This article is part of our Sea to Summit Series chronicling off the water adventures in wilderness areas around the world.
Exploring the Bridge to Nowhere trail in the Los Angeles National Forest
The words “waterman” and “waterwoman” are tossed about with increasing frequency these days. Perhaps you genuinely consider yourself to be in that exalted category. Chances are you’re more like me. You’re an adventurer. You enjoy paddling, a lot, but it isn’t the only outdoor activity you pursue. Maybe you ride mountain bikes or are an avid rock climber. I’ve enjoyed hiking and backpacking for decades and find myself equally at home in the mountains or a rugged desert as I do on the water. In fact, it was hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Los Angeles that inspired me to return to paddling – I simply wanted to see the mountains from the water.
Contrary to the reputation of Los Angeles as a sprawling urban jungle, and don’t get me wrong, it is well deserved in many aspects, America’s second largest city has remarkable close and easy access to the rugged wilderness. The city is ringed by a series of mountain ranges, each of which offers abundant opportunities to hit the trail. Many trails have names befitting their character such as, Ice House Canyon and Devil’s Backbone. On this trip I chose to explore one of the most iconic trails in the region, the Bridge to Nowhere.
The Bridge to Nowhere is named for a bridge over the East Fork of the San Gabriel River built in the 1930s. The intent was to build a road connecting the San Gabriel Valley in the south with Wrightwood in the north. The East Fork Road, as it was to be known, was washed out during a massive flood on 1-2 March 1938 when the road was still under construction. The project was abandoned and the bridge, already completed, was left in place. The Bridge to Nowhere sits on private land in the middle of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness and a bungee jumping company has been granted exclusive rights to operate on the bridge. Hikers are allowed to pass by sticking to the east side of the bridge.
A round trip hike to the Bridge to Nowhere from the trailhead is roughly 10 miles. There is just a 900 ft elevation change along the route, but the trail is rugged in places. The trail is fairly discernible for the length of the route, but does split off at times. If you happen to find yourself on a spur adjacent to the main trail, don’t worry. As long as you keep heading up river on your way to the bridge you will arrive at your intended destination.
Hikers must be prepared to cross the river multiple times during this out and back hike. Due to the rugged nature of the trail itself and the requirement to “get your feet wet”, having the right footwear for the trip is essential. I selected a pair of Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Boots for my most recent excursion. The Merrell Moab 2 is a time-tested platform and the boot’s waterproof attributes were appreciated on this particular hike.
Many of the river crossings can be accomplished by walking on logs and hopping on rocks. Other times you will have to walk in the river itself. We have had a dry winter and the flow in the East Fork San Gabriel River was low. Still, there were a couple of spots where my boots were fully submerged and water was able to enter from the top. In such instances, your feet will get wet, even when wearing waterproof boots. I did find that as long as I kept moving, my boots quickly dried off and it did not detract from my experience. The Merrell Moab 2’s performed well along the length of the Bridge to Nowhere trail as the Vibram® TC5+ soles with 5mm lugs worked fantastic on the rugged terrain and slippery river bottoms.
The Bridge to Nowhere hike is popular, so plan to encounter a full parking lot and expect to see other hikers along the trial. The East Fork San Gabriel River is narrow, averaging approximately 10 yards wide, and the flow was too low for paddling. The river and gorge it flows through are scenic, easily qualifying as one of the hidden gems of the region. I hiked fairly expediently on my last trip and completed each leg of the out and back hike in around two hours. Hike with a group or go solo, you are sure to make new friends along the way.
Trailhead address: Camp Bonita Road, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Azusa, CA 91702. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead and abundant parking along Camp Bonita Road. Restrooms are available at the trailhead and at the Heaton Flats campground approximately .5 mile in. A free Wilderness Permit, available on site, is required to hike in the region. The Wilderness Permits are an important tool for establishing accountability in the event of an emergency. If you don’t fill one out, no one will know you are there and potentially in need of assistance.
Gear used on the trip: Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Boots, Merrell hiking socks, pants and tech T-shirt, Source Outdoor hydration bladder, Shelta Hat, REI trekking poles and a backpack I’ve had for years.