Switzer Falls / Bear Canyon
My hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains have proven quite rewarding, despite drive times of over an hour and a half one way. This day’s hike was no exception. Although the trail totaled out at just over 8 1/2 miles, this was a day full of variety. I rock-hopped through rugged canyon bottoms to serene waterfalls and then climbed up on narrow cliff-hugging tracks with awesome mountain views. This hike is a winner.
I drove up the Angeles Crest Highway approximately 10 miles to the well signed Switzer Falls picnic area. There is parking outside the gate and two parking areas inside the gate. The road down to the trailhead is very windy and steep. I arrived at 6:40 am and was the first person there.
I started out by crossing a bridge and heading into the forest on Gabrielino Trail. There are many pools and little falls next to the trail.
Photo 1 – Interesting handle-shaped root growing out of and back into the ground. Photo 3 – After about a mile I reached Switzer’s Camp, marked by these ovens. Photo 4 – The trail that breaks to the right is the main trail. I continued straight ahead to try and catch a glimpse of Upper Switzer Falls, just a few yards ahead.
Photo 1 – Under the danger sign, a helpful map of Switzer Falls. Photo 2 – I carefully marched forward, expecting at any moment to walk right off the edge of the Earth. In truth, this little spur trail is rough but isn’t really that bad at all. Just don’t do anything foolhardy like straying too far from the path. Photo 3 – I came to this boulder by the side of the trail. I think this marks the spot just above the upper falls. You can’t see them from here and that’s why so many people have fallen – trying to inch their way out to catch a glimpse. Photos 5 and 6 – Looking down from the spur trail, a pool of water fed by the waterfall.
Photo 1 – The spur trail continues on a bit. Here is a shot of a little ledge you can slide down to – not for me, thanks. Photo 2 – The spur comes to an end and starts up the hill. I stopped here at this concrete slab. I read there was a stone chapel right in the area and wondered if this was the site. Actually it is directly above this slab. I didn’t see it from here or I probably would have continued to climb up a ways. I turned around and headed back to the main trail.
Photo 1 – Looking up at the ridgeline from the concrete slab. Photo 2 – On my way back to the main trail. The spur often rises above the canyon floor, narrowly clinging to the man- made ledge. Photo 4 – I rise out of the canyon. The trail is still somewhat narrow and the drop-offs are severe. There are some areas that have been fenced in to keep you from falling and/or dying.
The Sun made it hard to get good photos at this time of day. Photo 1 is a shot of the end of the spur trail. The concrete slab I was standing on is encircled by those three boulders at the bottom/middle of the photo. Directly above you can see some debris from the Chapel (it was torn down years ago for safety reasons). To the right of the debris and up slightly is where the chapel once stood. Photos 2 and 3 – Closer shots – you can see the three boulders and the concrete slab, and then directly above are the stone arches from the chapel lying flat on the hillside. Again, up and to the right of the arches you can see a few stones standing where the chapel once resided.
Close-up of the stone arches from the chapel that once stood above Upper Switzer Falls.
Close-up of what I believe to be Upper Switzer Falls. It’s summertime and there hasn’t been any rain so the water isn’t exactly gushing.
The trail comes to a junction. The Gabrielino Trail continues up and to the right. I headed downhill on Bear Canyon Trail to get to Lower Switzer Falls.
I am not a fan of heights so this scary section was not my favorite. The drop off – yikes!
After descending about a half mile I reached the canyon bottom and another junction in the trail. As shown here, Bear Canyon Trail continues on after a hairpin turn to the right. There is a sign right in front of the tree. To get to Lower Switzer Falls I followed the trail to the left (not pictured) and headed upstream for about a quarter mile.
Photo 1 – You’re almost there when you come to this half buried car engine. Photo 2 – I had Lower Switzer Falls all to myself for as long as I wanted. This was about the same rate of water flow as I saw looking down at Upper Switzer Falls. This is a beautiful and serene spot if you can get there early in the day. Heading back at the end of the day I could hear someone blasting music from this area. How very sad.
Lower Switzer Falls
I backtracked to the last junction and continued on Bear Canyon Trail. Bear Canyon Trail is pretty rough and overgrown in some areas and the trail vanishes from time to time. But while the trail is easy to lose it is also pretty easy to find again. I just stuck close to the stream that the trail parallels and was fine.
There are some beautiful rock pools along the way.
The trail also rises above the stream at times and I came across a few minor difficulties – nothing terrible. Photo 3 – Rock slide across the trail – I passed several short sections like this. Photo 4 – There are a few of these pink ribbons that mark the trail in areas where they are needed.
Photo 2 – This shot is straight up a hill beside the trail. It was a hot day without much relief but a continuous cool breeze swept down this hill. I stood here for a couple of minutes and just soaked it in.
Photo 1 – There are several trees across the trail I had to climb over or under because there was no walking around them. Photo 2 – This was the worst of the trail, these few feet. The picture doesn’t show it but this is on a ledge and there is a good drop-off from here. I tried not to think too much and quickly scooted past. Photos 3 and 4 – 2.2 miles beyond the junction to Lower Switzer Falls is Bear Canyon Camp – a few fire pits and picnic tables. It was deserted when I got there.
Photo 1 -Penguin Rock Photo 3 – On the way back I took off my boots so I could soak my feet in the cool mountain water. Just before I took the plunge I noticed a little snake sitting underwater. Can you see him?