© Christopher Earls Brennen

Hike K6. Agua Blanca Canyon Hike


This adventure hike takes you through a small corner of the rugged Sespe Wilderness. Its attractions include the curious geological depression known as the Pothole and the beautiful Agua Blanca canyon and river which, in one place passes through a narrow slot known as the Devil's Gateway. The rich bird life supported by Piru Creek and Lake Piru is an added bonus.

The Pothole was caused by a gigantic slide that descended across the canyon forming a large dam. Over the years, the area back of the dam has filled in with sand and silt until it has now formed a floor. This area sometimes floods for a very short period after very heavy rain. A grove of cottonwood trees covers part of the flat area. Where the trail enters the Pothole the entrance is partially covered by sand, silt and weeds and the remains of an old horse drawn hay rake.

This hike is best in the early spring when the weather is still cool enough to make the ridge climb comfortable. But it should not be undertaken too soon after rain for the Gateway may then become difficult to negotiate.


Drive north on Interstate 5 from Los Angeles through Santa Clarita and then west on highway 126 for 12 mi to the town of Piru. Proceed into the center of the town and then follow the signs to the Lake Piru road. From the town it is 6.5 mi north to the entrance station for the Lake Piru marina. Drive on 2.5 miles to the new Pothole parking area. The well-signposted Pothole trail-head (34.51312oN 118.76092oW and a elevation of 1100 ft) is just a short distance further along the tarmac road on the left.


The Pothole trail switchbacks for 1.9 miles and climbs 1910 ft to the ridgetop (34.51312oN 118.76092oW) at 3016 ft. At this point you pass into the Sespe Wilderness and the views west are particularly spectacular on a clear day. Here you veer left, continuing along the ridge and briefly descending before resuming the climb. Soon, and somewhat unexpectedly, you arrive at the point (elevation 3190ft and about 2.4 mi and 2hr 20min from the trailhead) where the clearly marked trail leaves the ridgetop and contours off to the right through thick brush. When I passed this way I was thankful that the trail was well cleared.

View west from the summit

The trail then descends through high brush, crossing a notable saddle and then switchbacking down toward the valley. Along this part of the trail there are a number of points at which you should pause to enjoy several interesting features below you. At one location you will get an excellent view of the Pothole, a mudflat surrounded by trees. And further down, you will also get fine views of the Devil's Potrero a large grassy flat adjacent to the Pothole and clearly of the same geological origin. You may also catch a glimpse of the spectacular rock cleft called the Devil's Gateway through which you will make your way a little later. Near the end of the descent the trail is less well maintained and somewhat brushy. But about 3hr 10min and 4.3 mi from the trailhead you should reach the grassy bottom at Devil's Potrero (34.51312oN 118.76092oW, elevation 2280 ft). If you wish you can detour here and proceed upstream to inspect the Pothole a few hundred yards away. The main trail proceeds downstream along the canyon bottom. At the lower end of the flat you will pass the remains of a cabin, around which are scattered various pieces of farm equipment left by someone who must have tried to farm the Potrero.

At the cabin, you need to exercise care to locate the trail which now decends steeply through a heavily wooded glade. Eventually, this side canyon joins the main canyon of the Agua Blanca river right at the entrance to the Devil's Gateway (34.54939oN 118.80268oW and an elevation of 1516 ft and 5.2 miles from the start). This narrow cut with vertical walls 100 ft high, comes upon you quite suddenly as you emerge from the side canyon. I reached this point 4 hr from the trailhead.

The Agua Blanca is a sparkling and attractive stream and this is a great spot for a rest and lunch before tackling the Gateway. Though a trail once led up and over a bluff to bypass the Devil's Gateway, it is much easier to wade/swim through the pool in the narrows (proving you brought a dry bag). It is a straightforward matter to wade through the pools of the Gateway as long as you don't come this way too soon after a winter storm. The pools are normally about thigh-deep. It is good idea to pick out a branch to serve as a walking stick while making this transit. The stick allows you to find the shallowest route through the pools. The vertically walled section is quite short. But when you think you are done with the wading there are two more pools just a short step downstream which also need wading.

The Devils Gateway from upstream
Just downstream of the second pool look out for the trail on the right which leaves the river and climbs the southern slope of the canyon. The trail (19W10) is in quite good condition for long stretches though it is indistinct in the several places where it crosses the stream. Most of the time it proceeds along on the southern slope. The trail has the advantage of allowing fairly rapid progress down the Agua Blanca; but it has the disadvantage that you do not see as much of the beautiful river as you might like. So take time to enjoy this lovely valley when you cross the river. Close to the end of the Agua Blanca (6hr 20min and 8 mi from the trailhead at an elevation of 1165 ft) you pass a well-maintained private cabin (34.54148oN 118.76643oW). Follow the driveway from this cabin as you transition into Piru Canyon and begin following Piru Creek in a southerly direction. You pass the Whitaker Ranch (34.53804oN 118.76116oW and 8.8 miles from the start.

The trail downstream crosses Piru Creek twice between the Agua Blanca and the Blue Point campground. It is very wise to proceed cautiously when making these crossings. If the water is higher than knee deep you should not proceed with the crossing but find a way down on the west side of the creek. Whatever the state of the river, use a stout stick to maintain your balance during the crossings.

You should reach the site of Blue Point camp 6hr 45min after starting the hike having walked 9.2mi. From there follow the asphalt road for another 1.5 mi back to the trailhead (34.51326oN 118.76081oW) and 11 miles from the start).

Last updated 11/22/05.
Christopher E. Brennen