Barley Flats Road

General Information and History
Access and Road Log
Other Web Information

General Information

Barley Flats Road leaves the Angeles Crest Highway 4.9 miles east of Red Box and climbs a ridge separating the waters of Big Tujunga Creek from those draining into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

Introduction Charles Francis Saunders in 1923 in The Southern Sierras of California puts it very well:

"Near the West Fork Ranger Station, a trail sets off up Short-Cut Cañon, a stiffish five miles to Barley Flats--a favorite objective for hardy walkers and offering beautiful outlooks over the interior of the range. 'Flats,' however, is a deceiving term as applied to it, for, in all its two miles or so in length, I failed to notice one proper flat singular, let alone flats plural. It is, in fact, a rolling plateau, grassy and flowery, at an elevation of about five thousand feet, to which a sprinkling of cañon live-oaks and yellow and Coulter pines give a certain parklike aspect. This is heightened by the frequent presence of California mule-deer, which find choice picking on the wild barley, as mountain people call the characteristic grass that makes a thin carpet under the trees and over the sunny interspaces....In early days, the tradition is, Barley Flats was a 'bad man' rendezvous, where bandits and cattle-rustlers could rest from their activities with little chance of being surprised by sheriff's men, and where their stock was always assured of fattening forage."
(Amusing that it is now a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Probation Camp and Retreat.)

Early Uses

Barley Flats was used as a Nike-Ajax missile site between 1955 and 1961, and as such, was a Military Reservation which is how it is shown on the USGS Chilao Flat 7.5' Quadrangle. The Nike-Ajax was the first ground-based supersonic anti-aircraft missile system to become operational in the United States. The Nike missiles were deployed at sites in a circular pattern around key American industrial and military locations. (Another site which was part of the circle around Los Angeles was at Mt. Gleason.) The Administration buildings remain in good shape. They were used as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department probation camp until 1992. The IFC site is currently used as a radio relay station; a couple of buildings and radar pads remain.

Today, Barley Flats is used as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Probation Camp and Retreat, and a Search and Rescue (SAR) facility. Barley Flats retreats are therapeutic three-day mountain retreats conducted by the Probation Department as a summer camp for boys and girls, ages 13 to 15, which provides young, first-time offenders with a better future through career counseling, instilling a strong work ethic, and developing a more objective sense of self-understanding. The campers are also advised by former offenders.

The Aero Bureau's search and rescue operation, known as "Air Rescue 5", provides air rescue service to all of Los Angeles County from a heliport at Barley Flats. Calls for service range from auto accidents to daring cliff rescues of stranded or injured hikers to medical aid responses. The SAR is currently in-service only four days per week (Friday through Monday) due to budget constraints.

Barley Flats is on the waiting list as a GPS site to measure crustal changes caused by earthquakes.

(1) The San Gabriels by John Robinson. (SG)
(2) Fort McArthur Museum's The Nike Missile Air Defense System
(3) Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Description On approach to the Barley Flats Road, the Angeles Crest Highway contours around the ridge that forms the north side of the West Fork Canyon. The southern ridgeline is Mt. Wilson, with observatory domes, TV and radio antennae et al. Each of the small canyons gullying downslope from Barley Flats has deciduous trees like sycamore that take on color in the fall. Where the highway blocks the drainage of these little canyons, the highway widens into a turnout and the Forest Service has planted more non-native deciduous trees. This section of the drive is very colorful in the fall.

Barley Flats Road, numbered 2N46 by the Forest Service, is a 2.7 mile long, peaceful, country-style back-road. It goes only to Barley Flats, ending there, and has no traffic. It is plowed in winter, has flowers in spring, turnouts for picnics in summer and views in fall.

Going up, the first section of the road is densely lined with Spanish broom, a must-see-and-smell sight in the spring. The slopes have thick and thorny chaparral plants like yucca, chamise, manzanita, scrub oak and ceanothus. Along the top of the ridge are incense cedar, canyon oak, Jeffrey and Coulter pine. Enjoy "the beauty of the view and the pleasant company of the murmurous pines," in C.F. Saunder's words.

The views here are mid-range, not long. You are on a ridge, like a diving board over a pool, surrounded by mountains and get a perspective of the sizes and shapes of many peaks and their relationship to each other and the creeks that drain them. Some examples are San Gabriel at the head of the West Fork, the Gleason ridgecrest at the head of Mill Creek, Pacifico at the head of Alder Creek, and Waterman and Twin Peaks above Devil's Canyon.

The stellar performance along this road is by a rock group a little less than a mile up from the turnoff. Look for the reddish formation on the left-hand side with the manzanita bushes drooping over the top. The rock, gneiss, is in very thin layers that separate easily and are perpendicular to the road. Think of pages in a telephone book set on its back and "mooshed together" a bit to create parallel waves. Interspersed between the layers are wider (six to twelve inches) occurrences of a blue-gray rock and of a white, with a very light tint of orange, opaque rock with narrow gray bands. The ultra-thin layers are a dark rust-like red-orange with small, shiny, silvery, flat crystals where the layers break away. The rock disintegrates very readily.

The blue-gray rocks are presumably pieces of country rock that were dropped into the magma mix that formed the rock that is now the gneiss. When the gneiss formed, the blue-gray rock was partially melted as the gneiss flowed around the blue-gray rock, forming the "eyes of gneiss" called "augen gneiss". In some cases the country rock nearly completely melted to form longer more uniform layers within the gneiss.

A very worthwhile show.

The entire Barley Flats ridge (east of Mt. Lawlor, south of Upper Big Tujunga Creek, and north of the Angeles Crest Highway) is made of this Precambrian gneiss, surrounded by the Mesozoic granite of Strawberry Peak and Mt. Wilson, the white Precambrian anorthosite body to the north, and the Permian-Triassic granite of Pacifico and Vetter Mountain. (See definitions for these terms.)


Maps: Chilao Region where it says SR2 near the bottom left.

See also: USGS 7.5' x 7.5' Map: Chilao Flat 34° 16" 43' N, 118° 04" 28' W

By Car: From the Angeles Crest Highway, SR2, 4.9 miles east of Red Box. You can also come up Upper Big Tujunga Road turning right at Shortcut Saddle onto SR2. Barley Flats Road is 300 yards west.

Road Log:

from SR2
0.00.0Jct. Angeles Crest Highway, SR2Left turn onto Barley Flats Road from SR2 from Red Box, 4.9 miles
0.00.0White Gate on north side of roadMarked horses and hikers only, no OHV; probable trail to Big Tujunga Canyon
0.30.3Turnout on leftView of Mount Markham, San Gabriel Peak and Mount Wilson across West Fork Canyon
0.70.4"Most Cool Rock Group"Rust-colored fractured gneiss (nice) like pages of a book. Parking on right. Formation on left.
1.71.0Turnout on rightView of Upper Big Tujunga Drainage and Road and powerlines going over Shortcut Saddle
1.80.1Turnout on rightView of Gleason and Strawberry
2.30.5Turnout on leftView of Baldy, Twin Peaks, Vetter Lookout on its rock
2.40.1Gated road on leftOrigin unknown
2.70.3Gates to facilitiesTrailhead on north side of road for Barley Flats Trail to Upper Big Tujunga Canyon and Alder Creek, listed as 3.5 miles long

By Trail: Barley Flats Trail comes in from Alder Creek to the north.

Season: All year


Warning: this list does not get updated as often as the hikes listed in the region tables. Consult Mt. Wilson Region Hikes and Chilao Region Hikes for the latest listing.

3881400allRed Box to Strawberry Spring, Strawberry Meadow
(1 way)
-2100nov-junBarley Flats to Alder Creek
54.7182100nov-junBarley Flats to Alder Creek
(1 way)
+2100nov-junAlder Creek to Barley Flats
54.8182100nov-junAlder Creek to Barley Flats

Other Web Information

Go to Field Guide to the San Gabriel Mountains: Places

Copyright © 1999 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester
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Updated February 19, 2000.