About Allison Gulch Falls
Allison Gulch Falls is perhaps the most elusive of the waterfalls on the famed Bridge to Nowhere hike.
In fact, its drainage doesn’t even show up on the big map of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness displayed at the Heaton Flats (about a mile from the trailhead), and this is why I suspect the majority of hikers to the Bridge to Nowhere miss it.
Nevertheless, as you can see from the picture above, this is a very tall waterfall (I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-100ft or so) dropping into a narrow and secluded gorge at a dead-end within the rugged Allison Gulch.
That said, even if you knew where to find waterfall on a map, it is still elusive for a good reason, and in this write-up I’ll break down why this is the case as I explain how to access it.
Where Is Allison Gulch Falls?
Allison Gulch Falls resides in Allison Gulch, which is one of many side tributaries that feeds the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
By the way, this fork of the river is the very reason why the Bridge to Nowhere hike is also more formally known as the East Fork Trail.
The Allison Gulch tributary comes in from the east side of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, and the waterfall itself is nearly 2 miles away from the main river (actually 1.8 miles according to my GPS logs).
It’s actually below the legendary Allison Gulch Mine, which used to be in use between the start of World War I and the end of World War II.
You can see its location within the context of the overall Bridge to Nowhere hike in the directions map here.
Fortunately, the gulch is one of the deeper reaching side gulches that can be explored without the need for technical gear to scale otherwise impassable obstacles like cliffs.
However, it is not an easy scramble as the trail disappears into a jumble of boulders, overgrowth, and debris (from landslides, deadfalls, branches, and fallen leaves).
How To Access Allison Gulch Falls?
In order to access Allison Gulch Falls, you basically have to hike the first 3.3 miles of the East Fork Trail (otherwise known as the Bridge to Nowhere hike).
Therefore, the directions are the same as that popular hike.
Now, since Allison Gulch is not signed, the key landmark to look out for is a cliff with a swan-looking pattern on it, which is appropriately named Swan Rock.
This occurs nearly 3 miles from the trailhead or about 0.4-mile past the sign marking the Sheep Mountain Wilderness boundary.
Swan Rock can be seen towards the end of nearly 2 miles of dry hiking beyond the graffiti wall and ruins.
The mouth of Allison Gulch is situated at some dam ruins just beyond the pair of crossings of the San Gabriel River.
The East Fork Trail briefly climbs up among the dam ruins and makes a short traverse of the side stream coming from Allison Gulch before an unsigned spur use-trail leaves the East Fork Trail to the right to go into the gulch itself.
It typically takes around 90 minutes to cover the 3.3 miles or so to get from the East Fork Trailhead to the mouth of Allison Gulch.
Of course, it can take less time if you’re efficient with your hike and choose the correct paths that minimize the amount of river crossings and headscratching moments.
Trail Description – The Allison Gulch Falls Scramble
We’ll pick up the trail description from the mouth of Allison Gulch since the Bridge to Nowhere hike is well covered in the literature.
So after leaving the East Fork Trail to go into Allison Gulch, I managed to follow some use-trails on the north side of the stream through Allison Gulch.
However, this use-trail quickly degenerated into a barely-discernible path where it didn’t take long before the path disappeared into the stream.
From this point forward, I pretty much stream scrambled upstream within the bouldery chaos surrounded by lots of debris from things that have managed to fall into the gulch over time.
Progress was pretty slow-going as my focus now turned from following a defined path into route-finding and trying to find the easiest way forward whenever I would encounter one obstacle after another.
During my early May 2022 visit, it pretty much hadn’t rained much since the end of 2021 so the stream in Allison Gulch went through stretches of alternating between being below the surface and above the surface.
Even though this was an uncomfortable and messy scramble, I could imagine how much more difficult this scramble would be if the stream had more water (where it would remain above the surface for longer stretches).
At around 0.6-mile from when I left the East Fork Trail (roughly 40 minutes in), I encountered a seemingly out-of-place mining cart.
The cart reminded me of the presence of mining in this gulch in a bygone era.
At around 1.1-mile from the mouth of Allison Gulch (or about 1/2-mile from the first mining relic), I noticed another mining relic (that looks like the axle of some kind of vehicle).
I noticed this relic after getting past a messy deadfall jumble preceded by litter, which took me another 40 minutes beyond the first relic or about 90 minutes from the start of the scramble.
Given how difficult it was to even get to this point, these deposits was evidence that some people do go into this gulch, and some of them do not practice leave no trace wilderness ethics.
Upon looking around this second mining relic, I noticed that someone placed an orange or pink ribbon on a tree up a barely discernible trail climbing steeply out of the Allison Gulch.
It’s here that I believe the old Allison Mine Trail would continue up to the infamous Allison Mine itself.
However, I knew that it was not easy to find and access that mine so for the purposes of getting to the waterfall, I just stayed in the gulch and continued my slow scramble upstream.
The further I went, the more the canyon closed in, which meant the stream started to become more persistent while deadfall obstacles were even more prevalent.
I had to be especially careful where fallen leaves concealed gaps or loose soil in the stream banks.
So I had to look for rocks that weren’t loose to avoid ankle and/or leg injuries (which you don’t want to happen in here).
Finally after nearly 2 hours from the start of the Allison Gulch scramble, the canyon closed in at a secluded and narrow dead end right where the hidden Allison Gulch Falls spilled into.
Underscoring the ruggedness of this hike, I did notice that someone had left behind a climbing glove next to a tree standing by some dead cacti before the waterfall.
There was a shallow pool at the base of the falls so this is really more of a waterfall to look at as opposed to swim in, but there’s a very high likelihood you’ll have this place to yourself.
Once I had my fill of this place, I then went back the way I came, which took me another 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the East Fork Trail.
Once on the East Fork Trail, the rest of the hike was a piece of cake, especially compared to the rough and messy Allison Gulch scramble.
According to my trip notes, I spent about 7 hours on this excursion, which would be enough for most people.
However, as crazy as this sounds, I did entertain the thought of combining this hike with the Bridge to Nowhere and Devils Gulch Falls in a very long day.
And if you do decide to pursue this challenge, I’d highly recommend starting with Allison Gulch Falls, then see what time it is when you return to the East Fork.
If you make it back to the East Fork Trail by 1pm, then you have the rest of the day to pursue the other waterfalls.
However, you’ll want to make it back to the trailhead before it gets dark let alone have enough food and water for the whole day.
Allison Gulch Falls is in the Angeles National Forest within the Sheep Mountain Wilderness near Azusa in Los Angeles County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit the Angeles National Forest website or Facebook page.
Allison Gulch Falls shares the same trailhead as that of the popular Bridge to Nowhere hike, which begins at the East Fork Trailhead.
You can easily route to the East Fork Trailhead as it’s well-represented on routing apps like Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, and more, but I’ll reproduce the directions old school below…
Driving to the East Fork Trailhead is pretty straightforward so we’ll pick up the driving directions from the Azusa Ave exit off the I-210 Freeway.
Heading north on Azusa Ave, we followed it for just under 12 miles as it passed through downtown Azusa and into San Gabriel Canyon, where the road became Hwy 39.
The mountainous road skirted by the west side of the San Gabriel Reservoir before we turned right at the East Fork Road, right before a bridge near the headwaters of the reservoir.
From there, we followed the East Fork Road for a little over 5 miles before keeping left at the next turnoff (the road on the right went towards Glendora and Baldy Village).
Once onto the turnoff to stay on the East Fork Road, we then followed it to the end for the remaining 3/4-mile before reaching the parking area for the East Fork Trailhead.
Unfortunately, there is limited parking at this lot, which causes people to have to resort to parking alongside the road, especially on the weekends.
I can’t advise on what’s legal or not as far as roadside parking is concerned so the best advice that I can give regarding the parking situation is to either show up early or don’t come on the weekend unless you want to wait for a spot to open up.
Overall, this drive should take roughly 30 minutes (spanning the 210 Freeway exit and the end of the East Fork Road).
Because this is National Forest Land, you’re supposed to display your National Forest Adventure Pass as well as to fill out a wilderness permit (self-help kiosk next to a building across from the parking lot entrance).
For some geographical context, the city of Azusa is about 24 miles (less than 30 minutes drive without traffic) east of downtown Los Angeles, about 43 milees (over 30 minutes drive without traffic) north of Irvine, and 39 miles (over 30 minutes drive without traffic) west of Riverside.
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