Often called “the JPL Trail” by locals (JPL is next door), this is an ideal hike for hot summer months, following the Arroyo Seco stream under shady cover of bay, willow, sycamore and oak—although farther up the trail, much of the foliage remains destroyed or damaged from the 2009 Station Fire . (Here’s a spring 2011 look at the status of the area.) Tongva villages thrived here in the good ol’ days, and in the 19th century, resort cabins lined the Arroyo. This much-loved route is used by JPL lunch-breakers, equestrians, dog walkers, mountain bikers, trail runners, hikers, school groups and scouts, some of whom camp at Gould Mesa. Kids love rock-jumping and fooling around in the stream. Depending on the water levels. be prepared to cross the stream and get your shoes wet.
We typically walk as far as we have time for, then head back. Usually we’ll pass the Forest Service residences and the campground (complete with outhouse and water) and stop after 2.5 miles at the Paul Little Picnic Area and turn around. In theory, the ambitious can hike another couple of miles to Oakwilde, site of a once-thriving resort camp, but fire and storm damage might not have the trail in good shape. If you don’t mind the risk of speeding mountain bikes, consider the alternate El Prieto Trail, a lovely single-track climb along a creek in a green, shady canyon up to Brown Mountain Road; it takes about an hour, round-trip.
Driving Directions: Most people park just south of JPL, but we prefer to skip the first, hot-asphalt-road part of the walk. We drive north on Lincoln, turn left on Altadena Dr. and park where the street dead-ends. Click here for map
Hiking Directions: From the end of Altadena Dr., take the downhill trail a short distance and turn right onto the asphalt road; stay left when it splits and becomes a dirt road. Stay on this for as far as you care to go. If you want a quick side workout, turn left on the fire road just after Gould Mesa Campground and climb up a spell to get a view. To take the El Prieto alternate, take the right split at the end of the asphalt section and look for the trailhead sign. The trail splits many times, but don’t worry, they all reconnect or land in the same place.