Santa Year Round

Explore Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Los Angeles County

Talk about a dam good idea. Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale is an 836-acre county park that was developed over 40 years after the namesake dry dam was originally constructed to prevent flooding from the San Gabriel River. While you won’t actually interact with the horseshoe-shaped gravity dam on this hike (you can drive by the structure on the southwest side of the park along Arrow Highway), you can explore the park’s highlights on a 4-mile loop featuring a lake, mountain vistas, and plenty of local flora and fauna.

Start on the paved trail heading clockwise along the 70-acre lake. The serene aquatic view is framed by the hulking San Gabriels. Look for prominent peaks like Mount Wilson or snow-topped Baldy. Picnic tables on grassy lawns flank the water, making nice perches for watching Canada geese, cormorants, coots, ducks, and even pelicans. 

Canada Geese at the shoreline of Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Los Angeles County

After about half a mile you’ll reach “the beach.” Palm trees, sand, and lifeguard towers suddenly border the water and make for a truly special (and very SoCal) surprise. You can’t currently swim here, but put it on your to-do list for the future.

As you reach the western edge of the lake, the path ends and a dirt trail begins, continuing the loop for new perspectives on the lake. The sudden wildness is welcoming as you meander through chaparral—laurel sumac, sugarbush, and prickly pear cactus. The trail eventually deposits you back to the lot; take the dirt trail heading north here to continue your hike. This takes you to the Santa Fe Nature Center, home to a short interpretive trail through an indigenous garden detailing the unique ecology of the area, an alluvial flood plain.

Here, you can head back the way you came. Or create the loop by heading east on the paved San Gabriel River bike trail (which stretches over 35 miles in total). This eventually winds south and climbs along a rocky embankment, for more views of the lake below and mountains beyond. When you reach the park entrance, head down the road toward the lake. Damtastic.

Young couple taking a selfie in front of the lake at Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area

To get to the Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area, take the I-210 to the Irwindale Ave. exit and head south. After 1.5 miles, take a right onto Arrow Hwy. and after 0.5 mile, turn right at the park entrance sign (Azusa Canyon Rd.). Park at the main lot (at the eastern edge of the lake, $10) to start your exploration of the area. Dog-friendly (except for Nature Center interpretive trail)!

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Ridgetop Rolling

    Tilden Regional Park is the flagship of the East Bay Regional Parks system. And its best views? Find them along Nimitz Way, a paved, multi-use ridgetop trail. We recommend biking this trail for about 4 miles.

  2. Wide-Open Wildcat

    Sure, peak-bagging hikes are great, but ridge trails? Well, those might be the best. The East Bay’s Wildcat Canyon Regional Park is home to a fantastic ridgetop rolling trail.

  3. Bird Rock

    Other than the Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud, birds aren’t typically the first thing you think of with Alcatraz. When it was a working prison there wasn’t much bird life. But now? Well, the birds are back!

  4. Forest Bathe Under the Redwoods

    Giant Douglas firs and a peaceful madrone- and tanoak-studded forest make the hiking at Sanborn County Park sublime, but there’s an added majesty here thanks to the Todd Creek Redwoods Grove.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Sponsored

    Monterey Bay Aquarium Reopens!

    The wildlife has been waiting patiently … and now, at long last, they’re ready for their close-ups! As California reopens make new memories at the reopened Monterey Bay Aquarium!

  2. Beach Walk + Cambodia Town

    A trip to Long Beach is not complete without a … long walk on the beach. But add a little extra with a walk through Cambodia Town, featuring local murals and delicious food.

  3. Hodges and Hodgee Monster

    Escondido’s Lake Hodges is one of the most beautiful lake settings in San Diego, with Kumeyaay history, phenomenal birdwatching, a world-record-holding bridge, and a resident lake monster!  Do a 5.5-mile shoreline hike here ...  

  4. Go For Guajome

    Head to Guajome County Park in Oceanside for a hidden lake twofer hike via a 4-mile loop trail traversing most of the 394-acre haven.