Bailey Canyon Trails

Trail Parameters
Trail Descriptions
Views from the Trail
Hikes Using These Trails
Links To Further Information


For some reason, maps showing the trails of Bailey Canyon do not distinguish actual trails that really exist and that you can hike on, from planned trails that are only a vision in someone's head and that you therefore cannot hike on, since they don't exist. What is even more confusing is that different maps show different planned trails.

This page is a guide to trails and routes you can actually hike on: the Live Oak Nature Trail, the Canyon View Nature Trail, and the Bailey Canyon Trail. It also gives information about hikes which connect the Bailey Canyon Trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail and the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

All three Bailey Canyon trails share the same first 0.3 mile. The Live Oak Nature Trail splits off from the other two at this point. This short trail is contained within the Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park, and has many numbered posts keyed to the guide.

The other two trails continue together for another 0.1 mile, separating when the road hits the streambed. The Canyon View Nature Trail continues left along the streambed, and ends in another 0.2 mile at the Falls. The Bailey Canyon Trail to Mt. Wilson Trail continues across the streambed for another 2.8 miles to the saddle north of Jones Peak.

Trail Parameters

Maps: The trails are shown on the following topo maps:

Trails reached from the upper end of the Bailey Canyon Trail are shown here: Upper Mt. Wilson Trail and Ridge Route from Bailey Canyon to the Mt. Wilson Toll Road

(The Mt. Wilson Trail travels up Little Santa Anita Canyon in Sierra Madre to a junction with the Winter Creek Trail. The Mt. Wilson Toll Road begins in Eaton Canyon, goes through Henninger Flats, meets the Winter Creek Trail on the southeast ridge of Mt. Harvard, and ends at Mt. Wilson.)

A Guide to Non-existent Planned Connector Trails shows which trails shown on which maps do not actually exist.

Season: November to May.

Trailhead and directions: The trailhead is at the northwest corner of the parking lot in Bailey Canyon Park in Sierra Madre. From I-210, take Michillinda Blvd. north and turn right at Grandview, at the far end of the school. Turn left on the third street on your left, Grove, which will dead-end at Bailey Canyon Park. Park in the parking lot of Bailey Canyon Park, open dawn to dusk, or on the street if you will return after dusk.

Bailey Canyon Park did not exist when the older edition of the Mt. Wilson topo map was made, so it is not on the USGS topo map prior to the 1995 revision.

Length, Elevation and Elevation Changes: From the parking lot, here are the mileages to given spots, along with their altitudes:

MileageElevation (')Total Elevation Gain to this Point (')Location
0.011000Parking Lot
0.31200100Live Oak Nature Trail splits to right across bridge.
0.41270170Canyon View Nature Trail splits to left up stream.
2.226101510Cabin Ruins
3.233002200Saddle Below Jones Peak
Options Continuing From Saddle Below Jones Peak
3.333752275Jones Peak
4.127602420Mt. Wilson Trail via Connector Trail
4.216202275Mt. Wilson Trail via Ridge Route
5.043003300Mt. Wilson Toll Road via Ridge Route (includes extra 100' gain along ridge)

The Live Oak Nature Trail is a 0.2 mile loop, making the total round trip 0.8 mile from the parking lot, with 150' of elevation gain. The Canyon View Nature Trail continues for 0.2 mile to the Falls, making the total round trip to the Falls 1.2 miles, with 350' of elevation gain.

See also a list of some of the possible hikes using these trails.

Trail Condition:

SegmentConditionDate of ReportReporter
Bailey Park to FallsOvergrown, a few tricky spots for footingDecember 1999Tom Chester
Live Oak Nature TrailGoodDecember 1999Tom Chester
Bailey Park to Cabin RuinsGoodDecember 2001Erik Siering
Cabin Ruins to Saddle North of Jones PeakGoodDecember 2001Erik Siering
Saddle North of Jones Peak to Toll RoadGoodMarch 1997Tom Chester
Saddle North of Jones Peak to Mt. Wilson Trail via Connector TrailGoodDecember 2001Erik Siering

The Falls Trail was overgrown, and the tread was somewhat tricky in a few spots, on 14 December 1999. Since then, there have been several Park Cleanup workdays, so the trail may be in better condition now.

Trail Maintenance: The Sierra Madre Environmental Action Council (SMEAC) has adopted Bailey Canyon Park and has at two workdays a year to clean up the Park and the Live Oak Nature Trail in the Park. According to the Sierra Madre Trail Booklet, volunteer youth groups maintain the trails. The Key Club from Maranatha High School participated in the 27 October 2001 SMEAC cleanup day. 20 April 2002 is the next workday, 8:30 to noon followed by a potluck picnic.

Erik Seiring says that Charlie Bell and friends maintain the trail to Jones Peak.

History: In the later 1800s, foxes and coyotes were trapped in the Canyon, and their fur was shipped to Chicago. R.J. Bailey homesteaded the canyon in 1875, but sold it in 1881 to Palmer T. Reed, a clerk at the Sierra Madre Villa Hotel. The property was eventually divided, with portions sold to the Sierra Madre Municipal Water Company; the Passionist Fathers, who built the monastery; and the Carter family.

In the 1930s, the WPA built an amphitheater just above the current debris basin. The extensive flooding of 1938 damaged the amphitheater and other structures in the area.

The 1941 USGS Topo Map shows the trail going up Bailey Canyon which follows the modern route for the Bailey Canyon Trail, ending at a spring, which is close to the location of the current cabin ruins. Curiously, that spring is not shown on the current Topo Map.

In 1951, the rescue of an Altadena teenager near death in Bailey Canyon led to the formation of the famous Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team (PSN 8/10/01) and/or the formation of the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team.

In 1965 the Carter family donated the land for the Park, which was dedicated on 11 June, 1967. The Bailey Canyon Trail was known as the Carter Trail for decades.

The flood of 1969 further damaged the amphitheater and widened the streambed.

A debris flow in November 1978, following a fire that burned the entire Canyon, produced a peak debris discharge rate of 600 m3/s. The storms of 5-22 February, 1979 produced a debris flow of 13,974 cubic yards into the Bailey debris basin (see US Army Corps of Engineer Report in Links To Further Information below.)

Although the trail received periodic maintenance from "Boy Scouts and conservation groups", as of February 1991, John McKinney reported that the trail was in poor condition, with "badly-eroded switchbacks" and no trail signs. The trail ended at the Cabin Ruins (LAT, 2/24/1991, L23).

Sometime between 1991 and 1993, the volunteer youth groups improved the existing trail and extended it to the saddle below Jones Peak. I hiked the trail for the first time in December 1993, and easily hiked to the saddle, continuing on the Ridge Route to the 4163' peak just below the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

In Fall 1993, the Mt. Wilson Fire burned Bailey Canyon, wiping the landscape nearly clean of vegetation, which quickly started growing back. Unfortunately, for several years the trail was choked with tall grasses seeded after the fire.

In 1994, a debris flow roared down Bailey Canyon, killing John Henderson and his 9-year-old son Matthew. See Deaths in the Angeles for more information. The debris flow significantly widened the stream above the Park.

By 1997, the vegetation had pretty much recovered, with the tall grasses mostly gone and the burnt manzanita trunks no longer so evident. However, the condition of the trail above the cabin ruins had deteriorated again. In 1997 and 1998 I had some difficulty following the trail there. In November 2001, David Sotnick reports that this part of the trail is now clear.

Last time trail area burned in major fire: Fall 1993.

Trail Descriptions

All mileages below are cumulative from the trailhead and all altitudes are from the topo map.

The kiosk at the north end of the parking lot shows a trail map and pictures of local flora and fauna. Be aware that this trail map shows planned trails as well as actual trails, but does not tell you which is which! See the maps above and Guide to Non-existent Planned Connector Trails to sort out which trails exist.

From the northwest corner of the parking lot, head west past picnic tables and exit the Park through a turnstile onto a paved road. See Sierra Madre's Bailey Canyon Park for pictures of the Trailhead Sign, Picnic Tables, Fire Ring, and the Interpretive Display.

Turn right (north) and follow the paved road up the canyon past the debris dam on your right. The pavement ends near a special Handicapped parking area.

Immediately north of the Handicapped parking area, a bridge over the Bailey Canyon creek leads to the Live Oak Nature Trail. Pick up a free brochure for a guide to the numbered posts along this short trail.

The foundations for this bridge were destroyed by the flood of 1994. Stop for a moment and look on the other side of the creek just north of the bridge. All the undercutting was done in 1994.

Continue north on the now-unpaved road 0.1 mile to the stream crossing. The Canyon View Nature Trail continues left along the streambed, and ends in another 0.2 mile at the Falls. The trail along the streambed may be overgrown, and the footing a bit tricky in places, so watch your step. Do not attempt to climb the falls unless you would like to earn a mention in Deaths in the Angeles.

The Bailey Canyon Trail to Mt. Wilson Trail continues across the streambed for another 2.8 miles to the saddle north of Jones Peak. The trail quickly starts to climb the east end of the canyon, and reaches the ridge at the east end near an elevation of about 1650' after 1 mile. (This is probably the MacCloud Saddle on the sign at the trailhead.) The trail stays mostly below the ridge on the Bailey Canyon side, and rejoins the creek near the cabin ruins near 2400' after 2.2 miles, near the junction of the two major arms of the head of Bailey Canyon. A short side trail to the left takes you to the ruins.

The trail continues with numerous switchbacks to the saddle north of the peak marked 3375' on the topo map.

The trail map at Bailey Canyon Park, as well as the Sierra Madre Trail Guide, calls this 3375' peak Jones Peak. A short trail to the south takes you to that peak. You can see a short segment of the Mt. Wilson Trail below the saddle.

Return the way you came if this is as far as you want to go. If you want to hike farther, there are three options:

These three options are detailed below.

Upper Ridge Route to Mt. Wilson Toll Road to Eaton Canyon Nature Center

Continue north on the ridge route about 0.2 mile to where the ridge line veers to the left, west / northwest, and the Connector trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail goes off to the right.

Continue left on the Ridge Route. In many places along the firebreak, a trail exists, but in other places there is no clear trail. There is never any problem in knowing which way to go as long as you stay near the top of the ridge.

There are two 7-8' metal poles with a "yield-sign-like" triangle at their tops, one after 3.3 miles near 3400' near where the ridge line curves to the northwest, and one after 4.1 miles near 4000' near the benchmark symbol on the topo map.

Dave Anderberg was able to supply the following information about those markers, responding to my previous query here about them:

They sound like the old pre-attack markers that the fire agencies used to describe a geographical location that lay behind the signs. As I remember they were red and black and the triangle had a number on it. This number could be looked up in a book, and told the fire company such things as dirt roads or cabins or water tanks that were located behind the sign. These pre-attack markers haven't been maintained or used in dozen of years, but occasionally you run across one that hasn't fallen to the elements.

The next saddle is filled with a "forest" of knee-high plants that fortunately have no annoying features such as thorns, and at 4.5 miles you reach the peak marked 4163' on the map.

The descent from that peak into the final saddle in somewhat tricky but presents no problem as long as one is careful. The ascent to the Toll Road is easy, except for the final several hundred feet. Our advance slowed to a pace of: stop, look carefully for where to put our feet for the next 3 steps, go, then stop again. I was very glad we were going up that ridge and not down it.

The Toll Road is reached after 5 miles. Go left, and at 5.2 miles there is a "sylvan paradise" for a lunch break, with great shade, a good view, and a nice flat rock to sit on, just below the water tank.

The descent along the Toll Road to Henninger Flats has a lot of shade. After 6 miles, there is a small memorial cross to Roger Dahl, a bicycle mechanic for Pasadena Cyclery, who died after going over the edge of the Toll Road while mountain biking. He apparently succumbed to a burst of anger at the time and then failed to pay attention to the road. Looking over the edge there, it is easy to see why a transgression at this location would result in death.

At 6.3 miles, you reach the saddle at 3600', which is presently littered with dozens of rolls of netting, some of which vandals have tossed down the hillside in both directions. Presumably, these are remnants of some well-intentioned effort to stabilize the hillside after the 1993 fire, but are now a considerable eyesore. There is a tree with a huge spherical cancerous growth around 10' in diameter at the saddle, called "Moss Nest" by runners. This is the first point at which one can make (ham) radio contact with Altadena/Pasadena below.

The second switchback below the saddle features a stump with a hold in it, called "Hole in the Stump" by runners. Two more switchbacks bring you to the junction with the Idlehour Trailhead at 7 miles. The heliport road is at 7.4 miles, and Henninger Flats is at 8 miles.

The horse trail to Eaton Canyon Nature Center is at 9.6 miles, and the end of the hike at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center is reached at 12 miles.

See a Trip Log for this route.

Although this trip can be done in reverse, starting at Eaton Canyon, most people will probably prefer to go up the steep ridge via starting at Bailey Canyon, rather than have to go down the steep ridge if they start at Eaton Canyon.

Booth Hartley kindly supplied the runners' terminology and the ham radio contact information.

Upper Ridge Route to Connector Trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail and hiking down to Sierra Madre

Continue north on the ridge route about 0.2 mile to where the ridge line veers to the left, west / northwest, and the Connector trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail goes off to the right.

David Sotnick, Mac Pigman and Erik Siering report that this trail is easy to follow and in good shape as of December 2001. The very last part descends a streambed, and might be in poor condition during and after a rain.

The Connector Trail meets the Mt. Wilson Trail about 160' below the Helispot Site, at about mile 2.9 of the Mt. Wilson Trail. The junction is unsigned, so you need to be alert if you are hiking up the Connector Trail from the Mt. Wilson Trail.

Thanks to David Sotnick for first reporting the existence of this connector trail, and to Mac Pigman and Erik Siering for describing the route of this Connector Trail.

Most people will probably prefer to begin this loop trip using the Mt. Wilson Trail to go up the quite steep ridge and down a more gradual trail, rather than starting at Bailey Canyon and having to go down the steep ridge.

Lower Ridge Route to Connector Trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail and hiking down to Sierra Madre

Take the short trail to the south to Jones Peak, and follow the use trail along the ridge to the Mt. Wilson Trail at about mile 0.9 of that trail.

The Ridge Route is not a formal trail, but is a steep route that is easily passable. This Route is not shown on any map, but has existed in fairly good condition since at least 1997.

Views from the Trail

At the beginning of the trail, the monastery, Mt. Oliva Passionist Fathers Home, is prominent next to Bailey Canyon Park. As you climb, the Santa Anita Racetrack and Mall, the office buildings, etc. on East Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, downtown Pasadena and the buildings along Washington Drive at the border of Pasadena and Altadena come into view.

At the top of the peak at 4163' just before reaching the Toll Road, here is the panorama in words, starting with downtown L.A. and continuing north: downtown L.A., Griffith Park at the near end of the Santa Monica Mountains and Old Boney at the far end by Ventura, Verdugo peak, Mt. Lukens (with the antennae), the Inspiration Point ridge, Mt. Lowe, Mt. Markham (the flat-topped peak), Occidental Peak, Yale Peak, Mt. Harvard, Mt. Hawkins, (Twin Peaks were visible on the way to this peak, but are blocked now by a nearer ridge), Baden-Powell, Dawson, Pine and Baldy, Monrovia Peak, Ontario Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto in the San Bernardino Mountains, and Santiago Peak in the Santa Ana Mountains. Catalina and Palos Verdes are often visible, but not always.

Hikes Using These Trails

39.14.41510nov-mayBailey Canyon to Cabin Ruins
(1 way)
3300nov-mayBailey Canyon to Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Henninger Flats, Eaton Canyon Nature Center
39.41.2350nov-mayBailey Canyon to Falls
39.50.8150nov-mayLive Oak Nature Trail, Bailey Canyon
39.66.62275nov-mayBailey Canyon to Jones Peak
39.78.02635nov-mayBailey Canyon to Jones Peak, Connector Trail to Mt. Wilson Trail, Mt. Wilson Trail
39.85.92415nov-mayMt. Wilson Trail, Ridge Route to Jones Peak, Bailey Canyon Park

When available, the date of the information is given in parentheses for each link.

Jones Peak (3375') (10Jul04), Dan Simpson

Jones Peak (3,375') Dayhike (29Jan00), Erik Seiring.

Trip Log for hike 39-3: Bailey Canyon to Mt. Wilson Toll Road, Henninger Flats, Eaton Canyon Nature Center (25Mar97), Tom Chester.

Trip Log for hike 39-1: Bailey Canyon to old cabin (18Sep96), Tom Chester.

Adventure Hikes And Canyoneering In The San Gabriels: Hike 9. Bailey Canyon (before 30Jul99), Christopher E. Brennen. (Don't try this full adventure unless you have the skills for it!)

Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad, Second Edition, 2000, Area A-6: Trip 8, page 219, Bailey Canyon. This is the hike to the Falls and back. Note that the report that the Bailey Canyon Trail "only goes about a mile" past the junction with the Falls Trail was carried over from the 1991 edition and is no longer correct.

Links To Further Information

Live Oak Nature Trail trail guide published by the City of Sierra Madre, available at the library or the Sierra Madre Police Station. This booklet is a guide to the posts along the Live Oak Nature Trail, and also maps the other two trails.

HIKING / San Gabriel Mountains: San Gabriel Valley Hike Has a Few Clear Views, John McKinney, LAT, 2/24/1991, L23.

Sierra Madre's Bailey Canyon Park: Pix of Trailhead Sign, Picnic Tables, Fire Ring, Interpretive Display and Waterfall Pix from the Sierra Madre News Net.

US Army Corps of Engineer Report Los Angeles District Method for Prediction of Debris Yield (Warning: file size is 3166 kB! This is a "systematic approach for determining the debris yield from a single flood event to be used in design of debris basins". Appendix D-1 uses Bailey Canyon as an example for how to calculate the debris yield for the storm of 5-22 February, 1979. The predicted debris flow was 13,911 cubic yards compared to an actual debris inflow of 13,974 cubic yards.)

Geologic Controls on the Geomorphology of Lower Bailey Canyon, James M. Borer, Senior Project, California State University, Fullerton, January, 1986.

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Copyright © 1997-2005 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 9 January 2005.