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Switzer Falls Offers Angelenos A Reprieve From City Living

Braden Holly |
September 5, 2012 | 6:13 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Hikers enjoy the San Gabriel Mountains
Hikers enjoy the San Gabriel Mountains
Whether someone has lived in the Los Angeles area their entire life or they are newcomers to the city, they have probably never heard of Switzer falls, but they should have.

L.A. is a large and vibrant city filled with the hum of industry and artistry, but let’s face it, sometimes some of us need to get away from it all for the sake of our sanity.  The hike to Switzer Falls is an excellent way to immerse oneself in the quiet, peaceful wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Located less than 25 miles from the center of L.A. on the Angeles Crest Highway, the hike to Switzer Falls winds through a wooded canyon following the course of a small, perennial stream.  Trees and the canyon walls grant shady respite from the Southern California sun. The trail does occasionally leave the stream and climb the slopes of the mountain, but it rejoins the water farther down its course.  Occasionally one can find the remnants of old mining equipment along the trail.

Click here to view a larger map showing how to get to Switzer's Picnic Area where the hike begins.

Consider timing your hike for the morning or the late afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day.  If you schedule things just right you could be treated to an excellent view of the sun setting over Los Angeles as you drive down the mountain.

The facilities are public, but people who wish to use them are required to buy an Adventure Pass. The Forest Service provides a list of online vendors where you can buy passes or you can simply stop at the information center on the way to the Switzer’s Picnic Area and buy one.  Adventure passes are either $5 for the day or $30 for an annual pass.  There are several times a year when visitors need not buy an Adventure Pass, including National Public Lands Day and Veteran’s Day weekend. For a complete list of days when fees are waived visit the Forest Service’s website.

This is a hike that is suitable to beginning and intermediate hikers and does not present a serious challenge to most.  There is a point where the path can become quite steep, but if you aren’t up to the challenge, you needn’t traverse the more difficult parts of the trail to enjoy a satisfying walk in the woods. 

If someone does make it past the rougher part of the hike, the reward might be a glimpse of a beautiful, albeit small, waterfall.  It isn’t Niagara Falls, but Southern California’s hydrography is a far cry from that of New York.

Before anyone heads to Switzer Falls, or on any hike for that matter, they should remember to keep a few basic safety principles in mind.  Always take water with you.  No matter what time of year it is or what the prevailing weather conditions are, you need to have water.  You should also hike with a buddy.  If anything unfortunate should happen to you, it is best to have help close at hand.

The San Gabriel Mountains are also rife with poison oak, and the Switzer Falls area is no exception.  Know how to identify poison oak so you can avoid it. A helpful adage to remember is “leaves of three, let it be.” Poison oak is not the only potentially hazardous bush hikers should be aware of.  The Forest Service provides a list of safety tips for hikers on their website.

As a courtesy to other hikers and wilderness enthusiasts, always remember to dispose of trash properly.  The Switzer Falls trail is very popular with outdoor enthusiasts in the area, and everyone who uses the trail must do their part to keep it clean.  For those of you with dogs, they are permitted on the trail but must remain leashed.

Ultimately, the outdoor experience is what you make of it.  The hike to Switzer Falls can be a marvelously rewarding experience for people who choose to partake of it.

Reach reporter Braden here.



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