shortly join the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. Stay right again and follow the road to Wilson's summit, 7 miles from Chantry. (back to top)

•   Trail to Mt. Wilson #2: 9 miles from Chantry. Follow the Gabrielino Trail to the junction for Newcomb Pass and the West Fork. Stay left and pass Sturtevant's Camp. Stay right at the Mt. Zion junction. For quite a way past Sturtevant's, the trail is a pleasing, gentle grade through spruce groves, but it gets tough towards the head of the canyon. It has been improved by Sturtevant manager Chris Kasten as of spring 2005, but there is a 2500 ft. gain in the 3 miles between Sturtevant and Wilson's summit. (back to top)

•   San Olene Fire Road: A corruption of "Santa Oline" canyon. This starts at the upper Chantry parking lot to the left of the Forest Service housing. Follow the asphalt road past the water tanks and the Upper Winter Creek Trail head to the heliport on the ridge. Look back to find the dirt fire road which takes you a long 3 miles through the upper Santa Oline watershed to a point overlooking Little Santa Anita Canyon and the LA basin. This is popular with mountain bikers and makes an excellent night hike - lay out on the rain-gathering fire tank and gaze at the stars. Stay out of the telecommunications equipment. If you're up for it there is a scratch tail that runs a ridgeline between the water tank and the heliport. (back to top)

•   Burma Road: Now mostly overgrown and washed out, as intended, this was part of the check dam construction road. The route starts near cabin #87 where Muir Lodge stood, switches back to bypass Sturtevant Falls, contours the hillside, crosses the North Fork and emerges at Cascade Picnic Area. One can spot the blasting scars and non-native trees from Chantry and from the stock trail. (back to top)

•   East Fork Trail: This trail has virtually disappeared. It was built after the 1924 fire (that never reached this canyon) to establish a work camp, known as Spring Camp, for the builders of firebreaks and fire roads. It originally started behind cabin #55, now just a stone foundation. It took a route high above the water to skirt the falls. From there it passed through Madrone Flats to Spring Camp, tucked under Monrovia Peak. The canyon bottom is rarely visited today so hiking there is mostly a boulder hop. It's well worth the effort. To find the East Fork follow directions for the Gabrielino Trail. Cross the stream at cabin #67 (if you find yourself at Fern Lodge Junction you've gone 100 yards too far). Pass between cabins #61 and #59, pass to the left of cabins #58, #57 and #56 and over the check dam. This branch has many short water drops and deep pools. About a mile up from the main canyon you reach Adams Falls, named for pack station owners Bill and Lila Adams by their nephew Dennis Lonergan who once placed a plaque there. These falls are unique in that there are two side by side. The taller (Bill) is about 75' tall on the East Fork proper. The smaller (Lila) is a 40' cascade where a White Horse drainage meets the East Fork just 50' away. There is also a nice pool at the base of Bill. I have a word of warning that may not be as unreasonable as it sounds. Covert farmers have been known to cultivate marijuana in the upper reaches of the canyon, above the falls, and guard their crops fiercely with firearms and booby traps. The DEA keeps a watchful eye but be warned. (back to top)

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