The Sunset Ridge Trail (Millard Canyon)

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


The Sunset Ridge Trail in Millard Canyon parallels the Sunset Ridge - Mt. Lowe Fire Road (2N50) and provides a delightful alternate pathway to that paved road. The Trail leaves the Fire Road 0.4 mile past the locked gate at the lower end of the Fire Road, and rejoins the Fire Road after another 2.1 miles, just before the old Mt. Lowe Railway bed leading to Echo Mountain.

The Sunset Ridge Trail has these attractions:

Trail Parameters

Maps: The trail is 12W18 on the 1995 Forest Service Angeles National Forest Map. The Sunset Ridge Fire Road, but not the trail, is on the Pasadena USGS 7.5' topo map. The trail shown on the topo map along the upper part of the Fire Road does not correspond to this trail.

Season: All.

Trailhead and directions to trailhead: From Loma Alta Drive in Altadena, go north on Chaney Trail to immediately past the top of Sunset Ridge and park below the gate on the side of the road. You will need an Adventure Pass. Walk around the white gate and follow the fire road to the trailhead. The Sunset Ridge Trail is 0.4 miles past the informative Mt. Lowe Railway sign and just past the powerlines, marked by a sign on the left hand (north) side of the road.

Length: The trail itself is 2.1 miles long. Including the 0.4 miles on Sunset Ridge Fire Road to get to the trailhead, makes a total distance of 2.5 miles to hike to the other end of the trail.

Elevation Changes: The trail gains ~1260' of elevation from the trailhead, and a total of ~1360' from the bottom of the Sunset Ridge Fire Road.

Trail Condition: Inconsistent on 2/22/00. Sometimes it is beautifully leveled and filled with hard packed sand. Other times it is badly gullied, especially in the top portion. There is one easily negotiable brand-new washout from the rain on 2/21/00. In another place runoff has washed away the soil, leaving only cobble-sized rocks, because a boulder is blocking the culvert.

Trail Maintenance: ??


Trail Description

The interpretive sign at the beginning of the road about the Mt. Lowe Railway identifies some of the features you will see. There is a horse-watering trough made of local stones nearby. Continue past the trail that descends to Millard Campground on the left side of the fire road.

This section on the Fire Road passes through coastal sage scrub with many non-natives like Spanish broom and rockrose along the edges of the road. The Sunset Ridge Trailhead is on the left side of the road after you pass under the powerlines, just under 0.4 mile from the start of the Road.

The trail stays fairly level as it leads into Millard Canyon, allowing the floor of the canyon to rise to meet the trail for the most part. The trail soon becomes shaded by live oaks and noisy with the sound of tumbling waterfalls, leaving the Fire Road a distant memory. Millard Falls is visible below, with its two large boulders stuck at the top.

Shortly you come to a trail junction just above Millard Falls, a few tenths of a mile from the trailhead. The left branch goes past an old cabin down the canyon and eventually on to Dawn Mine. The right branch immediately begins to ascend the hillside, as the trail begins to make up elevation gain to catch up to the Fire Road. You pass by wonderful fern-covered rock walls and tall oaks with hillside gooseberries as an understory.

First you can hear, then you can see Punchbowl and Saucer waterfalls on the other side of the canyon. There are many superb views. It looks as if the shrubbery has been recently cut away to enhance the glimpses of these two astonishing falls. Astonishing because, here they are, on a south-facing slope in dry southern California, flowing with water year-round. In late summer, of course, these falls dribble lazily and are green with algae, but after the downpours of late winter they froth with white water.

Soon, the fire road comes into view at a sort of semi-saddle marked by blue-green Coulter pines. You can follow the use trail back to the road if you want some open air and wide sunny views.

The trail next goes behind the ridge again and becomes steeper. The other end of this section is marked with a carsonite stake indicating falling rocks. The trail is somewhat eroded by runoff from a blocked culvert. The rock walls in this section are covered with mosses and lichens in shades of green and yellow. One particularly beautiful section has vertically layered black and white banded gneiss with pinkish feldspar veins and sometimes pink "eyes". This formation for some reason also has the most variety in shape and color of lichens and mosses, from small starlike tree shapes to miniature lettuce leaves to soft puffy mounds, with colors ranging from kelly to lime to acid green to yellow to gray.

At 1.6 mile, you come to Sierra Saddle, marked on some maps as Camp Sierra. There is a paved road leading down to the fire road. This spot shows the very marked difference between the vegetation on the north-facing slope and the south-facing slope. The north-facing slope is a forest of canyon oak and California bay trees, an understory of hillside gooseberry and poison oak with live-forevers, ferns and lichens on the rocks. The south-facing slope here is black sage, laurel sumac, California buckwheat, and hoaryleaf ceanothus. There are also flat areas of rockrose and Spanish broom. A horse-watering trough was erected by US Forest Service and the Vaqueros del Desierto in 1959.

Continuing on the trail, the next section is the steepest part with some switchbacks. Use caution at the corners with an eye for mountain bikers. There are extensive patches of poison oak on the hillsides and even in the trees, which should be very colorful in the fall.

Nearing the top of the trail, there are sublime views of lofty peaks, sometimes shrouded in mists. Supports for the Mt. Lowe Fire Road / old Railway Bed are visible to the northeast, and the Cape of Good Hope is nearly dead ahead at times. The Cape is easily identified by jagged orange rocks projecting skyward, a silhouetted bigcone-spruce tree, and the "railcut" curving around it. From the trail, it is easy to mistake this old railway bed for the Fire Road. Amazingly, however, from the Fire Road at the point where this railway bed crosses it, it is hard to find!

The Sunset Ridge Trail ends at the saddle just to the right of the Cape, where it meets the fire road again, 2.5 miles from the beginning. Here it is signed only Sunset Trail, as it was on the interpretive sign where you started. Just up the Fire Road, the old Mt. Lowe Railway bed crosses the Fire Road, rounding the Cape of Good Hope on the left and leading to Echo Mountain, 1.0 mile away, on the right. Straight ahead, the paved road ends where the Railway bed straightens out after rounding the Cape. This section is marked as the longest straight section of the Mt. Lowe Railway track, all of 225 feet!

The fire road is a slightly shorter (2.3 miles), warmer, alternative return route, and makes a good loop hike. If you continue on to Echo Mountain, be aware that the distance is actually 0.9 mile, not the 0.5 mile claimed on the signs and by Rippens.

Detailed Trip Log

In the following, more accurate mileages are given in parentheses for mileages quoted from signs.

Recording numberMileageAltitudeComments
00.02100Sunset Ridge Fire Road gate. Sign: "Sierra Saddle 1.5 mi (1.6), Echo Mountain 3.0 mi (3.5), Mt Wilson Road 9.0 mi"
10.42200Sunset Ridge Trailhead. Sign: "Sierra Saddle 1.0 mi (1.2), Echo Mountain 2.5 mi (3.1), Mt Lowe Campground 4.5 mi"
20.82200Junction trail to Dawn Mine. Keep right (uphill) just before the old cabin.
31.32400"Stealth" near-junction with Fire road. Use trail leads to paved road 20 feet away.
41.62980Sierra Saddle. Spur road leading to fire road. Sign: "Echo Mountain 1.5 mi (1.9), Mt Lowe Campground 3.5 mi, Millard Campground 2.0 mi"
52.53460End trail at fire road. Sign: "Echo Mountain 0.5 mi (1.0), Millard Campground 3.5 mi (3.0)"

Hikes Using This Trail

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

Links for hike #19 in the San Gabriel Mountains Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine

Links for hike #22 in the San Gabriel Mountains Mount Lowe Railway Self-Guided Tour - Sunset Ridge via old railway bed to Mount Lowe Campground

Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad, hikes in Area A-5, Trip 8 Dawn Mine Loop and Trip 9 Upper Millard Canyon.

Trails of the Angeles by John W. Robinson, Trip 19 Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine and Trip 22 Sunset Ridge via old railway bed to Mount Lowe Campground.

Links To Further Information

Inspiration Point, Muir Peak, Panorama Point, and the One Man & Mule Railway has more links's Millard Campground/Mt. Lowe Railway - Altadena

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Copyright © 2000 by Jane Strong and Tom Chester.
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Comments and feedback: Jane Strong | Tom Chester
Updated 24 February 2000.