Cherry Canyon Park preserves over 130 acres in the San Rafael Hills, a small mountain range east of the Verdugo Mountains and south of the San Gabriel Mountains in the city of La Cañada Flintridge. The park has many trails, including wide fire roads suitable for horses and mountain bikes and single tracks strictly for hikers. For a good overview of the area, consider hiking to an old lookout tower at the high point of the park along with Ultimate Destination Vista Point, which offers a panoramic view east over the San Gabriel Valley and north toward the grand San Gabriel Mountains. Beginning with a hike up Cherry Canyon Motorway, it is a 2.5-mile round trip hike to the two overlooks, with 500 feet of elevation gain. For a longer trek, substitute Descanso Motorway for Cherry Canyon Motorway to bring the distance up to 4.8 miles round trip.
This route to two overlooks uses wide trails that are suitable for bikers and hikers, skipping over the impressive network of single-track trails that crisscross Cherry Canyon Park. Set out from the gate where the pavement ends at the bottom of Cherry Canyon Motorway on the east side of the park. The wide dirt trail ventures west up a canyon between chaparral-covered ridges. After 0.15 miles, you will pass a track descending to the left and another track, Liz’s Loop Trail, that heads up the ridge to the right. Stay on Cherry Canyon Motorway, which continues for another 0.4 miles to a major junction called Five Points, located in a saddle on the main ridgeline.
On your right, Descanso Motorway heads north, but you will want to head south to reach the lookout tower and Ultimate Destination Trail. Take the fire road heading up the ridge on your left, marked with a sign for Ridge Motorway. Cerro Negro Trail falls between Cherry Canyon Motorway and Ridge Motorway. This single track also ascends the ridge and passes through a junction before reconnecting with Ridge Motorway, so it can be used to reach Ultimate Destination Trail as well.
Hike up Ridge Motorway, which presents westward views toward the Verdugo Mountains. After a quarter mile, and just past a junction with Owl Trail, the fire road levels out and curves to the right, coming to a junction with the top of Ultimate Destination Trail. While it might seem upside-down, the vista point is actually below the ridge, so you’ll hike downhill to reach Ultimate Destination Vista Point.
Bear left down Ultimate Destination Trail and hike 1/8 of a mile to a T-junction. Turn left and hike another 1/8 of a mile out to Ultimate Destination Vista Point, located in a clearing on a landing on the side of the ridge. There are picnic tables and a water fountain to compliment views north toward the San Gabriel Mountains. Mount Wilson rises high to the northeast above Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. A single-track trail leaving the vista point can be used to hike down into Cherry Canyon and back to the trailhead for those who do not want to continue on to the lookout tower.
When you’ve taken in the ultimate view, it’s time to continue on to a higher vantage near an old fire lookout tower. Backtrack to the previous junction and, if you’d like to add a little loop to the hike, continue straight to meet back up with Ridge Motorway at a higher point. Go straight through to next junction to ascend to the fire road. Bear left and take Ridge Motorway up the ridge to the lookout tower visible just to the south.
Around the next bend, you will reach a junction below the fenced-in overlook at the highest point on the ridgeline. Straight ahead, you can walk up to the fence enclosing the old tower atop the unnamed 1,887-foot summit. Ridge Motorway continues to the right, rolling farther south down the ridge, while another dirt road to the left connects to the neighborhood just to the east. Make a sort of U-turn to the left to reach a dirt turnaround where there is a colorfully painted bench at the perfect place to sit and take in the view. From here there are views southwest toward Glendale and downtown Los Angeles as well as wide open views west toward the Verdugo Mountains and north toward the San Gabriels. The tower, labeled on some maps as Cerro Negro Tower, now hosts communications antennas and dishes.
After taking in the above-ultimate view from the bench by the lookout tower, hike half a mile back down Ridge Motorway to return to the top of Cherry Canyon Motorway. Finish by hiking 0.55 miles down Cherry Canyon Motorway to complete the 2.5-mile out and back hike to the two vista points.
As an alternative, hikers can begin from Descanso Trail, located at the north end of the park near Descanso Gardens (directions to both trailheads are below). After the first tenth of a mile, Descanso Trail reaches a string of tight steep switchbacks that quickly ascend 100 feet (walking bikes is recommended). At the top of the climb, the trail widens into Descanso Lateral. The trail will dip across a saddle at 0.7 miles, joining Descanso Motorway, which comes up to the ridge from Descanso Gardens. Take an undulating course south down the ridge, passing a few warning signs about the Glendale Police Firing Range. Reach a T-junction at 1.6 miles, and bear right. In another tenth of a mile, Descanso Motorway joins Cherry Canyon Motorway at the Five Points junction where you should continue south up Ridge Motorway. This alternate opening leg extends the hike from 2.5 to 4.8 miles round trip with added elevation gain.
The two trailheads are 1.4 miles apart. Dogs and bikes are allowed in Cherry Canyon Park. No fee or permit is required to hike in the park, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the Cherry Canyon Motorway trailhead: Take the Glendale Freeway (CA 2) 4 miles north of the 134 to the Verdugo Boulevard Exit (just south of the 210 Freeway). Turn right to head east on Verdugo Boulevard for 0.3 miles. Turn right onto Descanso Drive and drive 0.9 miles to Chevy Chase Drive. Turn right, heading south, and make the next right onto Hampstead Road. Drive 0.4 miles to Cherry Canyon Motorway and turn right. The trailhead is a short distance up this road. There is parking on the left side of the road just below the gate where the hike begins.
Trailhead address: Hampstead Road & Cherry Canyon Mtwy, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Trailhead coordinates: 34.193985, -118.203794 (34° 11′ 38.34″N 118° 12′ 13.65″W)
To get to the Descanso Trail trailhead: Take the Glendale Freeway (CA 2) 4 miles north of the 134 to the Verdugo Boulevard Exit (just south of the 210 Freeway). Turn right to head east on Verdugo Boulevard for 0.3 miles. Turn right onto Descanso Drive and drive 0.2 miles to the start of Descanso Trail, which is on the right at a left hand bend in the road. Roadside parking is available.
Trailhead address: 1480 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Trailhead coordinates: 34.204047,-118.211562 (34° 12′ 14.56″N 118° 12′ 41.62″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.
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