ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SAN GABRIELS
Hike F3. Lower Soldier Creek
- Hiking time: 1.7 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 1.0 miles
- Elevation gain: None
- USGS Topo Maps: Crystal Lake
- Difficulties: Some boulder hopping and downclimbing, one rappel that could be bypassed
- Special equipment: 160ft rope, rappelling equipment and 10ft webbing
- ACA Rating: 2A I
Soldier Creek is a beautiful, wooded canyon high in the San Gabriel mountains that offers two marvellous adventure hikes. The lower section described here is a moderately easy hike with some downclimbing and one large rappel beside Lewis Falls (which can, however, be bypassed by following a use-trail with some exposure). The other hike is more advanced and is described in detail elsewhere.
The stream runs in this lower canyon all year long, producing a verdant growth and a pleasant, shaded hike for a hot summer day. There are many small pools in which to cool yourself if you so wish. Lewis Falls, which represent the major obstacle in this hike, are a popular venue since they are but a short hike up from the road at the bottom.
This hike is best done with a car shuttle, otherwise you will have to walk about 3.2mi back up the road to the starting point. Drive up Highway 39 from Azuza along the north fork of the San Gabriel river and past the campground at Colbrook. After some more switchbacks, the road narrows as it enters a precipitous section with cliffs above and below. You then cross Rockbound Canyon and pass a gravel dispensing structure on your left. Just 0.3mi beyond this structure, there is a sharp left turn through a tree-shaded glen as the road crosses Soldier Creek. (The sign for the now abandoned resort of Falling Springs is just a few yards up the road. If the sign is still there, you will know you went too far.) Park a vehicle in one of the pullouts here near the crossing of Soldier Creek (34o18.08'N 117o50.29'W and elevation 3840ft). Then continue up the road in the other vehicle for 3.2mi. Look for a closed metal gate on the right on the outside of a long left-hand curve just before the turn-off to Crystal Lake. Since parking is not permitted at the gate you should turn around at the Crystal Lake turn-off and drive back down to the pullout about 200yds below the gate. Park here at 34o18.78'N 117o50.04'W and an elevation of about 5000ft.
You can either drop into the canyon from the pullout, by descending a steep dirt slope or you can walk back up the road to the gate and descend more gently into the canyon. You will encounter the running stream immediately since water flows year round in this part of Soldier Creek because of several springs just upstream. It is a cool and lovely place with many small waterfalls and sparkling pools - so take your time and enjoy it for this is a short and fairly easy hike. Initially, the route is straightforward with modest bouldering; benches on the left also ease the descent. However, after about 35min you enter a steeper and more rugged section, starting at about 4500ft with the first cascade, a multi-tiered waterfall flowing over a worn bedrock. The descent is on the right and is easier than it looks since the moss in the shallow water is not slippery. The last step is harder requiring a short climb up to access a dirt filled gully that you then descend to the creek.
In lower Soldier Creek Lewis Falls
Just a short distance beyond this first cascade you come to a second, similar obstacle that can be bypassed via a use trail on the left. This leads to the top of the major obstacle in this hike namely the 60ft Lewis Falls. You should reach this point (34o18.38'N 117o50.19'W and elevation 4300ft) about 1hr 15min from the start. At Lewis Falls the water falls into a deep lateral slot and turns right. It is possible to climb down past the falls using the steep gully on the left by following an exposed use-trail on that side. It is also possible to climb around on the left though that route is not recommended due to the exposure. By far the best choice is to rappel down on either the right or the left side of the falls using one of the several large trees near the lip as an anchor. Once set up, it is an easy, vertical 60ft rappel down a smooth rock face.
Just 200yds downstream from the base of Lewis Falls you will encounter the first cabin in the canyon. There is a well-developed trail on the left side from this point all the way to the road at the end of the hike (34o18.08'N 117o50.29'W and elevation 3840ft). The whole hike should only take about 1hr 40min.
Last updated 7/9/00.
Christopher E. Brennen