Post Rainstorm Hike to Switzer Falls

I love hiking after a rainstorm
in Los Angeles,
everything is so green!

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There are so many beautiful places to hike in the Angeles National Forest. Since moving to within a 15 minute drive of the ANF I love exploring new trails with my dogs on my days off. (Zizou my MinPin is pictured with me above.) Much of the ANF has a desert landscape throughout the year. But after a big rainstorm like the one we had this past weekend, the forest comes alive with lush green grass and dark shiny moss.

Yesterday’s chosen hiking trail was to Switzer Falls and Bear Canyon. It’s a short drive up the 2 N (Angeles Crest Hwy) from the 210 freeway. About 9 miles up the road you turn right on to Switzer Trail. The first time I came here last August I parked in the first parking lot near the road. Don’t do this. Drive all the way to the bottom of the canyon and park at the last parking lot. Otherwise it’s a long steep climb back up to your car once you’re finished hiking. Last August I attempted this hike with my sister who was visiting from out of town. We were so excited to see the falls. But as it was August, and LA is usually suffering from a drought the creek bed was dry as a bone. Sadly we never made it to the falls. This time would be different. I knew the recent rainstorm would give me the best chance to see some real flowing water.

The hike begins to the left of the parking lot, by crossing a small bridge over20160202_141833 the creek and heading down the paved section of the trail. When I left my house it was warm and sunny. But, here down in the canyon it was real chilly. I was regretting leaving my hoodie and finger-less gloves at home. A tank top? In January? What was I thinking? But a short jog down the path warmed me up enough to be comfortable. I followed the trail along the creek. It was so peaceful. Nothing but the sound of my feet hitting the soft ground and the water swirling around rocks in the stream. I definitely recommend layers. This hike changes in elevation and temperature. The trees and mountains occasionally block out the sun so even a warm day can turn brisk.

The trail continues to twist it’s way around large rocks, going down and sometimes through the creek. Definitely wear some good trail running shoes or hiking boots. I traipsed through mud, sand and some unsteady rocky terrain. Thankfully I only fell once, and for a klutz like me, that’s pretty good.

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The trail is fairly well marked. It’s not crowded but it is well traveled so you can usually pick up where to go next. The further you go the more you have to cross back and forth across the stream. Most of these spots are easy to see because of the downed tree limbs. They are strategically placed to mark your way. You can see what I mean in the picture to the left. I had so much fun hopping from rock to rock, crossing the stream. I brought two of my dogs on this hike. My water loving Goldendoodle, Elle went splashing through the stream, no matter how deep. My little Miniature Pinscher Zizou, was more careful about choosing his path. I was cracking up watching him attempt to leap from rock to bank in order to keep his paws mostly dry.

 

At about the mile marker you come to the abandoned camp. It’s littered with old wood stoves. There was fresh wood in one of them, so it’s obvious someone recently tried to use them, but I don’t know how well they work. If you’re looking for a picnic spot there are a few beautiful places complete with picnic tables, before you head back to the parking lot.

Across the stream from the abandoned camp the trail continues. There is a trail marker at the base of a short dirt ramp. Travel up and out of the canyon. It’s a steep climb but totally doable. Plus the views are stunning. The sound of the stream fades away as you stare up at the mountain vista. It was also the first time on the hike I wasn’t missing my cozy hoodie. I imagine on a hot summer day this part of the hike would be brutal as there is no shade. But today was perfect. I climbed along the mountainside aware of the steep drop-off to my left and tightened the grip on my dog’s leash. Once again I could hear the stream below. It’s funny how sometimes the water sounds right below you. Other times the mountain turns in such a way that the trail is silent. Along one narrow stretch of trail you begin to hear the thundering crash of the falls. If you peek through the security fencing you can catch a glimpse of Switzer Falls below. I’m sure the fence was installed because some idiot tried to scale the cliff side and take a very dangerous short cut.

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About a mile and a half into the hike you come to a fork in the trail. Head left down Bear Canyon trail to reach the canyon floor and continue on to the falls. A few switchbacks down the mountain and you are back along the stream surrounded by tall trees. Up ahead you will see the trail marker pointing the way to Switzer Falls. There is also a sign warning you that the trail is not maintained. Well that was an understatement. Just like sitting in the first rows at a Sea World show, prepare to get wet. You have to criscross the stream numerous times and your toes will be squishing in your shoes in no time. What I thought was mud turned out to be more of a quick sand like muck that sucked my foot down at least four inches. Gross! But I could hear the falls ahead and I knew it would all be worth it in the end.

Now to be clear, if you’re imagining Niagra or Angel Falls you will be seriously disappointed. This is like the tiny baby cousin of real water falls. But it’s a great reward at the end of the hike. If it’s not a loop trail, you simply hike as far as you want and then turn back. The Waterfall gives you a goal, an endpoint. It’s satisfying to reach and beautiful to enjoy. It’s hard to see from the angle of the picture below, but there is a second smaller fall just above this one. If you looked down from the ridge earlier on the hike you would be able to see where it begins. IMG_20160202_160537

The water collects in a small pool below and you could sit on a nearby rock and enjoy the tranquil sounds of nature around you. If it was sunny and warm, I could definitely see myself wading around in the clear water.

Hike back the way you came until you get to the spot where you first entered the canyon floor. If you have the time I definitely recommend continuing past The Falls trail head and on to Bear Canyon Trail. Once again I was surrounded by lush green landscapes. Shiny (and sometimes slippery) moss covered the rocks. The trail continues to the opposite side of the falls where the water collects in large pools. I stopped to play fetch with my pup. I love watching her dive into the pools, climb out with a stick in her mouth and a huge happy dog grin on her face. I think she had the most fun today. If you have a water loving dog you have to experience this trail with them. It was a blast.
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A quick check with the hiking tracker on my phone told me I had been hiking for about 2 miles in a little over and hour. Time to head back.

Although I would classify this as a moderate hike, that trip back up the mountainside to the ridge was a burner. For the first time on the hike I could really feel the muscles in my legs getting hot. It became more difficult to breathe easy and I started to sweat. All of which was a good thing. What’s the point of a hike if you’re not going to burn a few calories along the way?

I let my pups run through the stream a few more times as I leisurely headed back to my car. It was such a fun hike on a beautiful day I hardly wanted it to end. But two hours and four and a half miles was the perfect amount of time for a Tuesday afternoon.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  • You need an adventure pass to park in the parking lot. You can purchase a day pass for $5 or get a year pass for only $30. If you hike more than 5 or 6 times a year it’s totally worth it. Plus it covers multiple National Forests and Trails all over Southern California. View the full list of where adventure passes are required.
  • Plan ahead. Most days (especially weekdays) the ranger stations are closed. You likely will not be able to purchase an adventure pass on site. Fret not, many local 7-11’s and yes even liquor stores sell adventure passes. Check out this list of Adventure Pass Vendors.
  • Dress in layers. Lesson learned! Even though the ANF is a mere fifteen minutes from my home the weather couldn’t be more different. Plus when hiking in different elevations it may be warm and sunny along the ridge but chilly on the shady canyon floor.
  • Don’t forget your water. It always amazes me to see people hiking without a water bottle. This is especially important if you’re hiking with your dogs. Sure they could drink out of the stream, but will you? I always pack a small backpack with two bottles, one for me and one for my dogs.

Hike number one of 2016 was perfect. Great weather and hardly anyone else on the trail. I saw a handful of people and a couple other dogs but all in all it was a peaceful quiet hike. I’m hoping we get some more rain soon. There are a few other Waterfall Trails I would like to try out. Sturtevant Falls on the Arcadia side of the Angeles National Forest is an even bigger waterfall than Switzer and just as challenging of a hike. Excuse me while I go do a little rain dance!

 

 

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