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Day Hike

Find a Bonanza at Lush Millard Canyon

May 07, 1988|JOHN McKINNEY

Hidden from the metropolis by Sunset Ridge, lush Millard Canyon is one of the more secluded spots in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. A cold stream tumbling over handsome boulders and a trail meandering beneath a canopy of alders, oaks and sycamores are a few of the many attractions of Millard Canyon.

The historical record is sketchy in regard to squatter Henry W. Millard, who, about 1862, settled at the mouth of the canyon that now bears his name. Millard eked out a living by keeping bees and hauling firewood to Los Angeles. He reportedly spent a decade in the canyon, then left suddenly in 1872 after his wife and child died.

The canyon is best known as the site of Dawn Mine, which, unfortunately for its investors, produced more stories than gold. The mine, which hikers should not enter, was worked intermittently from 1895 when gold was first discovered, until the 1950s. Enough gold was mined to keep ever-optimistic prospectors certain that they would soon strike a rich ore-bearing vein, but the big bonanza was never found.

You can explore Millard Canyon by two different routes. They lack official names but are often referred to together as Millard Canyon Trail. An easy half-mile path meanders along the canyon floor to 50-foot Millard Falls. This is a pleasant walk, suitable for the whole family, and provides a good introduction to the delights of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Experienced hikers will enjoy the challenge of following an abandoned trail through Millard Canyon to the site of Dawn Mine. Enough of the old trail remains to keep you on track, but it's slow going with many stream crossings en route.

Directions to trailhead: From the Foothill Freeway in Pasadena, exit on Lake Avenue. Drive north four miles, at which point Lake Avenue veers left and becomes Loma Alta Drive. Continue a mile to Chaney Trail and turn right. Proceed another mile to a junction atop Sunset Ridge.

If you're taking the hike to Dawn Mine, you'll bear right at this junction and park just outside the gate blocking Sunset Ridge Fire Road.

If you're bound for Millard Canyon Falls, you'll stay left at the junction and descend to a parking lot at the bottom of the canyon.

The hike to Millard Canyon Falls: From the parking area at the bottom of Millard Canyon, you'll walk 100 yards up a fire road to Millard Canyon Campground. Walk through the campground and pick up the signed trail leading to the falls. The trail heads east along the woodsy canyon bottom, crosses the stream a couple of times and arrives at the base of the waterfall. Don't try to climb up, over or around the falls; people have been injured attempting this foolhardy ascent.

The hike to Dawn Mine: From the Sunset Ridge parking area, head up the fire road. Enjoy the clear-day ridgetop views of the metropolis. You'll soon pass a junction on your left with a trail leading down to Millard Canyon Campground. This trail (and others on the slopes of Mt. Wilson) was damaged by last year's earthquake and has not yet been repaired.

A quarter of a mile from the trailhead, you'll spot the signed Sunset Ridge Trail, which you will join and begin descending into Millard Canyon. A few minutes of walking down the well-graded path will reward you with an eagle's-eye view of Millard Canyon Falls.

Near the canyon bottom, you will meet a trail junction. Sunset Ridge Trail continues along the canyon wall, but you bear left and descend past a cabin to the canyon floor. As you begin hiking up-canyon, turn around and take a mental photograph of the trail that brought you down to the canyon; it's easy to miss on your return trip.

As you pick your way stream-side among the boulders and fallen trees on the canyon floor, you will follow vestiges of the old trail. Typically, you will follow a 50- or 100-yard stretch of trail, boulder-hop for a bit, cross the stream, then pick up another length of trail. The stream is relatively low this spring, so you should be able to keep your feet dry when crossing.

The canyon floor is strewn with lengths of rusting pipe and assorted mining machinery. Several pools, cascades and flat rocks suggest a stream-side picnic.

After hiking a bit more than a mile up-canyon, you will find that Millard Canyon turns north. From this turn, it's a bit less than a mile to the Dawn Mine site. Don't go in the mine shaft. Darkness and deep holes filled with water make it very dangerous.

Return the same way, and remember to keep a sharp lookout for the trail that leads out of the canyon back to the trailhead.

Millard Canyon Trail

To Millard Canyon Falls: 1 mile round trip. To Dawn Mine: 5 miles round trip; 800-foot elevation gain.

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