In the lush, shady recesses of Big Santa Anita Canyon, just north of the San Gabriel Valley community of Arcadia, you can easily lose all sight and sense of the mega-millions of people living in the L.A. Basin. At Sturtevant Falls, the waters of Big Santa Anita Canyon -- rejuvenated this season after a several-year drought -- are leaping over a 50-foot precipice into a shallow, rock-bound pool. June is a perfect time to visit, this year at least.
Popular for more than a century among local tourists, the falls and canyon were completely off-limits to the public late last year and early this year. This was because of wildfires in the lower canyon and the subsequent damaging effects of winter runoff on the upper canyon's only access, the road to Chantry Flat. As of April 16 that road reopened, but further repairs scheduled through summer could close it at any time. Any visit here should be preceded by a phone call to Angeles National Forest (626-574-5200).
From Interstate 210 in Arcadia, follow Santa Anita Avenue north. Continue to the edge of the city, pass a sturdy gate (closed at night), and ascend along a curling and precipitous ribbon of asphalt to your destination at the end of the road: Chantry Flat trailhead. There you will find abundant, if often inadequate, parking space. You must post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your car for the privilege of parking. Adventure passes purchased for Cleveland National Forest in San Diego County are also valid here.
At Chantry Flat you'll find a ranger station (adventure passes on sale there), a picnic ground, a mom-and-pop refreshment stand, and an old-fashioned freight business -- the last pack station operating year round in California. Most every day, horses, mules, and burros carry supplies and building materials from the station down into canyon bottom, where an anachronistic cabin community has survived since the early 1900s.
From the south edge of the lower parking lot at Chantry Flat, hike the first paved 0.6-mile segment of the Gabrielino Trail down to the confluence of Winter Creek and Big Santa Anita Canyon. Pavement ends at a metal bridge spanning Winter Creek. Pass the restrooms and continue up alder-lined Big Santa Anita Canyon on a wide road bed following the left bank. Edging alongside a number of small cabins, the deteriorating road soon assumes the proportions of a foot trail.
At 1.4 miles into your hike, amidst a beautiful oak woodland, you come to a four-way junction of trails. Take the right fork and continue upstream, boulder-hopping over the clear-flowing stream part of the way (and perhaps getting your feet wet for the first time), to the foot of the falls. Don't be tempted to climb the sidewalls; the two trails going left back at the four-way junction can take you safely past the falls if you want to press on farther up the canyon.