I'll be the first to admit that sometimes our family adventures can be a little bit extreme for the average family looking to get outside for the day. Ocean kayaking, searching for sea caves, driving three hours into the blazing hot desert or camping in the mountains with no bathrooms or running water – it's not for everyone. In light of this, I spent some time thinking about a fun, easy go-to adventure that gets us out of the city quickly, involves zero planning and doesn't risk anyone's life. Something I could recommend to people who want to do something safe and close to home.
Our house in Pasadena is on a hill, and I have been terrible about teaching my kids to ride bikes because of it. My son is nine and he had only been on a bike about 10 times in his life. He started bugging me about biking more, but I kept putting it off because I really do not like going to city parks.
So I thought, "Hey! What better place for a kid to learn how to ride a bike than up in the steep, remote San Gabriel Mountains behind Los Angeles?" So we dusted off the bikes, put air in the tires, threw them in the truck and headed out.
San Gabriel Mountains
The San Gabriel Mountains are a mountain range located in northern Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County, California. The mountain range lies between the Los Angeles Basin and the Mojave Desert, and is surrounded by the Angeles National Forest.
Our Destination It's hard to be near fresh water in Southern California and not discuss the drought. Driving up to the trail, we stopped and looked at a couple of the big reservoirs along the way that look dangerously low. The drought has been discussed at school and it's on the news, so it's on their minds always. They take it very seriously. In general, I think kids tend to take it much more seriously than adults. As we followed the stream, we talked about water. We talked about why it doesn't rain anymore, when the water will run out and what will we do. As a parent, those were tough questions to answer.
The last time we were up in the mountains, a park ranger told us to go check out the West Fork Trail along the west for of the San Gabriel River. Despite the drought, I'd seen recent photos on Instagram of people catching native trout in the stream, so I took my fly rod along too. You know, just in case.
Off the 210E, take the exit for San Gabriel Canyon Road (Rt 39), heading north into the mountains. Continue on San Gabriel Canyon Road for about 12 miles until you see signs for Cogswell Dam and the West Fork Recreation Area. There are three parking areas, all within short walking distance to the start of the trail. It's about an hour drive from Pasadena.
West Fork Trail
Turns out that the West Fork Trail is actually a paved service road that leads back into the valley about six miles, ending at the Cogswell Dam. Access is easy, there are no hills, most of the road is shaded by trees and it runs along a great little stream.
Right near the parking area where you'll unload your bikes, expect to see a lot of people playing in the stream, picnicking and some camping overnight. I was a bit disappointed that so many people were around and to see the stream being trampled, but I remained optimistic as we peddled back into the valley.
For the first mile or so, we passed many families walking, moms pushing strollers and kids on scooters and bikes. As much as I like to be alone when exploring, it was nice to see so many different people getting outside.
About three miles in, you'll be away from almost everyone. It's cool, quiet and green. The stream is healthy, and we did see a bunch of little native trout. I tried fishing for a bit but with no luck.
My kids wonder about a lot of things on our weekend trips. They are always full of questions, which makes it fun for me. I love the conversation. During our bike trip along the San Gabriel stream, my son asked about fishing.
Where are the fish? What kind of fish are they? Let's stop and fish? Did you catch a fish? If you catch a fish, can we eat it? Can I fish? The small trout in the stream are native rainbow trout. You are allowed to fish, but it is catch and release only. My daughter on the other hand, stays focused on four things almost always: Where are we going? How long is going to take? What are we doing after? And when can we stop for a snack?
All along the way, there are places to stop and walk down to the stream to eat a picnic. Here and there, you'll pass picnic tables and seating areas as well. Watch out for poison ivy when off the road!
At about four miles in, we passed a family heading the opposite direction saying that they'd just seen a baby black bear on the road, so I thought maybe it was a good place for us to turn back as well.
We took our time heading back to the truck and driving home, stopping several times to take pictures and to catch the sunset.
The next morning, the kids asked to go back again. And so we did. Good thing I never unpacked the truck from the day before.