Welcome to my two-part series on hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains. Owen, my golden retriever, and I have recently started hiking together. I’m not entirely sure why we haven’t done more of this before; being out in nature is a fun way to bond with each other. And it is great exercise for both dog and human. Owen and I seem to be happiest in the outdoors. We are fortunate to have a few trails close by that work well for us. I take into account several factors when deciding where to go:
Trail width: As my pup is a 69-lb retriever, I prefer areas where the main trail is wide enough to allow two hiking pairs to pass comfortably. We simply take up space, and he is heavy enough to be difficult to lift. I also found that he likes to stay at my side as we’re going up a slope, rather than going ahead, so having the extra space makes things easier.
Water/stream crossings: My dog is supposed to be fond of water, but he seems to be ambivalent about it, at least in shallow crossings as is typical with the ongoing drought. That said, he will go where I go, and will willingly cross small streams with me. Boulder hopping is fun, but it is a bit trickier for me when I’m with Owen. I prefer more “boring” trails, with only a couple shallow stream crossings and not too many boulders.
Trail conditions: Owen does just fine on rockier trails, but seems to prefer smoother surfaces. He also is not too fond of steep hills, though he was able to complete a couple of those. Let’s just say that both he and I were pretty wiped afterward.
Crowds: My dog and I can both be easily distracted. He is great with people, good with most dogs, but reactive toward certain small dogs. For this reason, and our mutual enjoyment, I pick less the trekked areas. We also go on weekday mornings when possible when the crowds would be lower.
All that considered, here are just a few picks for my favorite hikes with my dog:
Gabrielino Trail, Sunset Overlook to Gould Mesa- Owen and I had fun on this nice flat hike, part of the Lower Arroyo Seco trail. The picnic area at Sunset Overlook overlooks Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We took the small side trail from the Overlook down to the main, paved trail. The trail is wide as you cross the bridges, allowing for good space between groups. We explored some of the smaller side trails, which followed a small stream. There was a lot for him to explore and sniff out, and the trail was quiet and pleasant in the morning.
Sam Merrill Trail, Echo Mountain- The trailhead is at the top of Lake Avenue in Altadena. We’ve only gone part of the way up the mountain together. The trail begins fairly wide but gets more narrow as you get higher. Owen wasn’t quite sure what to do as the trail got narrow. He tended to want to heel, but I needed him to go forward, as there wasn’t enough room for him to stay at my flank. I’m sure this is something that would improve with practice. What I really like about the trailhead area itself is that there are some fun areas to explore before hitting the actual trail up the mountain. We went around the ‘meadow’ area and hiked up some of the small side trails. We didn’t meet with many people on the smaller trails, so space wasn’t a problem, even as it got narrow. However, this would not be true on the main trail. Sam Merrill is not as popular as nearby Eaton Canyon, but it does get quite a few visitors.
Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Henninger Flats- The hike to Henninger Flats Campground from the bridge is a strenuous 2.8 mile all uphill torture trek that I hike once a week during our Scout hiking season, and about every other week or so after. Every time I head up, I wonder why I put myself through that kind of pain, but the hike really is a fantastic workout. If you and your pup are up for a challenge, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the San Gabriel Valley and LA Basin in a quiet forest setting. The hike itself is not shaded, but the trail is mostly smooth and pretty wide. I’ll confess that Owen and I together haven’t made it to the top; I’ll say that I’m still ‘conditioning him.’ The tricky part for me is the downhill. I would not recommend this hike for dogs who have a very strong pull because it is easy to lose footing on the downslope.
There are a few fun hikes that can be done with a canine companion, however, are not on my recommended list. The aforementioned Eaton Canyon is nice and very popular but is heavily trafficked. On a busy day, it’s tricky enough with kids, more so a dog (though some might have the opposite experience). Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Falls or Hoegee’s Campground is also a popular choice. These can be great hikes, however, I would not recommend them on a hot day. There have been instances of dogs being injured because the paved portion can get very hot. And depending on prior rainfall, there can be a lot of poison oak growth.
Dogs are required to be leashed on all of these trails at all times, regardless of obedience level or temperament. Also, you know your dog best, so do your research and choose trails that are suited to your dog’s (and your) activity level. It also is important to bring enough water for both of you. On that head, the next post will be on what to take along on a hike with your buddy. Here’s to exploring the great outdoors. Happy trails and happy tails!