Placerita Canyon Natural Area is an interesting park on the west end of the San Gabriel Mountains near Newhall Pass. Gold was discovered in Placerita Canyon in 1842, and a century later the canyon rushed onto the silver screen as a backdrop for westerns. Today, the park is home to the Placerita Canyon Nature Center where you can learn about local plants and animals. Tucked behind the nature center, you’ll find the Ecology Trail, a 2/3 of a mile lollipop loop offering an outdoor course on local vegetation. There is just 100 feet of easy elevation change along the loop as you explore oak woodland, chaparral, and riparian plant communities. Sightseeing is included with botany lesson, as the top of the loop delivers a nice view over Placerita Canyon.
Walk through the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, taking a moment to look at the caged red-tailed hawk and check out the exhibits on other plants and animals. You’ll find the start of the Ecology Trail out the backdoor of the Nature Center.
Make a right at an immediate junction to continue northeast up the dirt trail. You’ll pass a model of a Native American hut before coming to the start of the loop. Bear right to hike Ecology Trail in a counterclockwise direction. All junctions will be well marked.
As you take this casual stroll, you won’t be left to guess what kinds of plants you are walking past because everything is identified along the trail. The loop passes scrub oaks, yerba santa, giant wild rye, and mule fat (just to name a few). After a gradual switching climb, reach a landing on a ridge with a broad view southwest down Placerita Canyon. Enjoy the perch before completing the loop and returning to the nature center.
If you are looking for a longer hike, Placerita Canyon Natural Area also boasts a 5.33-mile round trip hike to Los Pinotes Waterfall. The Placerita Canyon Nature Center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dogs are welcome on this hike and no fee or permit required, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Drive up the 5 Freeway to Newhall Pass and take exit 162 for Route 14. Drive 2.6 miles north on Route 14 and take exit 3 for Placerita Canyon Road. Turn right at the bottom of the ramp and drive 1.5 miles to the entrance of Placerita Canyon Natural Area, which will be on your right. Pull into the park and make your way to the nature center.
Trailhead address: 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall, CA 91321
Trailhead coordinates: 34.377866, -118.540882 (34° 22′ 41.70″N 118° 28′ 01.71″W)
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