For outdoor-loving Angelinos, Bridge to Nowhere is the affectionate name of a local treasure, an abandoned bridge on a washed-away road in the San Gabriel Mountains that spans across the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. You’ll find excessive fun on this 10-mile round trip hike with 900 feet of elevation gain. The trail uses several river fords to reach the Bridge to Nowhere, adding 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.
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.
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.
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 animal-like 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.
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.
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 Angeles National Forest or San Gabriel Mountains National Monument). 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, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Azusa, CA 91702
Trailhead coordinates: 34.23696, -117.765119 (34° 14′ 13.05″N 117° 45′ 54.42″W)
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