The Secret of Bear Canyon

Hiking Bear Canyon in the Angeles National Forest

{JANUARY 2023 NOTE: Stay safe. Wait until storms have passed before hiking any trails, and before heading out be sure to check official websites for updates on trail status, closures, hazards, etc. Expect muddy and slippery trails, and exercise caution and good judgement.}

Here's a cool secret: The best water holes on the Arroyo Seco River are past ever-popular Switzer Falls. To end at the 50-foot plunge is to miss the best of Bear Canyon. In other words, keep going!

This 7-mile out-and-back (round-trip) in the Angeles National Forest begins at the Switzer Picnic Area and follows the Arroyo Seco River under the shade of towering oaks and sycamores, summer homes for the strikingly yellow hooded oriole. After about a mile and multiple stream crossings, switchbacks lead you out of the shade and into the sun, but you’ll also be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the canyon and the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains.

After the trail descends to the canyon floor, a short side hike leads to Switzer Falls. Sure, have a look—but the real fun is still ahead! Continuing on Bear Canyon Trail, you’ll soon reach a progression of pools to bathe in, perfect to beat the heat and used far less than Switzer’s swimming hole. Then, for the next 1.5 miles, the going is a bit wild. You’ll be boulder-hopping and bushwhacking on a route almost certainly devoid of hikers. Your goal is Bear Canyon Trail Camp, a shady spot with picnic tables, fire rings, and stoves, and a great place for a midhike meal before the uphill return trip.

As you head back the way you came, you already know the secret of Bear Canyon—those perfectly placed water holes where you can cool off yet again during the climb out of the canyon before you reach your car and head back to civilization.

TIP: Go at sunrise to beat the heat and crowds and have a chance to see an elusive bobcat hydrating at the river.

To get to the Switzer Picnic Area parking lot, take the I-210 to the Angeles Crest Highway (CA-2) in La Cañada and follow it north for 10 miles, turning right after the sign for the Switzer Picnic Area. Head down to the canyon floor and park in one of the many spots there. Be sure to display your National Forest Adventure Pass. Note: If the bottom lot is full, opt for one of two overflow lots, or a space farther up the highway. Dog-friendly!

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