Soldier Creek Falls (also referred to as Lewis Falls after a ranger that once patrolled this area) seemed like one of those obscure waterfalls that made for a surprisingly pleasant local outing.
The reason why we thought it was obscure was because there were no signs indicating its trailhead (see directions below), it required a bit of an unmaintained scramble to reach it, and access to it was closed for several years before we finally got to come back and revisit it recently. The prolonged closure was largely due to the 2002 Curve Fire and then subsequent road washouts that complicated rebuilding efforts (my Mom and I once made an attempt to come here back in Spring of 2009 and this road was still closed at the time). I also didn't think the Station Fire did any of the reopening efforts any favors either.
This waterfall appeared to us to be about 30ft or less unless there were more unseen tiers further above. We had previously reported it to be 50ft (which we regurgitated from our old Ann Marie Brown book), but now we doubt that claim. Yet even with its somewhat short stature, our views of the falls were mostly in such close proximity to it that some kind of a wide angle lens would be helpful to capture its entire height. Nonetheless, both times we visited this waterfall, it had satisfying flow and thus made it both pleasing and memorable.
From the unmarked trailhead, we hiked gradually uphill on an established trail that followed along the eastern banks of Soldier Creek. This trail passed by a pair of cabins that were either untouched by the fires or were rebuilt (given by their new-looking appearance while being surrounded by evidence of fire from the black-barked trees in the immediate area).
Beyond the second cabin, there were a couple more cabin foundations (probably cabins that didn't make it from the fires and weren't rebuilt) that the trail passed by. It was after the second foundation, which had fences and railings surrounding it, did the path then cross the creek and transition from an assuring established trail to a pretty rough scramble. In fact, I suspected that the trail was as established as it was up to this point because of those cabins.
At this point, the remainder of the "trail" pretty much involved ducking under or climbing over fallen trees, balancing on logs, using both hands and feet to negotiate trickier "sit and scoot" spots, and brushing against some thorny foliage. I recalled our experience back in 2001 involved a bit more stream scrambling, but our most recent 2013 visit only involved two stream crossings (one by the last cabin foundation and one right in front of the falls).
Speaking of which, once we got to the boxed-in three-sided-enclosure at the head of the canyon, that was where Soldier Creek Falls was at. It faced towards the opposite wall in a limited amount of real-estate so most of the views of the falls were pretty much right up in front of it (thus making it non-trivial to photograph the whole thing in one shot without a wide angle). To even get in front of the falls, we did have to cross Soldier Creek one last time (as alluded to earlier) and that was where hiking sticks and/or Gore-tex boots helped keep our socks dry.
Now we did see two other hikers wearing very wet and muddy pants. We didn't ask them whether they went beyond the waterfall, but we figured that they did somehow. We're not sure what was beyond Soldier Creek Falls, but any further scrambling upstream seemed to be very technical and beyond the comfort level of us (and we believe most other people that would make it here).
Adding it all up, we probably spent about 90 minutes encompassing both the hiking, scrambling, and photographing. However, we did bring our two-year-old daughter as well as my parents so that might have slowed us down considering extra care and caution was necessary to negotiate the hairier spots of the hike.
Angled view of Lewis Falls and the colorful moss and algae growing behind it
You can kind of tell if waterfalling the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains would be good just based on checking if there's snow on the mountains looking to the northeast of the LA Basin
The hairpin turn containing the start of the hike and scramble to Lewis Falls
Hiking past the "No Fires" sign. That sign could very well be the only notable landmark that clues you in to this place.
Hiking past the first intact cabin
Some water pipes like this seen alongside and across the trail
Going up some steps onto the foundation for the third cabin
Passing by some black-barked trees. This was evidence of where the fires have penetrated within the canyon.
Railings and fences surrounded the fourth (and last) cabin foundation
Crossing Soldier Creek and some dead falls. From here until the end, it was pretty much a rough scramble.
Some parts of the scramble required us to get on all fours
Another tricky part of the scramble
Our first look at Soldier Creek Falls on our 2013 visit
Last stream crossing to get right in front of the Lewis Falls (or Soldier Creek Falls)
Dad carrying Tahia while looking at Lewis Falls
Looking back at the small canyon that we scrambled through to get to Lewis Falls
Lewis Falls from back in 2001. This was taken with Julie's old analog Nikon camera, and I had a difficult time trying to capture the whole thing.
Looding back at Soldier Creek Falls from back in 2001. Note all the foliage surrounding us. I knew I wasn't imagining things when I recalled our first visit here had much more foliage and was less exposed to the sun than our 2013 visit.
From the I-210 and I-605 interchange, we headed east on the I-210 towards the Azusa Ave (Hwy 39) offramp. Then, we turned left and passed through some traffic lights in downtown Azusa before continuing on into the mountains where the road wound about in opposing two-lane traffic (so there were limited to no opportunities to safely pass slow vehicles, including bikers).
After just under 19 miles from the Azusa off-ramp (passing by the Coldbrook Camp but we were well before Crystal Lake Recreation Area), we reached a hairpin turn with a sign that said "No Fires." Besides our memories and our pre-trip GPS waypoints, that sign was the only clue that we were in the right place.
My parents, who were familiar with this area, also suggested that you could avoid the traffic lights of downtown Azusa for the most part by exiting Irwindale Ave instead of Azusa Ave (since the I-210 goes southeast). Then, go north towards Foothill Blvd and turn right. And follow Foothill Blvd until you reach Azusa Ave (Hwy 39) and turn left to continue going north on Hwy 39 towards the trailhead.
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Highway 39 is reopened Caltrans has reopened the highway after being closed for nearly 10 years due to extensive fire damage (Curve Fire) and then the 2005 flooding.