Bridge to Nowhere - San Gabriel River, California
Credit: Thorsten Trotzenberg -

The Forgotten Bridge

There is no shortage of great hikes in Southern California with its desert landscapes and small mountains. Not to mention the area has a lot of hidden secrets out in the wilderness, the Bridge to Nowhere is one of those hidden secrets. The Bridge to Nowhere is much like what it sounds, it is a gorgeous concrete bridge that runs over the East Fork of the San Gabriel River built in the 1930's. The bridge was meant to connect the San Gabriel Valley with Wrightwood, but after a flood the road was washed out and the project scrapped. Now all that is left is a lonely old arch bridge that leads right into the side of a mountain and some bits of asphalt where a road used to be.

The road that once would have connected the San Gabriel Valley with Wrightwood is now used as a popular hiking trail. Located just forty miles north of Downtown Los Angeles, the majority of the hike takes place in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness in the Angeles National Forest right by the town of Azusa, the trail is a summer time favorite for outdoor enthusiasts however it can be difficult for beginners. It is not uncommon to see hundreds of hikers on the trail in the warm summer months hiking, picnicking, camping and swimming. However, for those that want to avoid the crowds and go in the spring or fall months, they should exercise caution. During the spring and fall months when the weather is wetter, the trail can be a bit unstable and actually a bit dangerous. Visitors should only go during the dryer days of the season and never when there is a flood watch for the San Gabriel River.

The Trail Begins at Angeles National Forest

Angeles National Forest

The hike itself starts deep in the Angeles National Forest along East Fork Road by the campground. The hike is an absolute must for any adventurous trekker. The trail has visitors winding through the forest and along the San Gabriel River. The path itself is windy and refreshing to the hundreds of hikers who visit on those hot summer Southern Californian days. For those who love to hike along the water, the trail has visitors hiking along, through, and above the river. The trail crosses the river around eight to ten times. This means that hikers should wear appropriate hiking shoes that are water resistant at least. The hike spans 10 miles roundtrip and hiking in wet boots is a recipe for a bad time. While there are quite a few places where hikers can rock hop across, on those hot days removing the socks, boots and wading through with bare feet is just a welcome relief from the summer heat. There are points across the trail where visitors can find cool pools in which are deep enough for a good swim or even rock jumping into for the more daring. So while this hike is a bit long to the unseasoned hiker, there are plenty of ways to cool off.

As the trail heads out of the forest and into the Sheep Mountains it will begin to enter beautiful narrow gorges with pink granite walls. At certain points, the granite walls rise around 500 feet, making this one of the deepest gorges in Southern California. Since the area surrounding the gorges is dry and harsh and inside the gorge is a clean, fresh source of water there are numerous opportunities to spot wildlife. Wildlife in the gorge includes coyotes, big horn sheep, deer and more. Though there may be a chance to spot tarantulas in the gorge, but they are more prevalent in the surrounding dryer areas. The mineral rich soil also attracts more than a few amateur miners working in the area to try their luck at finding various precious minerals. While the trail is marked with arrows in this gorge, visitors often find it easy to get lost especially in the sandy bottom, however there is a simple rule of thumb to make it out, just keep to the right-most wall.

San Gabriel Trail

This gorge marks the end of the easy portion of the hike, so visitors should be sure not to expend too much energy before it is done. Climbing out of the gorge is a pretty strenuous incline as is the rest of the trail. This path takes hikers above the river running underneath instead of through it like the previous legs. This also means there will be no opportunities to cool off by crossing through the river, so be sure to have plenty of fresh water and find shade when a break is needed.

The last leg of the hike actually has trekkers going through private property so be careful not to stray too far from the path. After five miles of hard hiking, hikers finally reach the Bridge to Nowhere. Don't be alarmed if you should happen to spot a few people jumping off this big old concrete arch bridge. While the Bridge to Nowhere is owned by the Angeles National Forest service, groups from Southern California Bungy Jumping and Bungee America meet up at Heaton Flats Campground in the morning, hike up to the bridge then proceed to jump off of it.

Bungee Jumping the Bridge to Nowhere

Aside from the crazy people jumping off the bridge, the bridge itself is just very odd to people that do not know the aforementioned history about it. It's just out in the middle of the nowhere, looking expensive to build and leading into the side of a mountain. There were plans to tunnel through that mountain. Visitors that want to hike along the ridge past the bridge can actually see where the tunnel was started, but never finished.

The bridge and the crystal clear water below provide excellent photo opportunities as well as a place to have a swim, lay those cloths and socks out to dry in the sun and enjoy a nice lunch. The hike as a whole though is a serious thrill, especially those who take part in the bungee jumping. However, for those that don't want to jump off a bridge just because everyone else is doing it, they are treated to swimming in fresh, clean water and experiencing some well preserved wilderness. It is especially a good way for Los Angeles locals to get out of that smoggy city and breathe a bit of fresh air.

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