Choose Your Own Adventure in Angeles National Forest

While many cities are known for their parks (New York’s Central Park, Portland’s Forest Park) Los Angeles doesn’t necessarily have a reputation for its wild places. It’s more like the epitome of an urban jungle.

But there are actually a ton of outdoor opportunities just minutes from the city in Griffith Park, for example, and the sprawling Santa Monica Mountains. There are also the San Bernardino Mountains to the east with Big Bear Lake and Lake Arrowhead. 

Just 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles, the Angeles National Forest offers dozens of options for camping, fishing, off-roading and hunting. The San Gabriel Mountains, which encompass the park, seem to sprout up out off nowhere. These steep canyons, dramatic vistas and river beds, present opportunities for everyone.

Here are two places within the park to chart a backpacking trip, one spot to fish and another to ride off-highway vehicles and hunt:

Pacific Crest Trail

The snow had just melted on the highest sections of the park by the beginning of June so it was the perfect time to give this a shot for myself. I wanted to experience the most scenic part of the Pacific Crest Trail, so I parked the car at Islip Saddle trailhead off Hwy 2 and hiked in toward Little Jimmy’s camp. You can set up camp here or proceed on to a dispersed site somewhere else, but just a quarter mile past the camp is a fresh spring water source, about the only one around, so it’s a good idea to at least camp nearby. 

From here you can trek the ridge toward Mount Baden-Powell or tackle any number of the other peaks in the area, choosing to pickup and setup camp somewhere else or continuing to do day hikes the next day. Alternatively you can travel the other way on the PCT and take on Mt. Williamson. Or another option to get to this area is beginning at Crystal Lake and hiking up to Islip Saddle and camp. 

Icehouse Canyon

Another great backpacking option is to start off at Icehouse Canyone, a popular day hiking area, and head toward the hike-in only Kelly Camp. Again, you can either choose to camp here, though there might be crowds, or travel on to a disperse site though realize you may not be able to have a campfire depending on the time of year. Right now, the fire danger is extremely high, and will likely remain for some time. 

From Kelly Camp you can take a number of peaks in the area including Cucamonga Peak, Ontario Peak, Timber Mountain and Bighorn Peak, depending on your level of ambition all the while keeping a base camp in or near Kelly’s. And if you still have it in you, take on the famed Mount San Antonio, known locally as Mt. Baldy, the highest point in the San Gabriel mountains at 10,064 feet. 

Fishing East Fork San Gabriel River

For anglers that don’t want to drive too far out of town, travelling just a short ways into the East Fork of the San Gabriel river will feel like a world away. You could be in Idaho rather than just 20 miles from the film studios in Burbank. Old timers in Los Angeles talk about days when salmon and steelhead filled the East Fork with abundance. The salmon stopped running in the 1930s when the two dams in San Gabriel Canyon were constructed, but it still has a viable trout fishery.

Two great places to try are downstream from the Bridge to Nowhere in a section that spreads under the face of Swan Rock. Here in the upper East Fork it’s possible the genes from earlier steelhead are still trapped in a striped rainbow or two. Another spot is about three miles past the trailhead near the remains of stone cabin. 

Off-Roading Within the Park

For off-roaders, Angeles National Park offers 364 miles of designated off-highway vehicle trails. State law requires your vehicle must be registered, but beyond that you are free to explore the many options. Three of the most popular areas are known as Rowher Flat, San Gabrial Valley and Azusa Valley recreation areas. Many of these have been upgraded with  picnic tables, shade huts and fire pits. Here you’ll find plenty of space to play including obstacle courses, technical hill climbs and large open lots. For more visit


For hunters, Angeles National Forest offers a chance to take small game like squirrel and jackrabbits as well as deer. You must follow hunting seasons (except for jackrabbits which can be taken anytime) and carry the appropriate tags. It’s also important to stay well clear of any established recreation area or trail, which is especially important given the number of visitors to the park. Good advice for hunters is to trek off trail into areas of the park that are the least traversed by people such as the western section.

Note: For any trips within the park for just the day or to stay overnight you need to purchase an Adventure Pass, available in $5 daily or $35 annual passes purchased at any Big 5 location or Ranger Station.

For more day hiking options visit

For all the waterfalls within the park visit click here.

For more detailed backpacking options visit

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