The all-day, 14-mile-loop hike up to the viewful summit of Condor Peak and back by way of verdant Trail Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains is well suited to properly conditioned hikers but punishingly difficult for casual hikers. The first half of the route (Condor Peak Trail) is infrequently maintained and could be overgrown by scratchy chaparral, so hiking boots and long pants or lightweight leg coverings are appropriate. An early start is recommended -- that way you can be off the lower, south-facing slopes before the midday sunshine gets too intense.
The hike begins and ends in Big Tujunga Canyon, above the L.A. foothill community of Sunland. A five-minute car shuttle can connect together the start and end points of the hike, which are both off Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Leave one car at the trailhead parking area in Trail Canyon (turnoff at mile 2.0 according to the roadside markers), and take the other car to the roadside turnout opposite the entrance to Big Tujunga Station, mile 4.3. Walk east on the road shoulder to the mile-4.5 marker, where you will find the Condor Peak Trail going up a gully.
About 0.5 mile up the trail, a lateral of the Condor Peak Trail comes in from the right. This one-mile-long trail was constructed in 1980 after rockslides had closed a section of Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Stay left at the trail junction and continue winding steadily uphill along the ridge between Vogel and Fusier Canyons. Right about now, thousands of white-flowering ceanothus shrubs are blooming on these slopes, suffusing the air with a sublime perfume. A few coniferous trees, the survivors of past fires, rise above the ubiquitous blanket of chaparral.
After 2.0 miles the trail bends around several gullies draining into Fusier Canyon. The biggest gully you cross (3.2 miles) is a cool, ferny oasis with surface water present until at least April or May. At 5.5 miles, the Condor Peak Trail joins an old fire break coming down from Fox Peak -- one of several bumps on the ridge running northwest toward Condor Peak. Follow the fire break up and over the undulating ridge 1.2 miles more to a point just below the east brow of Condor Peak. Leave the trail and scramble 300 feet up the slope on sandy soil and over fractured granite. On the windswept summit plateau, enjoy (hopefully) the view of the Pacific Ocean, which sprawls more than a quarter of the way around the compass.
After soaking in the view, retrace your way back to the Condor Peak Trail and continue going north on the old fire break. At 8.3 miles, you come to a 4840-foot saddle at the head of Trail Canyon and the intersection of the Trail Canyon Trail. Make a sharp left and zigzag steeply down the scrubby slopes to a dry, sloping bench. At 9.7 miles you reach the line of willow and bay trees making up Big Cienaga, the source of water for Trail Canyon's almost-perennial stream. Down-canyon another 0.3 mile, on a small, grassy flat surrounded by oaks and jungle-like riparian vegetation, is a cozy trail campsite, often occupied by Scouts or other groups.
The last four miles along the trenchlike confines of the canyon are thoroughly delightful if you don't mind the foot-wetting fords. On clear afternoons, warm sunlight filters through the alder trees, casting flitting shadows amid the crystalline pools and streamside boulders. The soothing music of water flowing over stone assuages the weariness almost every hiker feels at this point. Near the end you'll perhaps hear first and then see Trail Canyon Falls, a popular destination for casual hikers.