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Few areas along Interstate 5 in California are as desolate and as traffic-dense as the stretch immediately north of the San Fernando Valley, where a zillion traffic lanes and ramps sort themselves out in the spaghetti bowl of the greater Golden State/Foothill/Antelope Valley freeway interchange. For travelers heading either north or south, a decent little hike awaits you (plus kids plus pets) only a couple of minutes away, in Whitney Canyon.

To get to Whitney Canyon, follow the Antelope Valley Freeway (Highway 14) north from Interstate 5. Take the first exit, San Fernando Road (Highway 126), turn east, and enter a large Park and Ride lot. This doubles as a “free” trailhead for Whitney Canyon and for the Santa Clara Divide Road, which is a major western access into Angeles National Forest. You can also park in a lot beyond a gate to the north for a small day-use fee.

The dry and desolate landscape you behold at the trailhead hides a pleasant thing or two not far up Whitney Canyon. Using an old dirt road, head east up the canyon, which remains broad and uninteresting for the first half mile. You’ll pass under some massive high-voltage powerlines, and then the scenery quickly improves. The canyon bottom narrows, and massive live oaks and sycamores arch overhead, creating inviting pools of shade, especially on hot summer days. The excessively gnarled appearance of the trees suggests that they are the survivors of multiple wildfires over decades and centuries of time.

Past a second set of large powerlines, and just beyond an old wall of light-colored masonry on the right, a small tributary canyon opens on the right (south) side, just shy of where the old road peters out. Poke into this little ravine, and you will soon come upon a cattail-choked freshwater marsh. A covey of quail might explode from this oasis as you approach it. In back of the marsh look for an artesian sulfur spring — a clear pool of water with sulfurous bubbles coming up. This curiously deserted (in view of the rat race of traffic you left behind) and otherworldly spot is only a mile from the trailhead. When you’re ready to return, turn back and retrace your steps.

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.

Whitney Canyon
Explore a shady canyon only two miles from Interstate 5 in north Los Angeles County.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 148 miles
Hiking length: 2 miles round trip
Difficulty: Easy

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