For a more detailed write-up of this trail, with GPS information and maps, see my second run

On Sunday morning, Will, Glen and I made our third attempt to hike the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Previously plagued by faulty alarm clocks and low clouds, the third time was – as they say – a charm.

We drove out to Azusa and parked at the slightly crowded trailhead. We could hear music, and when we looked down over the guard rails to the riverbed below, we saw a rather large celebration going on. Couldn’t tell if it was a wedding, birthday, or whatever, but since we’d gotten a slightly late start to the day already we declined further investigation.

We took a short dirt path down to the riverbed, which was fortunately pretty low.

I’d heard stories about people having to wade waist-deep through rushing water here, but throughout this hike we had no trouble finding suitable boulder-hopping crossings. I mean, it usually took us a little while to find them, and I dunked my right foot in once … and there was that one place where I just gave up, took off my shoes and waded through. But it could have been a lot worse.

One of the big draws of this hike, besides the usual ‘beautiful outdoors’ and rushing white noise of water, was the area’s unusual history. Back in the ’30s, the State wanted to build a road north through the San Gabriel River canyon to meet up with Highway 2, which runs along the ridge of the San Gabriel Range east to west. Using prison labor, they managed to quickly build about five miles of road into the Canyon before several days of rain in 1938 caused a major flood that wiped out all of their work. Sections of the road could be seen along the sides of the canyon walls, along with some higher-elevation work from when the State tried to build the road again.

Along the left hand side of that picture, you can see the flattened area where the road used to be, torn apart from beneath by the river. Well, that’s Nature for you. Although, by this point, the engineers really should have seen it coming. Both the San Gabriel and Los Angeles Rivers were constantly changing courses, flooding, and generally kicking the city’s ass every time it rained until the Army Corps of Engineers came along and turned them into open concrete sewers.

But despite our best efforts, eventually the river’s going to come back. If you’ve ever fantasized about the city of Los Angeles being ‘reset’ back to its original state, this hike provided plenty of great hypothetical views. Here’s what a major road looks like after 70 years of disuse:

If you weren’t paying attention to the slight change in ground density while you were walking, you might not even notice you were stepping on asphalt.

Taking my mind off history for a little bit, I did also manage to stop and enjoy the surroundings as well. Lots of water polished boulders, naturally, but also a few isolated sycamore groves along the banks and an extremely varied geologic landscape (there are still several active mining claims in the area). Every time we followed the river along another bend, the mountains just seemed to keep opening up before us.

After a long time on the trail, we hopped onto a section of the old road that made a sharp and steady incline up from the riverbed. The road dissolved back into the wilderness as it ended well above the water. And then, around one more bend, you see it: The Bridge to Nowhere.

It doesn’t look like all that much when you first come to it, but when you cross it and look back, you see how huge and incongruous with its landscape this things actually is.

The 1938 floodwaters were high and fast enough to almost completely wash out the road up until this point, but the bridge was tall enough to escape unscathed. And since no auto traffic had ever gotten the chance to drive across it, it’s in the same state it was when it was finished. Just hangin’ out in the middle of nowhere.

We met a guy who lives out near the bridge – on land his family’s had on a gold claim since the turn of the century. Now he does a small bit of panning, but he also operates the only bungee jumping site in California – right off the bridge. My roommate Aimee did this exact jump for her 25th birthday, and looking at the height of the bridge and the rocky canyon floor at the bottom for myself, my respect for her went up significantly.

Still not something I would ever do, though.

We scrambled on past the bridge, where the canyon walls rose almost vertically all around us. I stopped to eat a bit of lunch while Will and Glen crawled through a small cave into a section of incomplete tunnel that was supposed to lead to the bridge.

Looking back, I kind of wish I’d peeked in. But I dunno. I just have this thing about not wanting to be inside half-completed architectural structures from 70 years ago.

Call me crazy.

Or a wuss. I’ll accept either.

Afterward, we climbed down the walls to the river to lounge around in the water for a bit … and to check out some of the rock formations. I stretched myself out on a large boulder and just listened to the rushing water around me. Stopping a few times to take some pictures, of course.

A great hike. Not too long distance-wise, but time-wise it was a killer. Those river-crossings will really slow ya down. We were in the middle of a gorgeous sunset on the return trip, and got back to the car just before we’d need flashlights. If you’re nimble on boulders or don’t mind getting your feet wet, it’s definitely worth the trip.

The Basics:

- Distance: 9 miles, round trip.
- Elevation Gain: About 1000 ft.
- Time: Plan to make this a full day. The countless river crossings will slow down your usual pace, and you’ll want to take time to enjoy the oddity of the Bridge to Nowhere.
- Trail Condition: Moderate. It’s usually easy to find, but the crossings will slow you down. There are a few places where use trails wind up off the river and end up nowhere, but generally if you follow the river, you’ll get where you’re going.
- How To Get There: From the 210, exit at Azusa Blvd. and head north. Pass through the town and into the Angeles National Forest. Take a right onto East Fork Road until it ends at the East Fork Ranger Station. The trailhead is on the northeast side of the parking lot.
- Map It

The Notables:

- Beautiful river scenery.
- Historic road and tunnels. Evidence of Man’s Folly, if you care to read them that way.
- Multiple swimming holes.
- Incredible isolation, especially the further along the trail you get.
- Oh, that Bridge to Nowhere.

More Pictures:

- Up on Flickr.

For a more detailed write-up of this trail, with GPS information and maps, see my second run

Originally hiked November 5, 2006.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on February 16, 2007

28 Comments

  • Richard W> says:

    Hi. Man does this bring back memories, ‘WOW’. When I was a “kid” in the 50′s our Boyscout Troop hiked up past the bridge (twice). Back then the road was blocked just past the hairpin turn at a primative campsite where the road turns east toward MT. Baldy. There was a locked gate and the area beyond was used by the Calif. Natl Guard, they had tanks and stuff parked up there. It was about a 4 mile hike just to the old prospectors house and another two day hike up the canyon along parts of the washed out road and undeveloped river bottom. There were no trails or campsites along the way. The bridge still had large piles of sand and rock in the middle left there when they quit building. We crawled over the slag pile and walked thru the 70 foot long unfinished tunnel, emerging on the other side to a pristine, untouched scenic meadow beside the river. It was truly awesome. Just above the tunnel was a small one room log [shack] purported to be an old miner’s cabin and a small campsite with an iron wood stove on the ground near the stream. We spent a week there eating what we caught or carried on our backs and then hiked out. On the second trip I jumped in the pool below the bridge to retreive a fishing pole and got a “serious” cut across the bottom of my foot about an inch deep (the whole width of my foot). Needless to say, the hike out several days later was an ordeal, we stopped to change the bandages several times a day. I still have trouble with that foot today! Thanks for a great article and awesome pics!

  • Dino Hiker says:

    JASON: It’s Falls Gulch that you’re talking about. You can find it south of Fish Fork before you get to Iron Fork.

  • JASON says:

    IVE HIKED THIS PATH MANY TIMES LATELY AND LOVE IT, SCREW THE BOLDER JUMPING THOUGH JUST WADE IN WITH GOOD FITTING AND TIGHT MEDIUM SOCKS AND YOULL HAVE NO PROBLEM!!! DOES ANYONE KNOW ABOUT A POSSIBLE CLIFF JUMPING SPOT ABOUT 3 MILES PAST THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE??? APPARENTLY CALLED SOMETHING LIKE “FALLS GLOTCH”. i WAS TOLD BY FELLOW HIKERS ON THE TRAIL THAT THERE IS NO MARKED PATH YOU JUST FALLOW THE RIVER UP THE CANUON THREE OR SO MILES AND COME TO A DEEP WATER HOLE WITH SOME FALLS THAT YOU CAN JUMP OFF. ANY ONE?

  • Angela says:

    Will be hiking and bungee jumping this Saturday. I hope I’m tall enough once the water starts rising…cos I’m only 5’2″ :D Weather forecast say it’ll rain, Bungee America said it’s only sprinkle…so WE’RE SOOO ON! :) Another informative, fun post. You are awesome!

  • Ana says:

    Hey I was wondering if anyone knows where to pay for the bungee jumping and if it’s still open. I’m trying to go on the 7th and was unsure how to go about planning it out. Any info will help. Thank you!

  • dustin says:

    Hiked yesterday, great weather, water levels were fine for passing. When hiking stay to the right of the river (we knew better and went left a few times following other hikers who were hiking their first time). Lots of people out on a Saturday. Apparently you need to buy a daily parking pass, no ticket but recommend buying the pass, usually not that lucky. Overall, great hike.

  • Nick says:

    Hiked it today and had a GREAT time. Water was a bit high though and made almost all the crossing waist deep in the water. It was well worth it. I had been here several times as a child and even a few years ago but this was my first time to the bridge.. Does anyone know where the old tunnels/mines/etc are located? I remember going into one as a kid but couldnt remember where to find it.

  • dehoon says:

    Really nice description of the hike. I got tonnes of info from your page. Please let me know where from you got to know about the history of this area like they used prison labor. I would like to dig deep into it.

  • Modern Hiker says:

    Rich,

    I think those tunnels you’re talking about are part of Shoemaker Canyon Road, the second failed attempt to build a road through this particular canyon.

    And yes, I agree with you on exercising extreme caution. Many people venture into these old tunnels and caves without any trouble, but you really never know.

  • rich kowalski says:

    after reading the stories of people going in to these so called caves,I would advise this to be very unsafe.because of,earthquakes,fumes from gases,etc.

  • rich kowalski says:

    Very nice pics.When I was hiking there in 1970, up above to the left from the parking lot was an old tunnel built for escape from los angeles.there was old buildings up there,with the calender on the wall,old machinery.does anyone know if th e tunnel is still there,we walked thru it,didnt like it,heard noises in the dark

  • MLMAC says:

    thanks for this information, it sounds great. I’m going this weekend so this was very appreciated.

  • Bill says:

    Ghost,Ya ghost. Twice, back in maybe 85′ 86′? I would go out there
    with dad mom sister brother. Saw my dad on rare weekends and sometimes go gold panning,hike all the way back to bridge.So,,,,,,
    one morning going in, on the trail coming our way smiling,walked right passed us . A ghost. A fully dressed in athentic clothing,
    CHINA MAN….Well I figured everyone saw him to.Only me and my Mom did though..I’ll never forget him or that smile.
    no joke- Bill

  • Kurt K. says:

    As a side note to my hike on March 2nd, 2009…
    I noticed that the mine shaft that you walk by once you leave the parking lot is GONE?
    It appears there was some possible rock slides or maybe someone “blasted” the mine shaft closed…

  • Megan says:

    Even in December, the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere is wonderful! I also bungee jumped off the bridge, it was an incredible experience! Bungee America does an amazing job. I highly recommend it!

  • i hiked to the bridge to nowhere in scouts but it was a pain in the butt to get there but we also got to eat some black berries on the way back to my dads blue Toyota truck but it was 10 miles i say. 10 miles!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • DSD says:

    Mountains, river crossings, polished rocks, even a bit of mystery…
    What a great hike! That ‘bridge to nowhere’ is something…
    DSD

  • Steve O says:

    As always, the hike to the Bridge To Nowhere is awesome! A buddy and I hiked beyond the bridge and settled in near Iron Fork. We did it in January and as expected, it was a cold evening, but the weather on the way back was ideal! You’ve gotta’ love our San Gabriel Mountains! I recommend the hike to the bridge and beyond to everyone!

  • Ranger X says:

    That is one cool hike! Definitely a must do if I again make it to soCal. The rocks, the river, the bridge. Fascinating!

    The river washing the road out made me think of God saying in a deep voice, “Thou shalt not pass!” Or maybe it’s Gandalf. Either way…

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