General Information and History
Clear Creek Segment
Big Tujunga Creek Segment
Mill Creek Segment
Side Trip to Mt. Gleason
Aliso Canyon Segment
Kentucky Springs Canyon Segment
Access and Road Log
Links To Other Web Information
General Information and History
The Angeles Forest Highway connects the Los Angeles basin to the Antelope Valley by going up and over the San Gabriel Mountains. The highway is variously known as County Road N-3 or FH-59 or the Palmdale cutoff. It is about 25 miles long. The Angeles Forest Highway is maintained by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.
The first road across the San Gabriels in this direction was built by the Edison Company to service their powerlines in the 1920s. The pole line road went from Eagle Rock to Vincent (1, p. 198). In 1928, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan for construction of the Angeles Forest Highway. It was not completed until 1941 (1, p. 202).
The first section of the Palmdale cutoff north from Los Angeles is the beginning of the Angeles Crest Highway, which follows the Arroyo Seco and powerlines from La Cañada. At Dark Canyon, the powerlines diverge over the ridge while the paved highway follows the canyon to Georges Gap, just past the Clear Creek Vista.
Links for items in the text below, and for more information, are collected together at the end of this page, since many of the links are used at several places in the text.
Clear Creek Segment The Angeles Forest Highway begins its journey north at Clear Creek Junction, 0.9 miles past Georges Gap, while the Angeles Crest Highway continues on east toward Red Box. At this junction are the Clear Creek Information Center on the right, the Clear Creek Station of the Forest Service on the left, and the fire road which is the trailhead for Mt. Josephine across the street from the station. There is also a trail leading to Switzer Picnic Area which begins here.
If you stop and park at the Info Center, you can see the trace of the San Gabriel Fault by looking east up the Arroyo Seco toward Red Box. This alignment of features is a result of erosion of the rocks softened by movement along the fault. The gap also separates the watershed of the Arroyo Seco from that of Clear Creek which flows into Big Tujunga Creek.
The road continues to follow the Clear Creek drainage while contouring around the southwestern slope of Mt. Josephine. Josephine is sometimes referred to as Mt. Josephine and at other times, Josephine Peak. It used to have a fire lookout that was visible from the valley floor. Today you can stop at The Pines Picnic Area and gaze up the slopes taking in the dazzling white rocks mantled in deep green chaparral against the blue, blue sky. It is a beautiful sight. The best view of the fault trace northwest through Clear Creek is obtained here. The highway then leaves Clear Creek and enters the Big Tujunga Creek drainage as it crosses the Josephine ridge and turns northeastward.
Big Tujunga Creek Segment Once the highway meets the Big Tujunga Road, its character changes. This section between the junction and the bridge over the Narrows is the most precipitous, is the most prone to rock slides, has the most rescues from people climbing down its slopes to the waterholes, and has the best wildflowers along the whole route. It is difficult to admire the wildflowers adequately unless you're a passenger, however, because there is little room to pull over and you must keep your eyes on the road. In late spring and early summer the air in this section is perfumed by the fragrance of the exotic yellow-flowered Spanish broom. The roadcuts show off the light-colored Mt. Josephine granodiorite. (2, p. 109)
After crossing the Big Tujunga Narrows Bridge, originally named the Armstrong Bridge (1, p. 202), which rises 125' above the canyon bottom, there is a large turnout on the east side of the road. Park here and quickly scamper across the road to the lookout on the west side. The lookout is nicely constructed of river rock and gives the feeling of being in a crenellated castle. Lizards are the only inhabitants. You can look down into the deep gorge and see the ribbon of refreshing green alder trees in summer. Also look southeast to see the forest of bigcone spruce and canyon oak clothing the north-facing slopes. Try to imagine how much work this stream has done carving this deep, steep canyon out of the resistant rock! Floods periodically scour the canyon and debris fills the reservoir behind the dam lower down.
Next the road passes through a tunnel, sometimes marked on maps as the Singing Springs Tunnel. At the tunnel's south entrance are rocks of banded gneiss, 1,700 million years old, some of the oldest rock found in these mountains (2, p. 110). The road cuts through a ridge separating the Big Tujunga from its tributary, Mill Creek. From this point, the Angeles Forest Highway follows the west side of Mill Creek.
Mill Creek Segment Immediately on the other side of the tunnel on the west side of the highway is the Hidden Springs Picnic Ground, a convenient rest stop with overlooks and use trails. The trailhead for the Fall Creek Trail is 500' up the road also on the west side. It is marked with a brown hiking sign, but there is no parking there. The hillsides are covered with chamise, manzanita, and yucca.
Monte Cristo Station is a stop on the Big Tujunga Canyon Auto Tour. Gold mining equipment used for hard rock and streamside mining is displayed here. You can look northeast and identify Pacifico Mountain and south to the massive Strawberry Peak.
One of the best places to see fall color is along the section of the road between the turnoff to Camp Colby (Upper Big Tujunga Road) to where the road starts to climb up to Mill Creek Summit. On the eastern slopes, translucent mountain mahogany seeds, backlit by the early morning sun in September, are a sight to behold. Chamise's dried flowers in russet red add another hue to the colorful scene. Here you are slightly above the canyon and can look down on the egg-yolk yellows of the Fremont cottonwoods, the golden-browns of the western sycamores and the silver-green willows, best in early November.
Baughman Spring's large, famous and beautiful cottonwood, recently trimmed way back, seems to be doing well, and growing again. Here at this westside turnout is an exposure of white-colored anorthosite, a rock 1220 million years old, that is also found on the lunar highlands (2, p. 111). Rabbitbrush, a late bloomer, begins to be seen as the road rises.
At Mill Creek Summit, 4,910', the highest elevation on the Angeles Forest Highway, is another convenient rest stop with shade, restrooms and picnic tables. It is almost always cool and breezy up here. Interpretive signs identify the plants.
There is also an informative sign about the Big Tujunga Canyon Auto Tour. Mill Creek Summit Station, called Tie Summit Station until the 1960s, is up the hill a little way. Tie Canyon got its name from the ties for construction of railroad tracks that were cut from the timber there. The view from the station towards Big Tujunga Canyon provides a good contrast to the one from Clear Creek Station. In this case, the stream does not follow a fault trace, and its path is more crooked and the ridges more intertwined.
Side Trip to Mt. Gleason The Santa Clara Divide Road, 3N17, takes off north toward Mt. Gleason from Mill Creek Summit. The drive along the ridge to Mt. Gleason gives a high mountain experience. The road weaves in and out with far-reaching views of the desert to the north and deep canyon views to the south. The evergreen pines and oaks stand tall and healthy. Under these pines grows the endangered Mt. Gleason paintbrush, the logo for the San Gabriel Mountains chapter of the California Native Plant Society. It is partially parasitic on the roots of the Jeffrey pines, so look for them first since they are easier to find. Another rare plant, the San Gabriel manzanita, grows only at Mill Creek Summit.
Farther on this road, you can explore the old Nike missile site. Years ago the missile housing was visible from the San Gabriel Valley making Mt. Gleason easily distinguishable from the other peaks. This structure has now been dismantled. The California Conservation Corps uses the old buildings for their fire camp. A GPS site has been considered for Mt. Gleason. The dirt section of this road goes on to the Messenger Flats and Lightning Point Group Campgrounds eventually ending up at Bear Divide Station on Little Tujunga Road.
Back at the intersection, the Divide Road, 3N17, paved only at the beginning, goes southeast to Mt. Pacifico (also called Pacifico Mountain), and Granite Mountain. The road continues on to Alder Saddle where it becomes paved again to Three Points on the Angeles Crest Highway.
Aliso Canyon Segment After Mill Creek Summit, the Angeles Forest Highway crosses a drainage divide. From here on all the water goes into Aliso Creek, the headwaters of the Santa Clara River. Alisos is Spanish for sycamores. The road now follows the east side of Aliso Canyon. At Aliso Springs Picnic Ground, there are no sycamores, only canyon oaks! After the Picnic Ground, there is a gorgeous road cut showing the banded Lowe granodiorite (2, p. 112). It is best seen when driving south up the grade where, in this case, it would be before the picnic area.
Kentucky Springs Canyon Segment After the junction with Aliso Canyon Road, the highway leaves Aliso Creek and crosses a ridge to Kentucky Springs Canyon. The straight-away section on alluvium, approaching the Mt. Emma Road and the Angeles National Forest boundary, goes through pinyon pine and California juniper woodland. In the springtime, flannelbush and goldenbush bloom brilliant yellow. After the boundary sign, the pinyon pines disappear and Great Basin sagebrush becomes more dominant.
On the west side is a huge, "yeah, it's big", Edison Company substation, the goal of the original pole line road. The power comes from "up north and out east" and goes "into the city". (Telephone conversation with employee at Edison Company's Rosemead office, October 15, 1999, JS)
On its final leg approaching Vincent Junction, the Angeles Forest Highway crosses the wide Soledad Pass, 3,142', also used by the railroad and the freeway. Drainage on the other side of the pass goes to Little Rock Creek and then out to the interior basin of the Mojave Desert. Sharp suggests that the headwaters of the Santa Clara River may eventually cut through to the desert here (2, p. 113). Vincent Hill, the slope to the east with the powerlines, was once a mecca for wildflower enthusiasts. Every spring it was completely covered with California poppies.
(1) The San Gabriels by John Robinson.
(2) Geology Field Guide to Southern California by Robert P. Sharp
Access and Road Logs
Maps: Tujunga Region (Labeled Forest Highway at the top of the map) and Mt. Wilson Region (Cl near the top center of the map)
See also: USGS 7.5' x 7.5' Maps: Condor Peak, Chilao Flat and Pacifico Mountain; Caltrans Map Showing Mile Markers (be sure to increase the displayed resolution to read them)
By Car: Start the drive either from Clear Creek Junction by way of the Angeles Crest Highway, SR2, from the I-210 Freeway in La Cañada or from Vincent Junction by way of the Antelope Valley Freeewy, SR-14. You can also come in midway from Big Tujunga Road from Sunland or Upper Big Tujunga Road from Shortcut Saddle. Several dirt roads, including the original pole line route, parallel the paved highway in certain spots.
By Trail: The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway at Mill Creek Summit.
Season: All year
Angeles Forest Highway Road Log
Angeles Forest Highway Elevation Profile.
Warning: this list does not get updated as often as the hikes listed in the region tables. Consult Tujunga Region Hikes and Mt. Wilson Region Hikes for the latest listing.
Season Name 35 8 1900 all Josephine Fire Road to Josephine Peak 53 4 +400
all Angeles Forest Highway to Big Tujunga Narrows 54.1 5 1000 may-oct Mt. Gleason Road to Mt. Gleason, Gleason Mines 55 8 2200 may-oct Mill Creek Summit to Pacifico Mountain
Links To Other Web Information
General links to the entire Highway are given first, followed by links in the order they would be found going south to north along the road.
- History along the Way by Eleanor Opid
- Angeles Crest Highway
- San Gabriel Mountains Leaf Log Thursday, August 27, 1998 Journey from La Canada north to Mt. Gleason along Angeles Crest and Angeles Forest Highways; also Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road east from Angeles Forest to Angeles Crest
- San Gabriel Mountains Leaf Log Tuesday, October 20, 1998 A Mountain Circle Tour from Clear Creek Junction and N3 Angeles Forest Hwy to Mt. Emma Road
- San Gabriel Fault Zone
- Clear Creek Outdoor Education Center
- Gary Valle's Southern California Creeking (see river-running Big Tujunga Creek)
- Swimming Holes along Angeles Forest Highway - Big Tujunga Creek and Fall Creek
- History of Monte Cristo Gold Mine
- Camp Colby
- California Camping's Monte Cristo, Mount Pacifico, Messenger Flats and Lightning Point Group Campground information
- Real time Mill Creek Weather
- Mt. Gleason Nike Site
- 1998 Pictures of Mt. Gleason from east-northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest, and an oldie, and another
- Total Escape's national.forest.angeles and favorite.routes Mt. Gleason and Pacifico Mtn.
- Pacific Crest Trail - Aliso Springs to Cloudburst - Angeles National Forest
- The Santa Clara is the last surviving natural river in Southern California. Is it a Precious River or Chunk of Dirt?
- Mike Ballard's Soledad Pass
Copyright © 1999-2005 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Jane Strong | Tom Chester
Updated 18 April 2005.