This hike features great views and a taste of wilderness on this one way trip down through Bear Canyon. The trail can be rough in places but the rewarding trek down the canyon offers isolation and pleasant surprises along the way. An easy car shuttle can be arranged by leaving a vehicle at Switzer and driving to the start at Eaton Saddle.
Start by taking the Mt. Lowe Road west from Eaton Saddle as it winds along the steep south slope of San Gabriel Peak with breathtaking views of Eaton Canyon to the south. As it passes though the Mueller Tunnel note the remains of a trail along the cliff face and imagine what it was like before the road was built in this highly unstable area. Large boulders on the roadbed make this section impassable by vehicles. In half a mile, a saddle is reached. The Upper Sam Merrill Trail 12W14.3
goes south around Mt. Lowe and rejoins the road further down while the San Gabriel Peak Trail #12W24
Continue down the road and Bear Canyon comes into view heading west though a broad valley that narrows further down towards the Arroyo Seco
. The scars of the 2009 Station Fire are very visible along the way down to a fork in the road where a ridge comes down the west side of Mt. Lowe. Take the right fork which goes up to a large flattened area used as an emergency heliport. The views of the Los Angeles Basin can be exceptional on a clear day.
At the far west end is the start of the Bear Canyon Trail 12W08
, which follows the ridge down a mile to Tom Sloan Saddle. The Dawn Mine Trail 12W13
heads south down to Millard Canyon. The Tom Sloan Trail #12W22
goes east towards the Mt. Lowe Road and a well-used path leads west to Brown Mountain.
Make a sharp right turn to stay on the Bear Canyon Trail 12W08
as it enters a well-shaded forest of oak and bigcone spruce. In late spring there are dazzling displays of Monkey flowers and the succulent dudleya clinging into cracks on the granite walls displaying bright orange and red flowers. Less than a mile from the saddle, the trail makes a big turn and drops into the canyon bottom next to a small stone building.
The next mile is the most difficult part of the hike with many trees to go over or under. Volunteers maintain this trail but the long distance and many problems make work difficult. There are a few spots where the trail may be difficult to follow but take your time and stay on it. The feeling of isolation is remarkable given the close proximity to a major metropolitan area just a few miles away. Watch for purple delphinium, magenta collinsia and the spectacular Humboldt Lilly in late spring. About a half mile down the canyon, a wide flat granite rock next to a waterfall and deep pool makes a great place for a break.
The trail camp is reached in another half mile which has three tables and stoves. It is a very popular overnight location for small groups and scouts. The trail condition improves below the camp along with an increase in the number of visitors. Ferns and mosses cling on the granite walls of the canyon which is well shaded with alders, bay, oaks, bigcone spruce and maple trees that turn bright orange and yellow in fall. Bush poppies with their bright yellow flowers are widely seen along with the lavender flower clumps on the ceanothus.
The trail follows the canyon down to its terminus at the junction with the Arroyo Seco
and then turns north following the creek up past several small waterfalls with deep pools that are unfortunately silted in but will eventually clear out. After a half mile, the trail leaves the canyon and climbs up to the Gabrielino Trail (NRT) 11W14
. Many people follow the canyon up to the base of Switzer Falls but there is no formal trail. Be sure to return to this spot as it is the only way out of the box canyon.
After a short but steep climb, the Bear Canyon Trail 12W08
ends at the trail junction with the Gabrielino Trail (NRT) 11W14
. Turn right and follow this popular route back to Switzer Day Use Area.
Poison oak almost everywhere. Oaks, bigcone spruce, maple, bay, alder trees shade most of route. Ceanothus, manzanita, yucca, bush poppies. Bears, deer, mountain lions, coyotes are very shy but occasionally seen. Be careful and watch for rattlesnakes.
The Bear Canyon Trail was once part of the Tom Sloan Trail which connected the Mt. Lowe Tavern with the Switzer resort on the Arroyo Seco near the falls. It was a very popular trail in the 1920's and 30's before the resorts burned down. There were several cabins along the canyon bottom. The most well known was Big Spruce Cabin operated by the San Antonio Club. It is now the site of the campground. The stone building at the upper end of the canyon was used for storage by the Twin Spruce Club which operated a tent resort there. There were a few other cabins at the upper end of the canyon but the last burned down in the 1950's.