“A 6.6-mile round-trip hike to Switzer Falls and Bear Canyon Campground.”
— John McKinney
Fall Colors · River/Creek · Swimming · Waterfall · Commonly Backpacked
Picnic area and falls. A little steep in places but manageable.
A pretty easy 6.6-mile round trip hike from the Switzer Picnic Area to Bear Canyon Campground. This hike would make for a really easy/short overnight trip, or makes for a nice medium-long day trip.
Need to Know
The Switzer Picnic Area can be quite busy on weekends and you may not be able to park at the trailhead.
Vehicles need an Adventure or Interagency Pass to park at the main trailhead.
No overnight parking in the lower lots.
There are several parking areas for this hike. If you park at the upper lot by the highway, you'll need to head down the paved road to the picnic area and the start of the trail.
From Switzer Picnic Area, head west on Gabrielino Trail (NRT) which takes you down into the gorge following Arroyo Seco
and is shaded by oak, spruce, and alder trees. At about one mile, you'll reach the former Switzer Trail Camp which sits just above the falls. A nice trail below the camp ends at the top of the falls. Continue following Gabrielino Trail (NRT) on the west slope of the gorge and you'll get a nice view of Switzer Falls.
On a small rise is the junction with Bear Canyon Trail
1.4 miles in, take a left to head south on Bear Canyon Trail
continuing down into the gorge. When you reach the creek, take a right upstream (off the main trail) and head up to the falls. The area is signed with warnings - heed them and do NOT try and climb the falls. Retrace your steps back to Bear Canyon Trail
Continue heading downhill and at about 2.2 miles the trail finally reaches Bear Canyon and begins to follow Bear Creek. The trail also begins to climb upstream, though only at a modest slope. The trail crosses the creek and there are many nice pools at which one could stop and rest. Bear Canyon Campground is at 3.3 miles. There are three campsites (non-reservable). Water in the creek is seasonal and must be treated before use.
After camping (or if you're day-tripping, resting), retrace your steps heading back to the trailhead for a pleasant 6.6-mile round-trip hike.
Thanks to John McKinney, The Trailmaster, for sharing this trail description. To learn more about trails in California, check out his guides at The Trailmaster Store
Flora & Fauna
Oak, bigcone spruce, lilac, maple, bay and alder line the trail. Bears of course.
History & Background
The Bear Canyon Trail was once part of the Tom Sloan Trail which connected the Mt. Lowe Tavern with the Switzer resort. It was a very popular hiking route connecting the 2 popular destinations and there were several cabins along the way. The largest was the Big Spurce Cabin operated by the San Antonio Club at the site of the current campground.
The trail along Arroyo Seco
(as well as a popular trail resort) was originally built by Perry Switzer. This resort was later owned by Lloyd Austin who added a tennis court, chapel, and dance floor. The area was extremely popular during the "Great Hiking Era" well into the 1930s.