The rustic city of Sierra Madre, just east of Pasadena, has long been a departure point for hikers seeking exercise and solitude in the adjacent San Gabriel Mountains. That part of the mountain range, known as the "front range" of the San Gabriels, rises quickly from the edge of the city, and contains a number of awesomely steep canyons and plunging ridges.
Sierra Madre has two departing trails, the historic and precipitous Mount Wilson Trail (once used to haul the earliest instrumentation up to what became the world-renowned Mount Wilson Observatory) and the more modern, easier, Bailey Canyon Trail, which gives access to a small waterfall. Typical users of the Bailey Canyon Trail are hikers, runners, dog-walkers, and parents with kids. Mountain bikes are not allowed.
To get to the Bailey Canyon trailhead, exit from Interstate 210 at Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia and go north into Sierra Madre. Proceed to Carter Avenue, turn left, and drive west into Bailey Canyon Park, which features parking spaces and a small, shady picnic area.
From the end of the parking lot, head west and pass through a gate. You'll be walking on a paved service road upward past a Passionist Fathers monastery on the left, and a debris basin on the right. The road plays out, but you continue on the trail up along Bailey Canyon's often dry bottom. When you come to the split where the Bailey Canyon Trail (bound for a high point called Jones Peak far above) diverges right, stay to the left, following the sandy canyon bottom. Take care to avoid exposure to poison oak. In a few minutes you'll come to the end of the line for easy hiking. A "dike" of dark, intrusive igneous rock, squeezed between lighter granite walls, lies ahead. This natural barrier forces any water flowing in the canyon to plunge about 15 feet over a precipice. The waterfall trills like a bird only after significant rain has fallen. That could happen anytime this month through about April.
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.