Verdant East Canyon tucks into steep, north-facing slopes just below the crest of the Santa Susana Mountains. The canyon receives an average of about 20 inches of rainfall annually — just enough, in an environment sheltered from sun’s south-slanting rays, to support an island-like array of scraggly bigcone Douglas-fir trees. In L.A. County, this evergreen species grows naturally at elevations as low as 2000 feet.
Except for a few steep pitches, the looping route into East Canyon described here is perfect for mountain biking as well as hiking. You’ll see plenty of cyclists on the route, which consists of a combination of paved and dirt roads.
To get to the trailhead, take the Calgrove Boulevard exit from Interstate 5 in Santa Clarita. Turn west to reach the frontage road signed “The Old Road,” and drive 0.8 mile south to the trailhead on the right. This is just before The Old Road goes under Interstate 5.
From the trailhead, head southeast (on foot or bike) on The Old Road, first under the traffic lanes of Interstate 5 and then parallel to freeway. The road’s name suggests that this is the defunct U.S. Highway 99 over Newhall Pass which has since been replaced by the modern Interstate 5. Stay on The Old Road’s shoulder so as to keep away from the light automotive traffic that still exists here. After a probably tedious (on foot, at least) 1.5 miles, you reach Weldon Canyon Road, which crosses over Interstate 5 on a narrow overpass. Make a right at Coltrane Avenue on the far side of that overpass, and continue 0.1 mile to Weldon Motorway (a fire road) on the left. The fire road’s initial ascent is excruciating, but the uphill grade soon moderates.
The scenery turns gorgeous as you climb, especially during the early morning on many a day, when the entire San Fernando Valley lies unseen beneath a marine-layer blanket of clouds. To the east, the rounded summits of the San Gabriel Mountains rise into a sapphire sky, sometimes flecked with cirrus clouds. Near at hand, note the coast live oaks and a small number of bigcone Douglas-firs dotting the slopes.
At 2.2 miles, there’s a private road on the left; stay right and proceed along a narrow ridge with dramatic dropoffs on both sides. Some California walnut trees can be seen here. At 2.9 miles (elevation 2468 feet) there’s a rest stop with a shade ramada overlooking the East Canyon drainage to the north and east.
Continue following the same narrow ridge — essentially the south rim of East Canyon — until you reach a junction of fire roads at 4.3 miles. A left turn here could take you to Mission Point and O’Melveny Park to the south (described in this column just two weeks ago). You go right, however, and begin a long and sometimes steep descent into East Canyon. More fine bigcone-Douglas firs dot the way, their wandlike limbs reaching wide.
By 5.7 miles, you arrive alongside East Canyon’s trickling stream, and enter a strip of gorgeous riparian/oak-woodland. Keep going; your starting point along The Old Road lies a short mile ahead.
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.
East Canyon Loop
Explore the best of the Santa Clarita Woodlands in the Santa Susana Mountains of L.A. County.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 150 miles
Hiking length: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous