Santa Anita Canyon Backpacking

Santa Anita Canyon is a deep gorge carved into the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains just east of Mt. Wilson. An ever-popular hiking destination, the canyon and surrounding areas feature a number of well-established trail camps.

Distance: 17 Miles (over two days)
Elevation Gained: 4,400 (approx over two days)
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time: Wasn’t keeping track
Animals: 1 deer, tons of squirrels and ravens

Get there like this.

Note: You will need and Adventure Pass to park here. Also, Chantry Flat is an absolute nightmare on a Saturday afternoon.


This was supposed to be part of a much larger trip. Originally, I was going to hike up Santa Anita Canyon and over Newcomb Pass into Devore Campground to spend the night, which I did. When I woke up, I intended to climb up the Valley Forge Trail, bag a few peaks, and then descend down o Idlehour Campground, where I would meet my friend Kyle. I didn’t. Likewise, I also did get to the third day, which would have been tomorrow.

I bailed on the hike because I had just recovered from a nasty, but short-lived sinus infection, and I had pronounced myself ready to resume hiking like I had been before. I plan to hike the High Sierra Trail and John Muir Trail this summer, and this was intended to be the first of several warm-up backpacking trips to get used to gear and begin prepping for the physical and mental rigors. However, my body was far weaker than I had anticipated, and so I managed to slog my way through the first day of it, only to turn right back around again.

That’s too bad, as this would have been an excellent backpacking trip. The trail camps scattered around the San Gabriel Mountains are far more developed than typical backcountry sites. They come complete with fire rings, picnic table, and, in some cases, bathrooms. The ones in Santa Anita Canyon and Red Box Canyon are spread out over reasonable distances, making it possible to enjoy leisurely trips in addition to the strenuous ones. And while the place is usually packed on the weekends, it seems fairly easy to snag a site if you come early enough on Friday, although this ease may have been aided by the fact that it was quite chilly.

I started out well enough with an easy pace down into Santa Anita Canyon and up past the waterfall and Spruce Grove Campground. Spruce Grove is the nicest of the campgrounds that I’ve seen, and it is also near a junction that goes toward several other destinations, including Mt. Wilson, West Fork, and Mt. Zion. I opted to keep on toward West Fork with the intention of stopping at Devore Campground on the other side of Newcomb Pass.

Devore Campground is nice enough. It lies on the junction of a sparse stream and the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. I counted about four to five sites in total, with most of them lying along the banks of the river. I got here just before dark and left just before the sun rose, so I don’t know that I really got a good lay of it. It did not appear to be as nice as Spruce Grove, although it does have fire rings and tables. I couldn’t get a fire going since the ground was still pretty wet following recent rains. Not a bad place to pitch a tent (or a bivy in my case).

When I awoke, I was feeling pretty lousy. That sinus infection that I thought I had defeated had returned with a vengeance, and in conjunction with being unable to find the trail and being faced with another 26 miles of hiking over the next two days, I determined that the most sensible option was to hike the 8.3 miles back to Chantry Flat and head home. It was not how I wanted the hike to go, but I still got 17 miles of hiking in, as well as a good opportunity to test my gear (successfully). Generally speaking, the bivy is a nice, lightweight option, but very crowded. Two sleeping pads was comfortable, but possibly too cumbersome. The combo of the life straw and the chlorine tablets works like a charm.

As I made my way back up and over the hill, I was unpleasantly surprised to find out how fatigued I was. I attribute this to being sick and hope that I’m not more out of shape than I thought I was. I struggled to climb the 2,200 feet back to the car, even though the leisurely stroll back through Santa Anita Canyon was all the more enjoyable for moving slowly. This is a wonderful place to hike, and I doubt I’ll ever get tired of coming here.

One last word: Chantry Flat on a Saturday Afternoon = NIGHTMARE. There are so many people pouring into this parking lot and down the trail to the waterfall that it almost negates the beauty of the first mile and a half. There are fewer people beyond the waterfall, but the Gabrielino Trail still turns into a superhighway. Best time for this is early morning during the weekday, if you can manage it.


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