The quiet, shady interior of El Prieto Canyon seems impossibly remote given its stone’s-throw proximity to the edge of an Altadena subdivision. Majestic live oaks flank the canyon’s stream, casting dense pools of shade. A few willows and sycamores are here, too, lending highlights of bright green to the scene.
To reach a convenient starting point for the El Prieto Canyon Trail, exit Interstate 210 at Lincoln Avenue in Pasadena. Go north on Lincoln for 1.9 miles, and turn left on Canyon Crest Road. Wind uphill for 1.1 miles to Cloverhill Road. Turn left, go two short blocks, and turn right (north) on El Prieto Road. Park on the street at or near the north end of El Prieto Road.
Walk to the north end of El Prieto Road, squeeze around a steel-bar fence, go up past a water tank, and continue on the steeply rising dirt road. At 0.4 mile, you hit pavement next to a rustic house on the right. Just beyond, find the narrow trail on the left that descends sharply into the shady bottom of El Prieto Canyon.
Right down below, you reach a fork in the trail. Stay to the right and begin a side trip (highly recommended!) up the canyon bottom a half mile to the Lower Brown Mountain Fire Road (a popular mountain bike route). On that out-and-back stretch, you work your way around or over several check dams that help control erosion during times of flood. That means that some of the trickling “waterfalls” here aren’t exactly natural — but they’re beautiful all the same.
Back at the fork, turn right and continue to make your way downstream, past more check dams, enjoying more gorgeous wooded scenery. After about 0.7 mile on this leg of the hike, look for the trail on the left bank that slants steeply uphill to the subdivision above. Follow it and you’ll emerge on El Prieto Road at a point 100 feet north of Cloverhill Road, near where you have parked your car.
The El Prieto Canyon Trail is also accessible via the lowermost end of Lower Brown Mountain Fire Road, near the Gabrielino Trail through the Arroyo Seco canyon. That approach to it is much longer.
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.
El Prieto Canyon
Explore shady El Prieto Canyon in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 132 miles
Hiking length: 2.4 miles