Located on the west end of the San Gabriel Mountains, Placerita Canyon Natural Area (also know as Placerita Canyon State Park) is an interesting park that has something for everyone. There are easy canyon trails and tougher backcountry tracks, along with a nature center and an Ecology Trail that offers an easy loop for those interested in local plants. The park has history too. Gold was discovered in Placerita Canyon in 1842, and a century later the canyon rushed onto the silver screen as a backdrop for westerns.
The main trail in Placerita Canyon, the causally named Canyon Trail, offers an easy 4-mile round trip hike with 300 feet of elevation gain up. The sycamore-lined stroll takes you to Walker Ranch, a group campground at the ruins of an old ranch. You can continue another 2/3 of a mile up Waterfall Trail into Los Pinetos Canyon where, if you time it right, you can see an elusive waterfall. It is 5 1/3 miles round trip to Los Pinetos Waterfall with 560 feet of elevation gain.
Outside the Nature Center in Placerita Canyon you will spot a large sign labeled “Main Trailhead,” pointing you in the direction of a half dozen park trails. Walk past the sign and across Placerita Creek to the start of Canyon Trail on the south bank. Turn left and begin hiking up this level path alongside the creek.
The trail primarily sticks with the south side of the creek, following the canyon east up a gradual grade to Walker Ranch. If you are in the mood to linger beneath the sycamores, three benches along Canyon Trail provide spots to stop and relax. Posts every half-mile let you know where you stand between Walker Ranch and the Nature Center.
Three-quarters of a mile from the start, you will pass through a dramatic kink in the canyon where the canyon walls become steep and pinch together. The canyon widens again as you continue up the trail.
Just after the 1.5-mile marker, you will pass a small pool on the right side of the trail. This is a miniature oil seep where “white oil” naturally bubbles to the surface.
Canyon Trail slips through a grove of live oaks to arrive at Walk Ranch, which has been converted into a group campground. Passing picnic tables and fire rings, you will spot an impressive stone fireplace left over from one of the cottages built by Frank Walker and his family on this site a century ago.
Right after you pass a junction with Los Pinetos Trail (not the route to Los Pinetos Waterfall), Canyon Trail will come to a junction with Waterfall Trail, two miles from the start. Turn right to reach the falls. The dirt single track heads across a field into a branch of Placerita Canyon called Los Pinetos Canyon. As the canyon walls draw together, a short flight of wooden steps that will take you into a narrow ravine.
A half dozen creek crossings are below Los Pinetos Waterfall. If the creek is flowing, you should expect to get your feet wet. Most of the year, the canyon is dry and you will have no trouble progressing up Waterfall Trail. You might feel like an early gold-seeking adventurer as you push up the narrow sylvan canyon. About a tenth of a mile from the top, the canyon splits. Take the right fork continuing up the trail to Los Pinetos Waterfall. As the canyon curves to the left, you’ll see the canyon walls close around the top of the dirt trail. This is the end of Waterfall Trail. Climb up a few boulders to reach the waterfall.
Los Pinetos Waterfall is about 15 feet tall, tumbling down a smooth wall of dark metamorphic rock. The fleeting waterfall only truly gushes after a major rainfall, so you are encouraged to plan your trip after a strong spring storm. The waterfall (as shown) was practically invisible after a couple days of light winter rain. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to catch an appearance of Los Pinetos Waterfall, this is still a fun trek.
Return the way you came down Waterfall Trail and Canyon Trail. Placerita Canyon is a California State Park operated by Los Angeles County so Placerita Canyon Natural Area and Placerita Canyon State Park refer to the same area. 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 is 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 trailhead next to the nature center.
Trailhead address: 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall, CA 91321
Trailhead coordinates: 34.377866, -118.467618 (34° 22′ 40.31″N 118° 28′ 03.42″W)
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