Rubio Canyon

General Information
Historical Timeline
Other Web Information

General Information

Rubio Canyon is a place full of history and scenery, with ghosts of the past coming to life for hikers with vivid imaginations and knowledge of the past. This is where the Mt. Lowe Railway (1893 - 1936) began its journey in the San Gabriels, with the Pacific Electric cars winding ~0.5 mile up Rubio Canyon from Altadena, arriving at the Rubio Pavilion.

The beautiful three-story Rubio Pavilion and Hotel (1893 - 1909) was the center of tourist activities in Rubio Canyon. Hotel Rubio had 10 hotel rooms, a below-deck dining room and dance floor. Over a mile of planked walks and stairways with more than a thousand steps led to nine of the beautiful waterfalls of Rubio Canyon. At night, over 2,000 illuminated Japanese lanterns lit the pathway. The Pavilion was one end of the Rubio Incline where passengers experienced a thrilling ride up the 59% average grade of the Incline in "White Chariots", open-air cars moved by powerful machinery.

But the glory of the Rubio Canyon attractions did not last long. By 1903, storm damage from boulders in Rubio Creek had washed away much of the underfloor, the lower part of the Pavilion was declared unsafe and the hotel was closed. In 1909, a thunderstorm sent boulders crashing down on the Pavilion, demolishing it. Rubio Canyon became just a transfer point from the Pacific Electric standard passenger trolley cars to the Incline cars.

On September 15, 1936, a fire burned the Mt. Lowe Tavern, and a year later Pacific Electric officially abandoned the Mt. Lowe Railway. But in fact, this was just the straw that broke the camel's back. The Railway was already doomed. The crowds of tourists had left in favor of the new Angeles Crest Highway, which had reached Red Box in 1934, connecting to the road to Mt. Wilson. Revenues for the Railway were down by over 80% in 1936 compared to 1923.

The works of man were left to fade away, leaving only memories and a few concrete reminders of the past. The heavy rains of March 1938 destroyed much of the Railway. In 1940, the Railway was sold for scrap. Surprisingly, the Incline was still able to be used for this operation in 1941, even without power. Scrap was loaded on the uppermost car, gravity took that car to the bottom, bringing the other car to the top, where the operation was repeated. During World War II the Forest Service pressured Pacific Electric into removing the remains of the Incline loading platform in Rubio Canyon. In 1947 the Pacific Electric property was sold back to the Feds to rejoin the Angeles National Forest. In 1979, the remaining wood of the trestle of the Incline was destroyed by the Pinecrest Fire.

But the beautiful waterfalls and the sylvan charm of Rubio Canyon remained. Hikers enjoyed the level footpath afforded by the old railway bed, and could enjoy the splendor of Rubio Canyon in solitude.

Until 1998....

In 1998, in order to "repair" damage to their water pipes, Rubio Water Company blasted ~100,000 cubic yards of scenic cliffside into Rubio Canyon. The blasting activity created an ugly very unnatural scar in the cliff above Rubio Canyon, as well as a huge debris pile, both visible from the foothills. The debris pile covers five of the nine waterfalls in lower Rubio Canyon completely, and about one-third of another, one of the highest waterfalls in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Considerable discussion went on for six years to try to mitigate this damage, when Nature took things in hand with a cloudburst of ~ten inches of rain over Rubio Canyon on ~10/20/04. Paul Ayers was first on the scene and reported:

Some time between Tuesday October 19th and Thursday morning the 21st the Rubio rock pile collapsed, turning into a debris flow covering most of the bottom of Rubio Canyon. I inspected the area on October 21, 22 and 25, 2004 and discovered the following:

The ~80' deep dam formed by the top of the pile has collapsed exposing the 1892 hydroelectric dam built by Professor Lowe, as well as Grand Chasm Falls. The pre-collapse height of the pile is clear from the pile's outline that is visible to great height on the sides of the canyon. I also observed that Moss Grotto Falls is exposed. Ribbon Rock Falls remains ~60% covered.

Further inspection indicates that at least one of the falls above Grand Chasm, Roaring Rift, has also been exposed, and bottom of Thalehaha previously covered has been exposed.

The debris flow has, on the other hand, covered Maidenhair Falls, which was far enough below the pile to be previously unaffected.

The debris flow is quite deep for approximately 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile below the pile. Near the pile, the flow is over ten feet deep. My lay person's guess is that the collapse was catastrophic, because of the extent and length of travel of the flow. The flow has flattened all the vegetation in the creek bed, making travel in the bed easier then it has been in some time, and the obstacle presented by Maidenhair Falls has been removed by its burial. As such it is quite easy to walk up to the base of Moss Grotto/Ribbon Rock.

There are 4 reasons advanced for the collapse of which I am aware:

  1. Water percolating through the base of the pile, between the loose heterogeneous pile and the hard granite beneath created a slippery interface, like a pile of sand on an inclined concrete driveway, and the pile slipped and mobilized;

  2. Water infiltration began the mobilization by expansion of the particles within the pile;

  3. Hydrostatic pressure was exerted at the back of the dam by water building up due to the 10-11" rain event on 10/19-20/04 and this pushed the dam down and mobilized the flow. Remember that the entirety of the water product of the Rubio Watershed, an approximately 1 square mile area, has to pass through Grand Chasm, which is approximately 15' wide;

  4. A pulse or flash flood occurred causing a 10' wall of water to strike the weakened dam, thus starting the mobilization. I have reports of destruction above Thalehaha suggesting such an occurrence.

It is probable that a combination of some or all of these factors caused the failure.

Rubio Canyon was named for Jesus Rubio Maron, a native Californian born in 1826, who built a home in Rubio Canyon in 1867 and raised fruits and vegetables for about ten years and then moved to Duarte.

Sources: Mount Lowe: Railway in the Clouds; Trails of the Angeles, p. 65; Rubio Canyon: The Waterfalls, Water Rights and Rubio Water Association, and Recent Construction Activities; Paul Ayers, emails of 3/31/00 and 10/21/04; The San Gabriels.

Historical Timeline

1892Railway and Incline construction begins in Rubio Canyon
1893Rubio Pavilion and Hotel Built. Mt. Lowe Railway opens.
1903Rubio Hotel and lower part of Pavilion closed due to damage by Rubio Creek.
1909Pavilion and Hotel demolished by boulders from a thunderstorm.
1935Macpherson Trestle of the Incline burns, and is rebuilt within a month.
1936Mt. Lowe Railway ceases operations when the Mt. Lowe Tavern burns.
1937Pacific Electric officially abandons the Mt. Lowe Railway, including all tracks in Altadena north of Lake and Mariposa.
1941Mt. Lowe Railway sold for scrap.
1947Pacific Electric property becomes part of Angeles National Forest.
1979Remaining wood of the trestle of the Incline was destroyed by the Pinecrest Fire.
1998Rubio Water blasts cliff above Rubio Canyon, burying 5 1/3 waterfalls by debris.
Endless discussion of what to do about the rock pile debris
2004A cloudburst of ~10 inches of rain collapses the rock pile into a debris flow covering the bottom of the canyon.


Map: Mt. Wilson Region. The location is marked by the number 25 near the right center of the map. Note the waterfalls plotted on the map.

See also: USGS 7.5' x 7.5' Map: Mount Wilson. Rubio Canyon is south and east of Echo Mountain. The site of the Pavilion is at the end of the marked Old RR Grade at (34.20543° N, 118.11735° W)

By Car: In Altadena or Pasadena, take Lake St. north to Palm St., one block north of Altadena Dr. Turn right (east), and follow Palm Street to the stop sign. Continue ahead on Maiden Ln. Take the third street on your right after the stop sign, Rubio Canyon Road. Turn left at the first street on your left, Rubio Crest Drive. Turn right at the first street, Rubio Vista Road. The trailhead is at the north end of Rubio Vista Road, where it turns sharply west and becomes Pleasant Ridge Drive. The narrow dirt path between the two houses on the corner is the public trail into Rubio Canyon.

By Trail: Castle Canyon Trail traverses the head of Rubio Canyon, from Echo Mountain to Inspiration Point.

Season: All.


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

251.5200nov-mayAltadena to Rubio Canyon

Other Web Information

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Copyright © 2000-2004 by Tom Chester and Jane Strong
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Updated 18 November 2004.