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Day Hike

Winter Creek Trail Leads Into the San Gabriels' Past

December 19, 1987|JOHN McKINNEY

Cascades, currants and woodwardia ferns are a few of the delights of historic Winter Creek Canyon.

Before the turn of the century, packer/entrepreneur Wilbur Sturtevant set up a trail camp in one of the woodsy canyons on the southern slope of Mt. Wilson. This peaceful creek-side refuge from city life was called Sturtevant's Winter Camp.

In later years the name Winter was given to the creek, the headwaters of which rise from the shoulder of Mt. Wilson and tumble southeasterly into Big Santa Anita Canyon.

In 1908, Arie Hoegee and his family built a resort here that soon became a popular destination for Mt. Wilson-bound hikers and remained so until battered by the great flood of 1938. A trail camp named for the Hoegees stands on the site of the old resort and offers the modern-day hiker a tranquil picnic site or rest stop.

A hike along Winter Creek is a fine way to greet the arrival of winter. One of a half-dozen trails accessible from the Chantry Flat trailhead just above Arcadia in the Angeles National Forest, Winter Creek Trail offers a pleasant hike in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Directions to trailhead: From the Foothill Freeway (Interstate 210) in Arcadia, exit on Santa Anita Ave. and drive six miles north to its end at Chantry Flat. The trail begins across the road from the parking area. A tiny store at the edge of the parking lot sells maps and refreshments.

For more information about trails and recreation in the Chantry Flat area of the Angeles National Forest, call the Arroyo Seco Ranger District at (818) 790-1151.

The Hike: Descend three-quarters of a mile on the paved fire road, part of the signed Gabrielino Trail, into Big Santa Anita Canyon. At the bottom of the canyon, you will cross a footbridge near the confluence of Big Santa Anita and Winter creeks.

After crossing the bridge, look left for the signed Lower Winter Creek Trail. Following the bubbling creek, the trail tunnels beneath the boughs of oak and alder, willow and bay. The only blemish on the scene is a series of check dams constructed of giant cement "Lincoln logs" by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District and Forest Service in the early 1960s. Moss, ferns and other creek-side flora have softened the dams' appearance, making them fit much better into the wild surroundings.

You will pass some cabins, built just after the turn of the century and reached only by trail. For more than seven decades, the needs of the cabin owners have been supplied by pack train.

Today, one of the more colorful sights in the San Gabriel Mountains is packers Dennis and Jody Lonergan urging their obstinate donkeys up the Winter Creek Trail. When you see man and beast moving through the forest, it's easy to imagine that you've stepped three-quarters of a century back in time. The Lonergans operate one of the last working pack strings in Southern California.

After crossing Winter Creek, you'll arrive at Hoegees Camp. About 12 tables beneath the big cone spruce offer fine picnicking. Almost all signs of the original Hoegees Camp are gone, except for flourishing patches of ivy. In later years, Hoegees was renamed Camp Ivy.

Walk through the campground until you spot a tiny trail sign. Cross Winter Creek here and bear left on the trail. In a short while you will pass a junction with Mount Zion Trail, a steep trail that climbs over the mountain to Sturtevant Camp and Big Santa Anita Canyon.

After recrossing the creek, you'll pass a junction with a trail leading to Mt. Wilson and join the Upper Winter Creek Trail. This trail contours around a ridge onto open chaparral-covered slopes. This stretch of trail offers fine clear-day views of Sierra Madre and Arcadia.

The trail joins a fire road just above Chantry Flat and you follow this road through the picnic area back to the parking lot.

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