Hike the Arroyo Seco

The Arroyo Seco offers a wonderful array of experiences for walkers and hikers. From the get-away-from-it-all ruggedness of the mountain watershed to gritty urban adventures alongside freeways, there is a rich variety of experiences.

The Arroyo Seco begins at Red Box near Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains and proceeds through steep mountain canyons for eleven miles until it enters the urban plain of Southern California at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  The Arroyo Seco stream, largely channelized south of Devil's Gate Dam, proceeds for eleven miles more through Pasadena, South Pasadena and Northeast Los Angeles to the confluence with the Los Angeles River near Elysian Park, Chinatown and downtown Los Angeles.

Angeles Forest Millard Hahamongna Rose Bowl Lower Arroyo South Pasadena Northeast LA
Angeles National Forest

The Gabrielino Trail has delighted hikers as long as people have lived in our area. You can take it from the top near Red Box, although most people park at the parking lot overlooking JPL near the intersection of Windsor and Ventura on the east side near the mouth of the Arroyo Seco. It’s a delightful walk along the Arroyo Seco stream which has water flowing almost all the year.

There are a variety of destinations suited to every hiking ability:

  • Teddy’s Outpost-- 3 miles roundtrip

  • Gould Mesa– 4 miles roundtrip

  • Paul Little Campground– 6.5 miles roundtrip

  • Oakwilde– 10 miles roundtrip

  • Switzers Camp– 18 miles roundtrip

In planning your hike, take into account the significant elevation difference to the upper locations and the dry conditions that often characterize the Summer and early Fall.

Millard Canyon

Millard Canyon is the eastern edge of the Arroyo Seco watershed entering the Arroyo from the east just north of JPL. The trail is blocked by the odious La Viña development and private property, but there is a wonderful trail north up the canyon from the Millard Canyon parking lot. Go north on Chaney Trail from Loma Alta in Altadena for one mile over Sunset Ridge and down (to the left) into the Millard Canyon parking lot. It's a quick one mile trip to a beautiful waterfall and several miles more up the steam to Dawn Mine.

Hahamongna

Hahamongna is a remarkable hidden treasure, rich in water, wildlife and botanical resources. It’s a great place to walk around and observe Southern California’s unique setting and seasonal changes. Sadly the area is little appreciated because of its long abuse and neglect. Mining operations and other industrial activity there have scared off nature lovers. Now Pasadena’s master plan for the area, seventeen years in preparation, calls for a perimeter trail that will be about 3 miles long for exercise walkers and hikers, but it’s easy to enjoy the area now through the trails that move through the 250 acre basin at the foot of the mountains.

Park in the parking lot on the west side of Hahamongna Watershed Park (formerly Oak Grove Park) or in the parking lot near the intersection of Windsor and Ventura Street overlooking JPL on the east side.

Rose Bowl Loop

This is probably the most popular way to enjoy the Arroyo. Everyday thousands of walkers amble around the 3.1 mile Rose Bowl Loop for exercise and relaxation. Taking advantage of parking in the Rose Bowl lots, walkers often go in groups and on a regular basis.

An eight-foot wide pedestrian lane was painted on the asphalt in the early 90s directing walkers to proceed in a counter-clockwise direction. This was an attempt to promote safety, so the walkers could observe car or bike traffic coming at them. (The California vehicle code directs walkers to proceed facing traffic where there are no sidewalks). But the signs are largely ignored, and most walkers still go clockwise.

Recreational cyclists and racers also love this area, and a high-speed peloton jets around the loop several times a week in the late afternoon.

Pasadena's Lower Arroyo

Here’s another popular jaunt for local residents. Nature lovers and dog-walkers frequent the area, parking on the rim of the Arroyo or in the parking lot of Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Nature Park. They then walk down to the horse stables at the South Pasadena city limits or up to the Colorado Street Bridge where you can cross the flood channel. The northern part of this area contains the BFI low-flow stream experiment. Controlled flows are diverted below the Colorado Street Bridge and directed into streamzones on both sides of the flood channel. The riparian habitat has become so thick that it is often hard to see the stream. The flow in the artificial streams sometimesis turned off because of sediment buildup and maintenance problems. Still the area is a welcome oasis from the urban hustle-and-bustle.

South Pasadena

There’s a little-known but wonderful trail along the east side of the Arroyo Seco through Sycamore Park and the golf course area. It hugs the hillside and emerges into the four acre nature park recently established by South Pasadena, just south of the golf course driving range near the York Street Bridge.

Northeast Los Angeles

The intrepid Arroyo walker has to be more ingenious and bold in this stretch of the Arroyo because there are a variety of paths and conditions here. From Arroyo Seco Park on the boundary of South Pasadena and Los Angeles, walkers can cross Marmion Way and walk along the path near the Gold Line tracks that hugs the hillside down to and through Debs Park. Another nice walk is to take the concrete bike path in the bottom of the Arroyo Seco stream from Arroyo Seco Park to the Montecito Park Community Center near Heritage Square and the Lummis House. Walkers need to exercise their rich ingenuity here to get through the barriers and fences presented by Heritage Square, numerous roads and bridges and the 5/110 freeway exchange. The persistent hiker will be rewarded by reaching the confluence of the Arroyo Seco stream with the Los Angeles River. Hopefully the planning and development of Confluence Park and other efforts will establish trails that are easy and safe here.

Some of the highlights along the route include:

  • Heritage Square

  • Sycamore Grove Park

  • El Alisal (the Lummis Home)

  • Southwest Museum and

  • the LA River Center.

There is a also a fun walkway along the Arroyo Seco Parkway (aka: Pasadena Freeway) over the Los Angeles River through Elysian Park into Solano Canyon near Dodger Stadium and Chinatown. It is accessible from a circular stairway around the freeway pilings at Avenue 19.