Learn the basics as you prepare for a new adventure
by Matthew Duran
photography by Sonora Hernandez
President Barack Obama stands on a Bonelli Park podium looking north across Puddingstone Lake at a picture perfect background of the San Gabriel Mountains. A layer of haze blurs the mountains in the background, but on this day, Oct. 10, 2014, the President’s gaze focuses on 346,177 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains as he bestows on them national monument status. With the help of The National Forest Foundation and many other philanthropic organizations, $4.3 million of seed money for the national monument was raised.
“Because it’s not enough to have this awesome natural wonder within your sight, you have to be able to access it,” said the President, moments before inviting key supporters to group around him as he signed the protective proclamation. “I can think of no better way to honor our past and protect our future than by preserving the San Gabriel Mountains,” he said. And with a stroke of his pen, some of Southern California’s best hiking trails gained Federal protection. The new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is in La Verne’s northern backyard, spanning an area from Pasadena to Mt. Baldy.
Holding breath taking views of the nearby foothill cities, yet with the peaceful sound of waterfalls and the grace of majestic Live Oak Trees, nearby trails offer residents stellar year-round recreational opportunities. According to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, more than three million visitors travel to the San Gabriel Mountains each year. But before joining the crowd, be prepared to face the trails. La Verne Magazine talked to hiking experts and enthusiasts to find out what to know before you go.
There are three major hiking areas within three miles or less of La Verne: Bonelli Park, Marshall Canyon and the Claremont Hills Wilderness Loop. The closest is Bonelli Park, which can be accessed free from the Brackett Airport parking lot. Bonelli Park’s six miles of trails circle Puddingstone Lake and are a favorite of local hikers and mountain bikers. The trails are both asphalt and dirt and offer a moderately steep incline and decline as they weave to elevations above the lake. Puddingstone Lake is also a popular resort to camp and RV for the weekend. On a perfect day, one can capture some amazing pictures as the sun sets and reflects off the water.
The Claremont Hills Wilderness Trailhead, at the northern terminus of Mills Avenue, offers a five-mile loop, which has become a local favorite. On its 1,620 acres of natural wilderness, one might spot a bear, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, deer, rattlesnake or even an occasional fox. The park elevation ranges from 1,800 feet to about 3,000 feet, with a hiking elevation gain of about 1,100 feet. On average, the loop will take about 2.5 hours to complete.
The Claremont Hills Wilderness Trail system is connected by the east/west Johnson Pasture fire road to another series of trails maintained by the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department. Marshall Canyon Regional Park sports 4.1 miles of trails with an elevation gain of about 1,200 feet. View areas come at 2,500 feet. The trail is shaded by arching Live Oak trees with a stream always in sight. The route comes in close proximity to Camp Archibald, a youth detention facility charged with teaching youth land management skills. In that area, the trail runs through a nursery that holds plants destined for Los Angeles County landscaping purposes. For mountain bike riders and equestrians, Marshall Canyon is a free Disneyland. They have given these popular trails informal names such as “Roller Coaster” and “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Watch for the bikes and horses as you make your way through this enchanted forest.
Walnut Creek and Antonovich Trail is located on San Dimas Avenue, close to the 57 freeway and south of Via Verde Avenue. The scenic three-mile trail meanders back and forth over the year-round stream multiple times.
Just east of La Verne, in the north Arcadia area, lies the Big Santa Anita Canyon trail, which is full of beautiful scenery and leads to a 50-foot waterfall that cascades into a wide pool. It is a popular watering hole on warm days. The trail is seven miles round trip.
In nearby Sierra Madre, one will find the Eaton Canyon Trail. It takes hikers on a rewarding journey because it is both short and manageable. The 3.4 mile trail, follows a wash and a running stream just deep enough to get feet wet. The reward is a large boulder pool and a refreshing 40 foot waterfall. This beautiful site is the place many hikers gather and have lunch.
Before heading out, hikers should pack a few essentials for their adventure. Pete Farino, a San Dimas hiking enthusiast, says proper shoes are the most important piece of gear to own. Novice hikers may think it is OK to begin an adventure in their gym shoes; yet many do not understand the consequences followed by this action. Rather than wearing the gym shoes you have, Farino says to “invest in a pair of hiking shoes to beat the elements.” Not having the proper shoes can allow one to slip and fall. Safety is a must. “Hikers should bring a first aid kit, protective eye wear, water and food such as trail mix, dried fruit, energy bars and jerky,” he says. Hikers should pack extra food in case they are stranded overnight; “It is always better to be safe than sorry,” Farino says. Depending on one’s diet, cater toward food that pleases one’s taste buds. As for Farino, he says he prefers food with high fat and sugar.
According to the Sierra Club website, “Inexperienced hikers make a few common mistakes, and some have fatal consequences; the first is failing to prepare properly.” Not alerting others regarding hiking plans could be a sentence of life or death. Abigail Feliciano, a West Covina hiker new to the outdoor activity, agrees. “I am new to hiking, but it is one of my biggest priorities. If it’s a day hike, I alert family where I am going and for how long. Leaving a note on the dashboard of my car time stamped also aids rescuers. I would like to think if it was dark and someone saw my car, and I was nowhere to be found, they would come rescue me, but I have big hopes,” she says.
Once you have alerted family and friends of your adventure plan for the day, stay on the planned trail. The Sierra Club recommends choosing the most popular trails because you are most likely to be surrounded by people. Once dusk nears or the weather changes, the Sierra Club recommends “turning back for home” rather than setting up camp for the night. And while one may see animals on the trail, take caution. For example, rattlesnakes are one of the most dangerous animals that can be commonly found in California. “These days they caution against the snake bite kits where you cut and suck,” Farino says. “Some people wear bells to alert animals they are coming, in hopes it will scare off bears and large cats. There’s a joke out there, though, that the bells are “dinner bells,” and that bear scat is always full of the bells,” he laughs.
Hikers who want to join a group can references websites such as latrailhikers.com and meetup.com. “The best place I’ve found for groups is “Meetup.” There are dozens of local groups. Short hikes, night hikes, peak baggers, overnighters, singles groups, even one where they meet each week for a pot luck happy hour on the top of Echo Mountain above Pasadena,” Farino says.
Happy hour with a great view is an amazing way to end a stressful workweek. The Sierra Club and REI also organize local hikes, which are posted on their websites. Social media allows fellow enthusiasts to be connected and enjoy life together. Abigail Feliciano, who has begun hiking at least three days a week, enjoys meeting up with other hikers. “These hiking communities are everything; you meet some of the most fascinating people who enjoy the same hobby I do. They are the backbone to these outdoor wonderlands,” she says.
Best hiking trails near La Verne
The website “alltrails.com,” sponsored by National Geographic Society, recently rated top hiking trails in Southern California. Many are near La Verne:
• Bonelli Park Trail (3 miles/1.5 hours)
• Marshall Canyon Trail (4.1 miles/1.5 hours)
• Claremont Wilderness Loop (5 miles/2 hours
• Walnut Creek Trail (3 miles/1.5 hours)
• Mount San Antonio (11.5 miles/6 hours)
• Chino Hills State Park Trails (6 miles/3 hours)
• Eaton Canyon Trail (3.4 miles, 2 hours)
• Big Santa Anita Canyon Trail (7 miles/ 4 hours)
• East Fork Trail (Bridge to Nowhere) (10 miles/4.5)
• Sunset Peak (7.1 miles/ 4 hours)
• Thompson Creek Trail (2.6 miles/1 hour)
• Potato Mountain (5.5 miles/ 1.5 hours)
• Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (1 mile/1 hour)