Bridge to Nowhere hike Los Angeles San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest California trail

Outside of Southern California, the phrase “bridge to nowhere” brings to mind a contested national embarrassment. For outdoor-loving Angelinos, Bridge to Nowhere is the affectionate name of a local treasure. You’ll find excessive fun, not government spending, on this 10-mile round trip hike with 900 feet of elevation gain. There are several river fords on the trail to the abandoned bridge, along with opportunities to stop and swim. Dedicate at least six hours to completing this hike. An easy-to-acquire wilderness permit is required to hike to the Bridge to Nowhere, as well as a national forest day use pass (details below).

It was actually a lack of financial investment, and not the opposite, that created LA’s Bridge to Nowhere. Constructed in 1936 over a gap carved by the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, the bridge would serve as a link in a roadway between the San Gabriel Valley to the south and Wrightwood to the north. That is until the spring of 1938, when a massive flood changed the landscape of the canyon and washed out the road leading to the bridge. The road was never restored and construction was abandoned. The bridge remains, isolated deep in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Bridge to Nowhere has become an excellent destination for hikers and bungee-jumpers who plunge from the side of the dramatic arch-shaped bridge.

The trail to the Bridge to Nowhere is mostly gradual with some rugged terrain and rock scrambling. Wading through thigh to waist high water is unavoidable (at least in wet months) so pack appropriate footwear. Hiking boots, water shoes, and a towel is the best combination. There are a minimum of four river crossings on the hike up the canyon. Trekking in wet shoes is not idea, and while it is tedious to change your footwear throughout the hike, your feet may thank you.

Don’t be surprised if the trailhead is crowded. This is a popular hike, and people also park here to picnic and swim in the nearby river. Arrive early, and prepare to leave your vehicle along the road leading to the trailhead if the lot is full.

Bridge to Nowhere Trail
Looking up the East Fork of the San Gabriel River toward Heaton Flats Trail Camp

Begin by hiking half a mile down a wide dirt road to Heaton Flats Trail Camp. This first stretch of the trail is slightly downhill, but that changes when you reach the campground, and start to hike uphill. There is limited shade on this trail, and the last two miles are almost entirely in the sun. There is a bathroom at the campground, in case you forgot to go at the trailhead, as well as a junction with the less traveled Heaton Flats Trail, the only trail junction en route to Bridge to Nowhere.

Proceed another quarter mile, passing some concrete remnants of the old roadway to reach your first taste of the river, a quasi-crossing (when the water level is high). Though the trail maintains its course on the east side of the river, it passes between a rock and a wet place. You must either walk through potentially ankle-deep water, or carefully traverse a short rocky ledge just above the shallow water. This river encounter is optional. The next one is not. A quarter-mile ahead, barrel straight through the thigh to waist-high water. Be careful on the slippery rocks as you cross the cold rushing river. A walking stick is a helpful tool.

Bridge to Nowhere Trail
The trail above the East Fork of the San Gabriel River

It is 0.3 miles up the west side of the river to the next crossing. Find the log bridge and you can stay dry crossing the channel. As you continue north, the trail begins to break up. Any path up the canyon will work, but as a general rule, the preferable route can be found on the east back of the river (except for the stretch between the first and second crossings). You can stay on the east side of the canyon for the next 1.65 miles. However, there is an optional crossing half a mile past the second crossing that tempts many hikers. When the trail appears to head straight into the river, stay dry by proceeding up the rock to the right, which leads to a fun scramble through boulders and trees. The trail becomes difficult to follow as it traverses a rocky riparian woodland. As long as you stick to the east side of the canyon, you will find your way.

Bridge to Nowhere Trail
Looking back down the trail to Bridge to Nowhere

A mile and a quarter from the second creek crossing, and just over 2.5 miles from the start, you will cross a short wooden footbridge and enter Sheep Mountain Wilderness. The trail continues over dirt, sand, and gnarly rocks. Just before reaching the next mandatory river crossing, 2.95 miles from the start, keep an eye on the rock wall on the west side of the canyon. You will find an animalistic white-on-black pattern nicknamed The Swan. Ford the river and then immediately wade back to the east shore. A stream flowing into the river here is surrounded by concrete retaining walls, evidence the old road up the canyon.

There is a bit of pavement resembling an old road to walk on until you reach a large area washed out by the flood at around mile 3.5. The trail drops into a gravel bed on the outside of a bend in the river. Straight ahead, a single wooden frame from an old suspension line can be seen atop a small ridge protruding from the east side of the canyon. The trail splits, leaving hikers to choose between two obstacles. Stick to the river and set yourself up for two water crossings, or ascend the steep slope to the old road to the right side of the canyon below the wooden pole. This road will suddenly disappear, forcing you to make a rope-assisted descent down a steep rock wall to return to the riverbed. Pick your poison and continue toward the Bridge to Nowhere.

Follow the river to a distinct line of trees, just over 3.75 miles from the start. Turn right and make your way up to the old road bed above the east side of the river. Follow the old road for the final 1.1 miles. The sun-exposed trail rises above the river as it passes through a narrowing canyon and is lined with low brush like chamise and sage that offer broad views.

Bridge to Nowhere Trail
The trail along the old roadway leading to the bridge

After passing two private property signs (hiker access is permitted), the bridge will appear. It is supported by a grand concrete arch straddling the canyon, shaped like the top of an egg. It is an elegant structure that provides excellent views. As you cross the bridge, you will notice that it is lower on the right side, adding a touch of vertigo to this out-of-place bridge. The thrill of a good hike is not enough for many, who make the trek in order to bungee-jump from the side of the bridge. Bungee America is the only approved vendor for jumping off the bridge.

Beyond the bridge there is a pleasure of another kind, a refreshing swimming hole. A steep single-track drops 1/8 of a mile into the canyon above the bridge. Here you will find relaxing pools, as well as fun rapids – the perfect break before a long hike back.

Bridge to Nowhere Trail
Relaxing in a swimming hole below the Bridge to Nowhere

A wilderness permit is required to access Sheep Mountain Wilderness. You may self-register for a permit at the kiosk at the south end of the trailhead, or obtain one at the East Fork Ranger Station located on the road to the trailhead (or at other ranger stations in the Angeles National Forest). The permit is free. This trail begins within the national forest so an adventure pass (day use pass) is required, and can also be purchased at the ranger station. Dogs are permitted, but this is a long hike with areas of rough terrain that may not be suitable for your canine companion. Bridge to Nowhere is an unforgettable hike, and an understandable Los Angeles favorite.

To get to the trailhead: From the 210 freeway in Azusa, take exit 40 north on Route 39. Drive 11.6 miles north, passing the East Fork Ranger Station at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Pass San Gabriel Reservoir and turn right on East Fork Road. After 5.2 miles, when the road makes a sharp bend to the right, continue straight ahead on Camp Bonita Prairie Forks Road, sticking with the river for an additional 3/4 of a mile to the trailhead parking area.

Trailhead address: Camp Bonita Road, Angeles National Forest, Azusa, CA 91702
Trailhead coordinates: 34.23696, -117.765119 (34° 14′ 13.05″N 117° 45′ 54.42″W)

Use the map below to create your own directions:

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Photos

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These photos were taken in July of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
Heaton Flats TrailHeaton Flats Trail
This hike of 3.6 to 6 miles (or more) starts from the same trailhead as the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere and climbs toward Iron Mountain and panoramic views.
Smith MountainSmith Mountain
This 7-mile hike ascends 1,800 feet to a 5,111 foot summit with panoramic views over the San Gabriel Mountains.
Crystal Lake hike Angeles Crystal Lake
This 1 1/3-mile round trip hike visits the only naturally occurring lake in the San Gabriel Mountains.
fish canyon hikeFish Canyon Falls
This 4-mile hike starts at a rock quarry with restricted access and ends up at a multi-tiered 80-foot waterfall.
Azusa Peak Garcia Trail Azusa Peak (and Glendora Peak) via Garcia Trail
This 2 2/3-mile or 4 2/3-mile hike ascends Garcia Trail to “the A” and one or two picturesque summits along Glendora Ridge Motorway.
Angeles trailsMore trails in the Los Angeles
Explore other destinations in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and elsewhere.
Similar Trail
Fish Canyon NarrowsFish Canyon Narrows
This hike of ten miles or more explores an enchanting narrow canyon on the east side of the Angeles National Forest in the Sierra Pelona Mountains north of Santa Clarita.
Camping
Coldbrook CampgroundColdbrook Campground
This 20-site campground in the Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains offers first-come first-serve camping year-round.

33 Comments on Bridge to Nowhere in the San Gabriel Mountains

  1. Elle says:

    It looks like so much fun!! I may have to plan this “bridge to nowhere” hike in the summer!

  2. Lori Bickel says:

    Great commentary, mile markers, photos and map. Thank you soooo much! Might you know the name of the camp site just past the bridge, across the river, on the right? We were there Nov. 27th for a day hike and are returning in a few weeks to camp. Your notes are mega helpful!

    • hikespeak says:

      Hi Lori,
      I wasn’t aware of a camping area beyond the bridge. Have a great time on your return hike. Let me know if you find it!

      • Bobby says:

        Is it an official campsite? I think I know the spot you are talking about. Haven’t been there in 15 years, but I remember over the bridge, scaling the tiny pathway around the hill (up the river) to the cave opening. And there was passage across the river to a large flat area perfectly suitable for a group camp. But it wasn’t an official campsite that required reservations/pass/etc.

    • Joseph says:

      The campsite you are talking about is a Boys Scout Camp.

  3. Chris Berger says:

    This hike was great, a fun yet challenging trail and a great payoff when you get to the bridge. I chose to hike just beyond the bridge and down to the river to relax before coming back. This hike is challenging, make sure you pack a lot of water (I drank about 3L on a hot day).

  4. Monika says:

    Is this suitable for kids? My 11 year old wants to do it, she’s in a great shape, but I’m worried about the river crossings.

  5. [...]  The Bridge to Nowhere hike in the San Gabriel Mountains. Someday if I ever become a hiker, this is on my list. Another local [...]

  6. Art Molina says:

    One of My Favorite Hikes

  7. [...] Today I set out on a new trail. Mark Deaner was our trail leader for this hike.  He chose the Bridge to Nowhere in the San Gabriel Mountains. [...]

  8. Morgan says:

    This is one of my favorite hikes in LA! It’s nice to get away from all that is LA, and enjoy this scenic, adventurous hike!

  9. T says:

    Hello, planning to hike in September. How are the water levels, how high to they normally go around that time?

  10. Carli Arndt says:

    How much does the wilderness permit cost?

  11. Etleo Soiluz says:

    This is a great hike with many chances to soak in the river on a hot day. For those in decent shape, this hike should be fun with some mild challenge. Bring some snacks and a decent water supply with you for fun time.
    Backpackers should have a good time with plenty of spaces on the banks of the river to set up your bivouac along the river. There is one spot in particular, just beyond the Bridge to Nowhere, that is worth staging at, just try and get there early!

  12. Michael Fracul says:

    Have not been up to the bridge in 25 years,went up with some friends yesterday 9/07/2013. It was great.

  13. Andy m, USA says:

    Very awesome hike. Extremely unfortunate that the visitors have strewn so much litter everywhere. If you can spare the pack room, it would help if everyone just picked up a little trash. I pulled out two shopping bags worth and there was so much more around. Picnickers just left whole meals of wrappers, cartons, cans where they ate and left. :-(

    • Jay Man says:

      Andy: Yea the trash makes me sick. I backpack in for a night or two as a quick get away and I try to always pick up some of it. I think it comes from the people going to Bungee Jump and the unsavory characters prospecting for gold, that just don’t care. I think something more should be done about this Issue! 1 thing would be the Bungee company should do more to clean up because they are profiting and these people are just leaving there trash everywhere… among other things.
      Also the prospectors are destroying the river bed (which they site some constitutional act of 18 something as protecting their right to prospect in wilderness land) and leaving trash and lots of abandoned gear and crap behind.
      All I’m saying is maybe people like you (Andy) and me who care about protecting these wilderness areas should do more!

      • Kyser Anderson says:

        You said you backpack there, was thinking about doing that do you just leave your car in the parking lot there? or what do you do with passes and what not?

  14. […] I didn’t realize at the time, but a wilderness pass is also required for each hiker.  Go to Hikespeak.com for more […]

  15. […] the past month, we’ve hiked a couple trails in the San Gabriel Mountains like Bridge to Nowhere and Icehouse Canyon […]

  16. Ebelina says:

    I want to go here !

  17. Gregory says:

    how much does the camping permit cost for two nights? in the area at the beginning where many campsites are set.
    has another price than the annual price for parking

  18. eric lewis says:

    I had been thinking of this hike for some time, so, late in the day on Memorial Day I started hiking at 4:20pm. I figured it would take me only an hour or so, but it took me more than 2 hours. I made it to the bridge a little past 6:30. Started hiking back around 7 and I just wanted to make it back before it got too dark. Made it back to the parking lot at 8:45. This was definitely more challenging than I expected. I’m a mailman and I walk 12 miles everyday. But it was definitely challenging. Even saw some Big Horn Sheep!

  19. Blaze says:

    Eric,
    Thanks for the post. WAS THERE ANY WATER BY THE BRIDGE?

    Planning to leave Friday for a few nights, so a response would be incredibly helpful.

    Much Love!
    Blaze

    • Chris says:

      Hey I am going tomorrow (7-12-14) and I am curious if you were able to answer your question regarding the water by the bridge. I know it’s going to be hot so it would be nice to take a refreshing swim once we reach the bridge. All the best

      • Christian says:

        Hi there, how was your hike? Was there any water by the bridge? I am planning to go in 2 weeks. Any advice on nearby campsites would be helpful, if you saw anything..

        Thank you!

    • teddylebear says:

      This is probably far too late of a response but nonetheless it might benefit others. There is definitely lots of water, from the river obviously. If you hike past the bridge and go down the trail, you will find a swimming hole that’s nearly 4.5ft deep. I saw several teenagers jumping from the rock into the hole. The water feels incredible after 5 miles. So be sure to take a dip into it even if you just stick your feet in.

  20. Yi Feng says:

    I reached the bridge to nowhere for a second time last Friday. The first time was three years ago. During my first trip,
    I lost the trail and waded up the river to the bridge before climbing on the almost vertical face of the rock next to the bridge. The second time was easy, as I learned a lesson from the first trip. One should cross the river to the left bank and cross back three times before walking up to the trail on the right, on the mountainside. If you cross the river more than six times (back and forth), you are losing the trail. The theory is: Try to keep to the right wherever you can. If you cannot, move to the other side of the river (left). After the cross and cross back for the third time, look to your right. On the mountainside, try to discern the trail. It is visible if you purposely look for it. Last Friday, three groups – a total of 8 people – missed the trail and they stayed with the river to far. Two groups returned to the trail head without going to the bridge as they were too tired and lost much time walking along the river. The other group, a couple, reversed and found the trail on the mountainside. They would not go back without seeing the bridge. We saw two groups of bighorn. Very impressive.

  21. Jeremy says:

    I’d like to take my 6 year old on this trail in September 2014. Can anyone whose done this trail recently comment on the part above that says “barrel straight through the thigh to waist-high water” which seems to be around mile one? The story above was written in 2011- now, in summer of 2014 in the midst of our (unfortunate) drought, I’m wondering if the river is lower? I ask because “thigh-high” for an adult is like “shoulder-high” for a 6 year old and his mom will kill me if I get him into a dangerous river-crossing situation :) Thanks for any input.

  22. Mike K says:

    My daughter and I just did the hike Labor Day weekend. There is still plenty of water in the river but it is WAY down from where I have seen it in the past. No problem for a 6-year-old. Ankle deep and knee-deep at worst. Most crossings you can dance across the rocks anyway.

    Do be a little careful in the pools past the bridge in the river. There were a couple of Bighorn Sheep up there kicking rocks down into the river. Also there is one spot on the trail right before the bridge that has a precipitous drop if you were to somehow slide off the trail. Just be careful is all.

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