Difficulty: Moderately difficult wilderness trail requiring several stream crossings
The East Fork Trail leads into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness and introduces hikers, anglers, and backpackers to “nature in its grandest proportions” (as John W. Robinson describes the path in Trails of the Angeles). The East Fork was ground zero for southern California’s gold rush in the 1850’s but much of that history was swept away in the great flood of 1862. Today, hobby miners still search the river gravels for the shiny metal, but the river, particularly upstream in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness and proposed wilderness addition, remains one of the most pristine and healthy streams in southern California. The East Fork watershed is an area of high ecological significant that provides important habitat for such endangered species as the Santa Ana sucker and mountain yellow-legged frog.
The East Fork Trail beginning at Heaton Flat provides a rare opportunity for primitive recreation and solitude along a free flowing southern California stream. The primitive nature of this segment is even more striking when compared with the popular and heavily visited segment of the river downstream that is paralleled by the East Fork Road. Hikers should avoid this trail during heavy rains and high water, as it crosses the river without bridges more than 14 times in less than five miles. The impressive Narrows gorge, the incongruous “Bridge to Nowhere” (a street bridge built for a road that was never completed and no longer exists), towering Swan Rock, and the imposing edifices of Iron Mountain and Pine Mountain Ridge are just a few of the sights in the 9 mile round trip walk or backpack from Heaton Flat to the Narrows Trail Camp. For those willing to further explore this wild area, the unmaintained East Fork Trail continues further upstream into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
San Gabriel Mountains Forever is proposing Wild & Scenic River protection for the East Fork and additions to the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, including about 2 miles of the East Fork upstream of Heaton Flat.
How To Get There
From Interstate 210 in the City of Azusa, take the Highway 39/Azusa Avenue exit and head north. After passing through downtown Azusa and crossing Sierra Madre Avenue, Highway 39/Azusa Avenue becomes San Gabriel Canyon Road and then passes the Forest Service’s San Gabriel Entrance Station and enters the Angeles National Forest. Continue on San Gabriel Canyon Road past San Gabriel and Morris Reservoirs. About 7 miles from I-210, turn right and drive over a bridge to the East Fork Road. Continue on the East Fork Road about 6 miles, past the East Fork Station to the Heaton Flat Trailhead. From the trailhead, walk down the closed road for about a half mile as it drops down to the river and then follow a dirt trail that crosses the river several times. You will need to purchase a $5 Adventure Pass to park at the gated West Fork Trailhead. You can purchase it at the San Gabriel Entrance Station, which is located on your right just as you leave the City of Azusa and enter the Angeles National Forest.