Big Santa Anita Canyon

Good Times in the Big Santa Anita Canyon – Hiking Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Falls

Trip distance, one way = 1.8 miles
Elevation loss / gain = 440′ of loss in the first 3/4 of a mile with 250′ of gain in the next mile to the base of Sturtevant Falls.
Rating: An easy, family friendly hike. Great place to walk dogs, too!

Although the drive to the trailhead takes about an hour and a half from Wrightwood, it’s well worth seeing this “front country” of the San Gabriels, so completely unlike the high-country that we’re so used to up here around the Big Pines and Grassy Hollow recreation areas.

Just this last week we took a little day hike up toward Sturtevant Falls in the Big Santa Anita above Arcadia. A beautiful Spring day, the sky was a deep blue and a gentle, refreshing sea breeze enveloped us as we descended into the canyon bottom. Little gusts of wind swirled through canopies of young maple leaves. Although the descent is a gated, paved fire road in the beginning, there are expansive vistas out toward towering Clamshell Ridge, its’ slopes clad in endless shades of green chaparral deeply furrowed by steep, narrow side canyons. The sound of the stream below continued to grow as we dropped down San Olene Canyon. Once at the bottom, we crossed the little green foot bridge at Roberts’ Camp. Once a bustling trail resort in the early 20th century during the Great Hiking Era, Roberts’ was situated at the confluence of the Winter Creek and Big Santa Anita Canyon. Although the buildings are long-gone, the spot is still an important trail junction for hikers making their way into the mountains. See John W. Robinson’s, “The San Gabriels” for thorough and colorful history of the trail resorts throughout the “front country” of the San Gabriel mountains.

From here, we headed upstream toward Sturtevant Falls on the Gabrielino National Recreation Trail. We were on our way to the little family cabin in the Fern Lodge area and then onto the falls. Passing under the overarching canopies of mammoth canyon live oaks, laurel bay, big-leaf canyon maple and white alder, we made our way through the translucent greenish, cool light of the canyon. The stream gurgled and rushed about the smooth, rounded boulders, alternating between little rapids and still tranquil pools. The canyon wrens serenaded us with their laughing calls from little rocky nooks, sweetly broken into descending notes. At one point, we stopped to pick a little miner’s lettuce. Thelma tried a little, too, and was surprised by how good this mountain delicacy of the spring time truly was!

Soon we crossed the little plank bridge over to the little cluster of cabins and made ourselves at home in the little (360 square feet) cabin that was built way back in 1916. The history of these 80 cabins in the Big Santa Anita Canyon is a story in itself. Back between 1912 to the early 1920’s, building materials were packed by mule from Sierra Madre into the canyon where upwards of 220 cabins were erected on just about every little natural perch we can imagine. Every cabin is owned by those canyon dwellers who are willing hike into their “labor of love”. My folks bought our place 35 years ago and it still feels like yesterday. After having lunch out on the creek side porch, Joanie and I set up the croquet court for a quick game on one of the level spots to be found between Chantry and the falls. As always, when you’re having fun, the time flew by fast and we were soon hiking back out and then, up, up, up the hill at the end and onto our car. I was thinking of pizza as Joanie, Thelma and I trudged on. Sarah, of course, left us in the dust and not to be seen, again, until we were nearly back up at the top! Once down in Sierra Madre, we filled up on big slices of pizza before the drive back home. Good times.

by Chris Kasten