Hike o' the Week: The JPL Trail

Jul 28, 2009

This post concludes our series on favorite hikes for summertime, and this one is the best of the bunch when summer kicks into full gear, as it has now. The trail is easy and shady, with streams for kids to splash in and dogs to drink from.

Trees & water cool the Upper Arroyo trail.

Trees & water cool the Upper Arroyo trail.

Upper Arroyo Seco, Pasadena
5 miles round-trip; easy
Alternate: El Prieto Trail

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. 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, the campground (complete with outhouse and water) and stop after 2.5 miles at the Paul Little Picnic Area and turn around. The ambitious can hike another couple of miles to Oakwilde, site of a once-thriving resort camp. 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 Drive and park where the street dead-ends.

Hiking directions: From the end of Altadena Drive, 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 up in the same place.

6 Responses for “Hike o' the Week: The JPL Trail”

  1. Petrea says:

    One of my favorites, too. A good trail for summer because there’s lots of shade.

  2. Mary T says:

    This is a great hike, well described, but the parking at the end of the dead end mentioned is very limited, and this is a very popular destination.

  3. I love that you did a whole series about local hikes. I’m gonna have to through the older posts. This particular hike sounds pretty cool. I recently did the hike up Echo Mountain (I think that’s what it’s called). It’s the one with the remnants from an old hotel and it has that awesome echo phone. Great blog. Thanks for the info!

  4. […] You can learn a little more about this trail at the Hometown Pasadena website. […]

  5. jose diego says:

    what is the name of the man made dam/ water fall in the far back .When you take that left and go all the way back.

  6. Lynne says:

    It is a natural waterfall called Switzer’s Falls.



Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena