The Trail Canyon Trail isn’t a product of the Office of Redundancy Department (or the Ministry of Silly Walks, for that matter). Trail Canyon refers to the trail of gold flakes seen swirling down the creek at the bottom of the canyon. At the turn of the 20th century, miners worked the creek, but the trail didn’t lead to any riches.
The real gold of Trail Canyon is the scenery: rugged and steep canyon walls containing a babbling creek and a beautiful waterfall.
We hiked to Lazy Lucas Camp — a single campsite named for Tom Lucas, a grizzly bear hunter and one of the first forest rangers in the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve — now known as the Angeles National Forest.
Getting to the Trailhead
There is a parking area about 0.4 miles off Big Tujunga Canyon Road at 19607 N. Trail Canyon Road. Click the pin on this map to calculate driving directions.
A couple notes about this dirt road. There is a gate that is sometimes closed. It only adds 0.4 miles each way (0.8 total) to hike in, so you can park and hike in if the gate is closed. Do not block the gate, as there are residents in the canyon who need to get in and out.
Also, the road narrows to one lane in a couple of sections. Proceed with caution. Finally, you’ll see a fork in the road at the crest of the first hill. Stay to the right to reach our trailhead.
There are conflicting reports about whether you need to display an Adventure Pass to park at this trailhead. I have an annual pass (highly recommended) and didn’t have to take any chances.
Hiking the Trail Canyon Trail
We parked amid a cluster of cabins dating back to the 1920’s. There is some shade here, and a marker pointing the direction toward the trailhead. There’s an information sign as well as a trail register.
Just beyond the sign, you’ll see a gated dirt road that heads up the canyon. You immediately cross the creek — the first of 24 creek crossings — and follow the dirt road as it clings to the canyon wall.
Soon you pass the last standing cabin, and the trail continues on a now abandoned jeep trail. You’ll pass a sign with an ominous warning: “TRAIL NOT MAINTAINED — HAZARDS MAY EXIST.” You’re on the right path.
0.8 Miles – The trail winds around a ridge and down toward the creek again. Reaching a hairpin turn, the old jeep trail beds downstream toward the ruins of an old cabin. You may see the rusty remains of it’s contents piled for pickup, like some sort of rusty yard sale. But here’s where the trail gets better. Bear right and head down towards the creek.
For the next 1/2 mile, you follow the creek, criss-crossing the water several times, climbing over and ducking under fallen tree trunks. It wasn’t especially difficult, but it was fun. You may have to pause a few times to find your way, but it was one of our favorite sections of the trail.
At 1.2 miles, the trail begins climbing up the west side of the canyon.
This section of the trail is exposed, but soon we were rewarded with sweeping views back down the canyon.
At 1.8 miles, we caught our first glimpse of Trail Canyon Falls below.
At about 2 miles, there is an unofficial spur trail that descends steeply with several treacherous spots. For many people, this is as far as they go. We opted to continue to Lazy Lucas Camp, and would visit the base of the falls on our way back.
The trail again criss-crosses the creek several times above the falls. We followed the trail up the canyon and at the 2.8 mile mark, we reached Lazy Lucas Camp. This is a single campsite with an iron fire ring. Note that the sign at the trailhead warned that this area was open for day use only and no campfires — so while backpacking to this spot may once again be an option in the future, it’s limited to a comfortable place to take a snack break for now.
We rested and munched on trail snacks — then started backtracking down the canyon. At the 4 mile mark, we again reached the spur that leads to the base of the falls. This “trail” requires some scrambling confidence to tackle, but yields a close-up view of a pretty spectacular waterfall.
We followed the trail back to the trailhead, counting the creek crossings on our return. In total there were 24 creek crossings — 12 each way. Take care to look for the pink ribbons tied to tree branches to help you find the trail, and the occasional stone cairn.
I did a short exploratory hike to some of the ruins of the cabins that no longer stood. It’s amazing to think how these were built, and what this canyon must’ve looked like before the fire.
When we got back to our car, there were about ten other cars now parked in the lot. While the trail wasn’t crowded by any means, we did encounter several other groups of hikers. In contrast to the over-crowded Eaton Canyon Falls, this was a welcome change.
The Trail Canyon Falls hike was one of Joan’s favorites. It combines a lot of great features — interesting terrain, a cool creek and beautiful waterfall. This is a trail I’ll happily hike again.
Trail Canyon Trail Map
Trail Canyon Photo Gallery
Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.
Trail Canyon Tips
- This trail is unmaintained. There is poison oak and some of the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush, so long pants and long sleeves are highly recommended. Several of the hikers in our group hiked beyond to the remains of Big Cienega Camp, but reported that the trail was very difficult to locate and required a great deal of bushwhacking.
- The many creek crossing require you pay close attention for trail markers to stay on the trail. Look for cairns (stacks of stones) or the occasional pink ribbon tied to branches to mark the trail.
- The spur trail down to the base of the falls is treacherous and requires scrambling.
- Joan and I agreed that we were glad we brought our trekking poles on this hike.
More Trail Canyon Resources
- Looking for a challenge? You can extend this hike up to Condor Peak and you’ll log 16 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. Casey over at Modern Hiker has a great write-up, as well as pre-Station Fire photos.
- Dan Simpson shares his perspective on the trail from his June 2012 hike.
- Love waterfalls? Check out these hikes.
Thank you Jeff Hester. Ever since I discovered you, I keep up with your entries. You make living in Los Angeles much, much better.
Jeff Hester says
Thanks GoldenPoppy! LA is a great place for outdoor adventure.
Nice post and pictures! I can’t believe any waterfalls actually have water in the California drought! Beware the poodle brush as well! haha
Jeff Hester says
Yes, the waterfall had pretty good flow and the creek was lively — which was nice because the trail darts across the creek 24 times! Made for a fun hike.
It also made me wonder what this would be like after some real rainfall! Might be much trickier.
Miss Sherry says
Jeff, I just yesterday (1/19/2015) discovered Trail Canyon, although we did not hike since we were unprepared. Do you know if the cabins are ever rented out? That would be unbelievably awesome to stay there overnight. Thank you SO MUCH for putting together this site. I will definitely support your advertisers because I want to know more and go more on your recommendations!! You are hereby bookmarked!!
I had not been up to Trail Canyon Falls since before the Station Fire of 2009. It’s sad to see the waterfall SO exposed to the sunlight as it is. Before, you literally had to rappel through thick brushes down into it, and even then, the waterfall was surrounded by trees and bushes. It’s good to see at least SOME of the foliage remains.
Ryan Delos Reyes says
is this trail suitable for dogs? I see some log crossing on some of the pictures, my dog is not neccesarily
the athletic type lol.
Jeff Hester says
@Miss Sherry – The cabins all have full-time residents, as far as I can tell. Thanks for bookmarking us!
@Gorgonio – Yes, the downed trees are sad. The canyon is pretty exposed now, but it’s still beautiful. And it will recover.
@Ryan – Yes (it’s in the info box). The creek itself is not so deep. Your dog can probably cruise through it. Just be sure your dog can handle the distance. Remember that when your turn around, that’s your halfway point.
Albert Liao says
I just did this hike today. It’s a little tough for dogs to travel down the path towards the waterfall as it’s pretty steep. We tried traveled past the waterfall in search of more interesting things, but turned back around 3 miles in. I believe the camp mentioned in this article is not the Tom Lucas camp. According to this other site, it’s actually located at the 4 mile mark. http://www.modernhiker.com/2007/02/06/hiking-condor-peak-via-trail-canyon/
Could you please share how you create/ add the route and the elevation profile to the hike which is on the map?
Great page. Thanks for creating it.
One quick question on the creek crossings…can they be done in trail runners without getting wet feet? (I use hiking boots only when there’s snow.) Thanks.
Jeff Hester says
Depends on water level. When we hiked this, it was not an issue, and I suspect it would be same this year.
Of course, the good thing about trail runners is that they dry pretty quickly! 😉
The cabin at the trail head has a vicious pit bull that is often chained up. Today it was out and bit my hiking companion. Be aware hikers
Jeffrey Hester says
Amy, that’s awful! Is your friend going to be okay? Did you report the incident to animal control?
Bruce Brizzard says
Sorry this is not Tom Lucas Trail Camp.The real camp is about four miles in and can take up to three hours on a hot day. I first hiked there in August of 1987 (way too hot!) and did it every few years for the next couple of decades, but discovered the route was completely overgrown after the 2009 fire. You made it to the first camp or “false camp” as I called it, with several fire pits. The actual camp is reached by going past this point, following the creek as it steadily climbs, until it crosses the creek then goes up and steeply to the left following the creek all the way to Tom Lucas. There was a sign at one time marking the area and was part of a boy scout camp with remains of several metal pit toilets. Straight along on the right there are, or were, two decent campsites with a picnic table on each (probably gone now) and two metal stoves. I camped there one time in 1989 by myself but found it a frightening experience with a lot of weird sounds and helicopters flying nearby all night. It’s sad that no one seems to have this info but me. I was 36 then and 66 now. Apparently, it’s almost impossible to get there now. I have pictures I can send if interested. Thanks!
I went today 1/21/2022 to look for the Tom Lucas Trail Camp. I was not successful. I went to 4.3 miles in and looked all around where it was supposed to be on my map, but never found it. It was very overgrown everywhere, and I went through overgrown brush all along last mile of trail. I was wearing long pants and jacket to get through. Water was flowing well along the creek, and the main waterfall was very beautiful. I hope the camp is restored one day, its a beautiful canyon.