The Ben Overturff Trail

Trail Parameters
Trail Description
Hikes Using This Trail
Links To Further Information


The Ben Overturff Trail leads from the Sawpit Canyon Fire Road in Monrovia Canyon Park in the Monrovia foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains (SGM) to the Old Cabin Site in Deer Park. There are two short spurs that connect the trail with the Fire Road near the upper end of the trail.

Monrovia Canyon Park considers the Trail to be a 7 mile loop that includes the portion of Sawpit Canyon Fire Road between the Park and Deer Park Junction. We treat Sawpit Canyon Fire Road as a distinct hiking route, as does Robinson.

The Ben Overturff Trail has many attractions:

The detractions are minimal: you are hardly ever out of sight of the works of man--fire roads, power lines, non-native trees and weeds, and the views are mostly restricted to those within Sawpit Canyon and the surrounding ridges.

Trail Parameters

Maps: The trail is not shown on the USGS 7.5' x 7.5' Azusa Quadrangle or ANF maps that cover this area. It is shown as #48 on the 1993 and later printings of John Robinson's Map for TOTA.

Season: All year.

Trailhead and directions to trailhead: There is no public vehicle access to either end of the trail. The trail begins at Overturff Junction (~1,680') on the Sawpit Canyon Fire Road (2N30), 1.2 miles from the beginning of the Fire Road in Monrovia Canyon Park. The Junction is marked with two stone pillars and a map of the Trail and Fire Road, and the Fire Road has another gate just above this junction. The trail deadends at the Old Cabin Site (~2,760') above Deer Park, with no outlet.

The trail is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when the Monrovia Police Department uses the shooting range on Sawpit Fire Road. Access via parking at Monrovia Canyon Park costs two dollars, and the gate at the Park is only open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with "no exceptions". Access via the Mt. Bliss and Van Tassel Fire Roads is not time-restricted.

Length: 2 miles according to the signs; 1.8 miles according to "Topo!" measurements; and 2.0 miles according to TJC's pedometer measurement.

Elevation Changes: The Overturff Trail Junction is at ~1,680' and the Old Cabin Site is at ~2,760'. There is another ~100' of elevation gain and loss along the trail, for a total gain of ~1,200' on the Trail.

Users: The Ben Overturff is signed for hikers only from Overturff Junction to the junction with the access road from Deer Park Junction on the Fire Road. The roughly-parallel Fire Road is available to all non-motorized users, who can also use the last 0.1 mile of the trail to the Old Cabin Site.

Trail Condition: The trail is in excellent shape, with only a bit of annuals brushing a very few parts of the trail.

Trail Maintenance: Trail has been maintained by Monrovia Community Services Department, California Conservation Corps, and volunteer trail builders (TOTA #48, 1998, p. 100).

History: Around 1905, Ben Overturff, a Monrovia building contractor and L.A. County deputy sheriff, discovered Deer Park during a hunting trip. He loved the spot so much that he leased the area from the US Forest Service in 1907 and built a wooden lodge, transporting materials via burro from Monrovia. His lodge became a very popular weekend resort, and Ben built a larger lodge using native boulders in 1911.

The popularity declined during the 1930s depression, and visitation ceased when the Great Flood of March 1938 washed out the trail to Deer Park. The trail was rebuilt by the early 1940s, but Overturff had to close the resort during World War II. His reopening plans were thwarted by the City of Monrovia, which locked the public out of the Canyon with a gate at the Canyon Entrance, ostensibly to "protect their water supplies".

The trail and access to it was not restored until sometime before 1993. The Trust for Public Land purchased the land containing this trail, Sawpit Canyon Fire Road, and Deer Park for ~$1 million and resold it to the Forest Service. (David Czamanske email of 3/29/00; The San Gabriels, pp. 187-188; TOTA #48, 1993 printing, p. 120.)

Trail Description

The beginning of the trail at Overturff Junction gives a good vantage point of the perennial water streambed in Sawpit Canyon shaded by white alders and lined with eupatory and large boulders. The water is extremely clear without the brown algae that usually occurs late in year.

The surrounding sunny slopes are an intergrade between coastal sage scrub and soft chaparral. Typical and abundant, perennial plants are toyon, poison oak, orange bush monkeyflower, white sage, California buckwheat, laurel sumac, chamise, yucca, scrub oak, California fuchsia, California sagebrush and chaparral whitethorn.

The trail contours below the Sawpit Fire Road, passes a checkdam with waterfall at 0.15 mile, and then crosses the stream just above the checkdam. Another checkdam is seen just above this point.

The trail begins a steep climb up the Razorback with three switchbacks and then a gentle curve (still steep) back to the ridgetop. At the second switchback, 0.30 mile, you are almost on top of the checkdam seen earlier. At 0.35 mile you are on top of the ridge with a good view to either side. But the best part of the Razorback is yet to come.

At 0.55 mile, a trail marker says "Narrow" and you suddenly understand why this ridge is called the Razorback since the trail is on a knife edge. The trail is beautifully done here, with a nice flat surface, so the fear factor is almost non-existent. But you may want to stay near the center of the trail...

The trail continues to climb steeply, but the ridge climbs even more steeply and thus the trail stays below the ridge on the west side. The trail aims for The Gap, where it crosses to the other side of The Razorback ridge. A side canyon of Sycamore Canyon seen in front of you heads at The Gap, so you have a clear indication of where it is although you cannot see it until you are there. At 1.0 mile you reach The Gap, a small "trailcut" in the ridge marked by a section of the ubiquitous water pipe planted on its end. The Gap is a "trailcut", like a roadcut, where the ridge has been cut down to allow an easier passage (by ~4' or so). We can't recall another such feature on any other San Gabriel Mountain trail.

The water pipes here are interesting:

Did you know that the old water pipes that start high in the Canyon are only about 2 inches in diameter then grow to about 12 inches by the time it passes by Twin Springs and finally converges at Five Point at 18 inches? At one point where the pipe has to go over a ridge and a special air pressure pump exist; George (Hills) has come across an old pipe with graffiti on it. But this graffiti is actually where people have just signed their names and placed the date. The dates start at 1901 and end in 1932.

from "On the Trails", by Susan Immer, in Monrovia Canyon Volunteer Newsletter, Issue #28, December 1999, p. 2. The "special air pressure pump" probably is a pressure-relief point in the water pipe.

At The Gap the trail environment changes markedly. Prior to The Gap, there are good views of Sycamore Canyon and lower Sawpit Canyon. After The Gap, views are almost non-existent due to heavy vegetation. We were looking forward to good views of the Mt. Bliss ridge, which never occurred.

The trail is heavily shaded here by canyon oak and California bay trees, and even at midday in the winter feels like sunset. It was so dark that Tom's camera wanted to use the flash for nearly every picture he took.

The trail descends only briefly with two switchbacks, then resumes a more gentle ascent toward Twin Springs Canyon with some minor ups and downs along the way. At 1.3 miles you see water coming out of a pipe ahead on your right and suddenly you are on top of the "Natural Bridge" and may not even realize it for a moment.

Spend some time exploring this fascinating unique area. Go above the trail to adequately see the tunnel at the bottom of the pit to your left. Go below the trail to explore the tunnel and water flow below you. This mileage is not counted in the trail mileages below.

Just below this point, the trail branches, left to the Cabin Site and straight ahead to Twin Springs Junction. Go left.

The trail uses four switchbacks to gain elevation to traverse the west side of the tree-covered area below Deer Park, heading north, then turns abruptly east to cut across that area. At 1.85 miles another junction is reached, left to the Cabin Site and right to Deer Park Junction. Go left and in 0.05 mile you reach a rubble pile of boulders used for the 1911 lodge, accompanied by a picture and rusting machinery. The plants change to non-natives like Pampas grass, horehound and periwinkle here indicating the nearness to a place of civilization. Another 0.05 mile brings you to the concrete foundation of the ~1905 original lodge and the end of the trail.

Detailed Trip Log

This log gives the mileage and time to features along the trail from Overturff Junction to the Old Cabin Site, along with their altitude. The mileage is from TJC's raw pedometer reading, which agrees closely with the mileage measured from the approximate trail location plotted with "Topo!". The mileages are probably accurate to ~0.1 mile, but are given to 0.01 mile to prevent adding rounding errors.

Times are from the start of the hike. Your times may be shorter since Jane and Tom spent a lot of time looking at the plants, topographic features and views along the way. The altitudes are from the topo map, for features that could clearly be identified there, and from TJC's adjusted altimeter reading for other locations.

The detailed trip log includes the trip back from the Cabin Site to the Deer Park Junction on the Sawpit Fire Road.

#MileageTime From StartAltitudeComments
10.000:001680Overturff Jct., Jct. Ben Overtuff Trail. Left. Locked gate on fire road on right. Sign: "2 miles to Old Cabin site, 1 1/4 mile to Canyon Park, 1 1/2 to Twin Springs Jct., 3 1/2 to White Saddle."
20.170:101680Checkdam, then trail crosses stream.
30.300:171700Second switchback on Razorback.
40.350:211750A quasi-saddle on the ridge.
50.550:291975The Razorback, a narrow part on the ridgetop.
61.030:562350The Gap.
71.351:132400"Natural Bridge" over water tunnel after some ups and downs on trail. Jct to Sawpit Fire Road just below. Left to cabin.
81.851:532650Another Jct to Sawpit Fire Road. Left to cabin.
91.901:562650Deer Park sign and ruin of something.
101.961:592750Cabin site.
112.052:292700Left Cabin site.
122.172:352650Jct to Sawpit Fire Road. Left to Road.
132.352:412560"Deer Park Jct", with handicapped access bathroom.

Hikes Using This Trail

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

48-3 Monrovia Canyon Park to Sawpit Canyon, Deer Park, T. Chester and J. Strong (03Dec99)

Trails of the Angeles, John W. Robinson, Seventh Edition, September 1998, #48, Monrovia Canyon Park to Sawpit Canyon, Deer Park, p. 100. (??)

Links To Further Information

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Copyright © 1999-2000 by Tom Chester and Jane Strong.
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: Tom Chester | Jane Strong
Updated 23 April 2000.