Bear Creek Trail – Exploring Angeles National Forest & the San Gabriel River

bear creek gary pic

Perhaps it was six weeks ago that my partner walked into the living room and announced that we needed a “thing” and that he thought that “backpacking could be our thing.”

This wasn’t the first of such pronouncements so that by now I’ve become so accustomed to them that I just go with it.

Okay, so we’re backpacking.

Soon the Amazon and REI boxes started arriving on our doorstep. The key word was “weight”. Every item was picked for its weight, with the goal being to have the lightest pack possible.

  • Sleeping Bags – His: 2.81 lbs., Hers: 3.5 lbs.
  • Sleeping Pads – 1.28 lbs.
  • Thermal Blankets – 0.088 lbs.
  • Frying Pan SL3 Tent – 6.4 lbs.
  • Titanium Pot – 0.271 lbs.

Once enough equipment had arrived to do a basic outing it was time to pick our first trek.

We’re so fortunate to live in Southern California because there are just countless trails through the most spectacular state parks. From the coast to the mountains, there is no shortage of breathtaking (because of beauty and grade) hikes to explore.

Lower Bear Creek Trail

We decided on Bear Creek Trail in Angeles National Forest for a few reasons. 1) It was the closest, mountainous trail with camping 2) It was near water and 3) It was remote enough to feel like we were out in the middle of nowhere but close enough to civilization and services in case of an emergency.

Once we got our packs fully loaded we weighed them. Mine was around 25 lbs. while his was around 32 lbs. So… so much for going as light as possible.

We were going for two days and two nights so we packed clothes we could layer, freeze-dried food, snacks, toiletries, and every kind of sundry camping thing imaginable from the small metal shovel, to water filtration and tablets, to headlamps. You name it, we had it, with the thought being that we wanted to see what we actually needed and what we could leave behind in the future.

The trail is within the San Gabriel Mountains. The road up to the park takes you past Morris Reservoir Dam. The area is just gorgeous with plenty of places to pull over for photo ops.

You must purchase a pass from the park to leave your car overnight. It’s an annual pass (America the Beautiful pass is what we got) good in most of the state and national parks. So it’s worth the investment if you plan on doing a lot of overnight camping.

You have several options when hiking through Bear Canyon and the San Gabriel Mountain Wilderness. Being the “Go Big or Go Home!” people that we are we did the most difficult trail.

The path begins along the parking lot. There is a wooden pedestrian bridge to cross the San Gabriel River. It was a bright and sunny day when we headed out and there were families with small children below the bridge playing in the river.

Once across the bridge, there is a wide paved road that goes for six or seven miles. After our first mile, we crossed a bridge. To begin the Bear Creek hike we had to scramble down a rocky decline to the creek’s edge, pass back under the bridge, and follow the curve of the mountain wall upstream.

bear creek

This hike requires numerous stream crossings. He had prepared me for this but hearing it versus seeing it is an entirely different beast.

I stood at the edge of the creek and watched him wade through about knee-deep water. On a prior camping trip, I slipped when I entered a stream and injured myself. So this time I stared at the water with some apprehension. When he was two-thirds of the way across I said, “Okay. If I’m going to do this, I’m doing it my way.” And I stripped my jeans off and put on my shorts. I tied the laces of my hiking boots together and swung them around my neck. I put my backpack back on and crossed the creek barefoot. It was the one way I knew to have sure-footing. The rocks of the riverbed were jagged underfoot at some places but I felt much more confident being able to use my toes to grip and place my foot exactly where I wanted it to land between the rocks.

We zig-zagged across the creek as we made our way up the mountain. I did three crossings barefoot and would put my shoes back on to continue the trail. It was some time after 5 pm and we were starting to worry about reaching the campsite before dark.

I should back-up and explain the campsite as he explained it to me. He said, it’s not an actual campsite but more of a clearing. There are ruins of an old cabin. That’s how we would know that we were in the right place, by seeing the ruins. We were doing this without a trail map. We were going on what he remembered reading about the trail and when in doubt using his downloaded map of the area on his cellphone. So, yes, this was a bit of an adventure.

Since we were getting nervous about the time and unsure of how much further we had to go (“the thing I read online said three or four crossings.”), I decided I better suck it up and pick up the pace. So I plunged into the water with my boots on and trudged my way after him.

The 6th crossing.
Pathway leading to oak grove clearing.

After about six creek crossings we came to a beautiful oak grove nestled around a clearing with two nicely laid out firepits.DSCN0049DSCN0050DSCN0054

“Is this the clearing?” I asked.

Doubtful he answered, “No… I don’t think so. There’s no stone chimney. The article said there was a stone chimney and other cabin ruins.”

By this time the 25 lbs I was carrying was digging into my shoulders and I was exhausted so I looked at him and said, “This is the clearing.”

“This is the clearing?”

“Yes. This is the clearing. I can’t go any further. “

We agreed that this clearing was definitely good enough and we ended our trek and made camp.

Actually, “good enough” is a gross understatement. The area was beautiful. Old oak trees, Douglas fir trees, California sage shrubs, and chaparral surround this idyllic setting.


We had the place entirely to ourselves with the exception of three day-hikers that passed through the following afternoon.

There is no cell phone reception so it is the perfect excuse to fully unplug and connect to the natural world.


We drew our water from the creek to cook with and drink. Using the filter that we brought made the water safe to drink in a matter of minutes. However, considering that it was the result of snowmelt and far from human interference, the water appeared absolutely pristine. I thoroughly enjoyed waking up in the morning and walking to the creek edge, plunging my hands into the cold current, and washing my face.

There were no fish in the water, which was surprising, because as we made our way up the paved road the day before we noticed a couple of people with fishing rods.

I love nature but I haven’t had a whole lot of experience camping. It was a surprise to me just how delighted I was by putting up the tent and building a fire. This wasn’t “Glamping” by any means. There are no toilets, no showers, no air mattresses, or coolers full of beer.

It was just us and our tent and our “Mummy” sleeping bags (which I gotta say are the best!).

The first morning, shortly after sunrise, I heard the sound of a whimpering animal. Now, this is bear country (hence the name, Bear Creek) so we knew that we had to suspend our food in a tree far from us to deter any bears from poking around our camp.

Our food high in a tree

Hearing this sound, so unfamiliar and strange, caused me a moment’s curiosity. But not enough to open my tent and find out what it was. I’m not stupid. The sounds lasted for quite a while and then stopped. And I went back to sleep.









Apart from that, the only critters we saw were centipedes and lizards. We expected we’d at least see a few deer. But no. It was not to be. And I can’t help but wonder how our human involvement vis-à-vis construction and such, has forced the wildlife to move elsewhere.


We headed back down the mountain after a restful 48-hour camp that could not have been more perfect.

DSCN0073DSCN0078bear creek gar and me

© 2019 Tamara Jefferies.

2 thoughts on “Bear Creek Trail – Exploring Angeles National Forest & the San Gabriel River

  1. beautifully written! I’d love to share it with others 😉

    On Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 11:33 AM Evolving Life ~ How We Do Wellness wrote:

    > Tamara Jefferies posted: ” Perhaps it was six weeks ago that my partner > walked into the living room and announced that we needed a “thing” and that > he thought that “backpacking could be our thing.” This wasn’t the first of > such pronouncements that by now I’ve become so accustome” >

    Liked by 1 person

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