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San Antonio Canyon, a yawning gap in the towering San Gabriel Mountains, serves as the main gateway to the third highest mountain mass in Southern California -- Mount San Antonio, or Old Baldy. At 10,064 feet, Baldy's summit looms large over the eastern Los Angeles Basin and the Inland Empire communities of Riverside and San Bernardino.

At San Antonio Falls, high above the San Gabriel Valley but still well below Old Baldy's summit, San Antonio Canyon's fledgling stream shoots down a broken rock face, falling a total of about 100 feet in three tiers. With a drainage area of only a few hundred acres, the falls put on a decent show only after a rather big storm or when the snow above is melting at a rapid rate. This might be the case early this month, since the L.A. region received about 80 percent of its normal precipitation this past rain-year (San Diego received less than 50 percent) and much of that precipitation came relatively late. Three springs above the falls are likely to keep the water moving, at a greatly subdued level, into perhaps July or August.

To reach the starting point from the San Gabriel Valley community of Upland, exit Interstate 10 at either Euclid Avenue or Mountain Avenue, and proceed north to Mount Baldy Road. After several steep uphill miles, you'll pass through the community of Mount Baldy. On the left is a national forest visitor center, where you can obtain a National Forest Adventure Pass -- required for parking on national forest lands ahead. Continue another four uphill miles, to a point just above Manker Flats Campground and just below the parking area for the Mount Baldy ski lift. Plenty of roadside parking is available here. Follow on foot the gated, ski-lift maintenance road on the left (west), which is paved for the first 0.6 mile. That's just enough distance to reach a hairpin curve with a good glimpse of San Antonio Falls to the left.

From the curve, a short but slightly precarious trail contours to the base of the falls, where the plummeting water hits not a pool but a stream bed of broken rock and gravel. If you have small kids, watch them carefully on this trail and near the base of falls to ensure their safety.

For more exploring in the area, consider taking a ride on the Mount Baldy ski lift, open on weekends in the summer. The lift accomodates sightseers, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. The village of Mount Baldy sponsors an annual "Mount Baldy Run to the Top" every Labor Day. The grueling foot race, which originates at the ski lift parking lot, involves eight miles of one-way travel and 4000 feet of elevation gain. More than 500 runners participated last year. Visit www.run2top.com for more information.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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