The beautiful Santa Anita Loop takes you on a 10-mile hike from Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Camp, then on to Mt Zion and back past Hoegee’s Trail Camp and along the Lower Winter Creek Trail. It’s got a 50 foot waterfall, babbling creeks, historical wilderness cabins, deep granite canyons and towering Alder and pine trees. It feels like a world away from Los Angeles…but it’s not.
Getting to the Trailhead
This hike begins at Chantry Flats — a popular and especially crowded spot on weekends. If you’re here on the weekend, get here early or you’ll end up parking down the road and extending your hike even further. Get directions on Google Maps. To park in the area, you’ll either need an Adventure Pass or you can park at the Adams Pack Station for a fee. The pack station also sells Adventure Passes. If you don’t have one, get one. It’s worth avoiding a ticket.
The Santa Anita Canyon Loop
The trailhead begins on the downhill side of the road near the entrance to the Chantry Flats parking lot. The first half mile is paved and often crowded with families and children looking for an escape from the city. You might even see a few serious hikers. Don’t let the crowds dissuade you! This trail is worth hiking.
When you reach the bottom, you’ll cross a steel-and-wood bridge, then take the Gabrielino Trail toward Sturtevant Camp. Along the way, you’ll criss-cross the creek a number of times. It’s a fun rock-hopping exercise, but if you’re feeling insecure, use your trekking poles for added support and balance.
Sturtevant Falls are worth visiting, although it’s a short out-and-back on a spur trail to reach them. This 50-foot waterfall can be quite beautiful after the winter rainstorms roll through.
You may see some people climbing the scree up the north side of the canyon to “shortcut” back to the trail. Don’t do it. It’s a short hike back to the actual trail junction, and this accelerates erosion and damages the hillside next to the waterfall.
Instead, retrace your steps back to the Gabrielino Trail junction. You can go either way here (they both end up at the same place) but stick to the right. It follows the creek more closely and is much more beautiful. The high trail is mainly for the pack mules.
After four miles, you’ll reach a sign pointing to the Sturtevant Camp. Remember that this is private, so be respectful of the guests. On the day we hiked here, no one was staying there, so we explored a bit and even tried out the giant swing.
Back on the trail, and just across the creek from Sturtevant Camp is the junction with the Zion Trail — the next leg of this loop.
The Zion Trail climbs 1.25 miles to the summit of Mt. Zion, then descends on the other side of the ridge to Hoegee Trail Camp and Winter Creek. There was one downed tree we had to clamber over, but otherwise the trail was well-maintained and easy to follow. Most of the route to the summit was shaded.
The Zion Trail was built by Wilbur Sturtevant back in 1896 to provide direct access to his resort. This was the primary route to Sturtevant Camp until 1916 when the canyon trail was constructed. During the 1960’s the trail fell into disrepair, became overgrown and impassable. It was reopened in 1985 thanks to the efforts of the Sierra Club and local volunteers to rebuilt the trail.
The trail down to Hoegees Trail Camp descends the south-facing ridge to Winter Creek. This section of the trail had several sections with direct sun exposure. It’s fascinating to note the change in plant life — and in temperature! It was about 10 degrees warmer in the sun than in the shady canyons.
At Hoegees, you have the option of taking the Upper or Lower Winter Creek Trail. We opted to follow the Lower Winter Creek Trail (and I recommend you do the same). This follows a more scenic route along Winter Creek with numerous water crossings, the cool shade of the Alders and the sounds of gurgling water cascading down the canyon.
Several places along the way you’ll pass cabins of various sizes and conditions. These cabins are all privately owned and on land leased from the Forest Service. They were built between 1907 and 1936, and while at one time there were hundreds dotting the canyons, today only about 80 remain. They have no electricity or utility services, and everything must be either hand-carried or brought in by mule train, as they have been for 100 years.
Finally you’ll reach the bridge that you crossed near the beginning of your hike. It’s just half a mile uphill on the paved road back to Chantry Flats. And yes, it’s normal for it to feel longer going up than when you went down it this morning.
Santa Anita Canyon Loop Trail Map
Santa Anita Loop Tips
- When Zion Trail reaches the Winter Creek Junction, you can optionally take the Upper Winter Creek Trail back to Chantry Flats. This adds one mile to the total distance, but comes down at the parking lot rather than descending all the way to the canyon (with the half mile climb up the paved road to the lot). I’ve done both routes, and in spite of the final uphill climb, I still prefer the scenery of Lower Winter Creek Trail.
- If you’re feeling ambitious and want a longer, more challenging hike, you can take the Sturtevant trail at the junction to Mt. Zion and continue your climb up the canyon to Mt. Wilson. I’ve got a full guide to that route here: Chantry Flats to Mt. Wilson. It happens to be the first of the SoCal Hiker Six-Pack of Peaks.
- The Chantry Flat Road is gated. The gate is open from 6am to 8pm, so plan accordingly.
More Chantry Flats Resources
- Adams Pack Station – They sell Adventure Passes, but also offer some parking on their own lot for about $10. They have a market that sells drinks and food, and sometimes on the weekends they have a grill outside cooking up burgers. They also have a mule pack service that can haul gear and supplies up to your campsite or cabin. Many of the small, privately owned cabins in these canyons use their service to lug supplies up.
- Staying at Camp Sturtevant – The camp was established in 1893 by Wilbur Sturtevant. Today, it’s owned by the Methodist Church, but managed by the Adams Pack Station. You can reserve cabins at Camp Sturtevant for your personal or family retreat, or for a group outing.
- GPS User? Download the GPX file.
Chantry Flats Weather Forecast
Special thanks to my hiking partners Ric, Jason and Bruce from the Muir Project. Great hiking with you!