About Devils Gulch Falls
Devils Gulch Falls is perhaps the most impressive of the waterfalls near the very popular Bridge To Nowhere deep in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Although I’m under the impression that everyone in the Greater Los Angeles area (or those visiting) have hiked to the Bridge to Nowhere, very few of these people know about this waterfall.
A big reason for this waterfall’s obscurity is largely due to the fact that it’s not obvious how to access it.
Even though it’s literally quite close to the Bridge to Nowhere, the East Fork Trail to the bridge is already a day-long hike to begin with, which involves multiple crossings of the San Gabriel River.
However, accessing Devils Gulch Falls requires a bit of a rough detour that required us to cross the river a few more times as well as a rough scramble within the Devils Gulch itself.
As a result, unless you have a very good sense of reading maps and identifying landmarks in the field (or you’re already familiar with the area), it’s not likely you’re going to find this waterfall on the same day you’re doing the Bridge to Nowhere.
In our case, we actually ran out of daylight since we did this hike in late January, where we already have to contend with the short days of winter.
What Is Involved With The Devils Gulch Falls Hike?
For all intents and purposes, doing an out-and-back hike to the Devils Gulch Falls is an all-day affair where it was about 10.8 miles round-trip according to my GPS logs.
This doesn’t even include the Bridge to Nowhere, which would add nearly another 2 miles round trip (or another 4 miles round-trip without the descent on the steep road embankments).
On our first visit, it took us over 8.5 hours away from the car to complete the hike to just the waterfall and back, and this was barely enough time for us to be back at the car when it got dark in late January.
If you’re wondering why it took us so long to do this hike, a large part of it had to do with crossing (or at least wading in) the San Gabriel River a bunch of times.
During our January 2022 visit, the river was primarily knee-deep in its worst spots though we still had to pay careful attention to where we were going because it was easy to get into even deeper sections of the river and get swept away in the current.
Trekking poles and shoes that could both grip the surfaces and get wet (i.e. let out water) were absolutely critical for us to safely complete the hike without injuries to ourselves nor damage to our equipment.
There were also plenty of moments where we had lost the trail (a major consideration if this is your first time), but we figured out where we went wrong on subsequent visits so it went a lot faster on those later visits.
That said, if you do get lost, realize that you generally just have to follow the river most of the way to get to the Bridge to Nowhere (as well as the Devils Gulch Falls).
Needless to say, despite the popularity of the Bridge to Nowhere, it is not for everyone.
Given that, the detour to the Devils Gulch Falls is even more challenging despite missing out on most of the 1000ft elevation gain to the bridge.
Devils Gulch Falls Trail Summary
The out-and-back Devils Gulch Hike can be broken down as follows (distances approximate):
- Dry hiking for the first 0.5-mile to Heaton Flat
- Rougher hiking with river crossings and/or wadings for the next mile or so until the “graffiti wall”
- Dry hiking for the next 1.9-2.0 miles from near a ruin by the “graffiti wall” to the next crossing near Allison Gulch
- Dry hiking for the next 0.75-mile with some mild cliff exposure to next crossing
- Dry hiking interlude for the next 0.1-mile on the west side of the San Gabriel River before next crossing
- Hiking 0.1-mile to the deviation with the East Fork Trail (Bridge to Nowhere is another 1.3 miles from here)
- Dry hiking another 0.5-mile to the next crossing of the San Gabriel River (by a mechanical relic)
- Dry hiking another 0.4-mile on the west side of the San Gabriel River to the next river crossing
- Scrambling 250ft or so to a crossing of the San Gabriel River at the mouth of Devils Gulch
- Scrambling the final 0.2-mile or so to the Devils Gulch Falls
As you can see, there are numerous crossings of the San Gabriel River, and it can get pretty confusing to follow the trail, especially at each of the river crossings.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, this is definitely one hike where I wouldn’t recommend ruining your expensive hiking boots nor would I suggest wearing shoes that are not meant for hiking.
There are enough hazards on this trail that slipping and falling here (especially if in the high-flowing river or on cliff ledges) could cause severe injury or even death.
There is a tradeoff between the waterfall’s performance and the level of the San Gabriel River.
You see, in order to see the waterfalls flow like Devils Gulch Falls or even Allison Gulch Falls (if you’re up for it), you’ll want to be here not long after the last storm has passed.
However, that also means that the San Gabriel River will be in high flow, and that’s where the hike can be treacherous, especially if you’re not prepared.
It’s already pretty marginal that we managed to do this hike with the water at knee level (the current definitely wanted to knock us over), and we easily could have been swept away had the river crossings been any deeper!
Furthermore, we also encountered a few rockslide and landslide obstacles, including one that was clinging above a dropoff, which I’ll get into in the detailed trail description below.
Trail Description – Heaton Flat and River Crossings
Starting from the East Fork Trailhead parking area (see directions below), we pretty much followed the continuation of the East Fork Road past a locked gate.
The road pretty soon became a wide, unpaved road as it gently made a curve before reaching the wide picnic area known as Heaton Flat in the first half-mile.
There was a trail branching to the right between the restroom facility and some trail signs, which is the Heaton Flat Trail leading up to the Iron Mountain Trail and the upper end of the Allison Gulch Trail.
However, we kept to the left to stay closer to the east bank of the San Gabriel River.
Beyond Heaton Flat, the trail narrowed as it passed by the neighboring infrastructure before skirting along the river itself.
At around 0.9-mile from the trailhead (or around 0.3- to 0.4-mile beyond Heaton Flat), the trail then went into the river, where we’d keep to the right, where the trail continued.
Around another 0.1-mile beyond the end of the first watery interlude, there was a seasonal side waterfall to the right nearby a large whitish tree with some hollowed out trunk and branches.
This waterfall was barely trickling when I saw it on our January 2022 visit, and it was pretty much dry when we came back in early April 2022.
In another 0.1-mile beyond the seasonal waterfall and hollowed out tree, that was when we encountered our first legitimate crossing (i.e. it was about knee-deep and looked intimidating) of the San Gabriel River.
Shortly after this crossing, it can get pretty confusing where to go next.
On our first visit, we generally tried to keep to the east side of the river unless it was pretty obvious to stay with the west side and then cross back over.
However, on our second visit, we figured out that the best way to was to cross the river and then look for a trail that rises towards a ledge to the left.
This trail is very benign and eventually drops down towards a trio of graffiti-laced walls, and that’s where we’d cross back to the east bank of the San Gabriel River.
Had we stayed with the river like we did the first time, then we’d regain the East Fork Trail around the same trio of graffiti walls.
So that graffiti wall is the key landmark to note, and it would mark the last of the river crossings for a while until we get closer to the mouth of Allison Gulch.
By the way, regarding these river crossings, this part of the San Gabriel River sees the most volume since it has been getting fed by tributaries and side streams further up the canyon.
That’s why most of the river crossings for this hike happen within the first two miles.
Trail Description – Dry Hiking from the Ruins to Allison Gulch
For almost the next 2 miles of the hike, we pretty much stayed dry as the East Fork Trail would pretty much go through a much wider and more open part of the canyon.
Early on in this stretch of the hike, there was an intriguing ruin that was easily missed off to the right of the East Fork Trail.
I wasn’t sure what this ruin was for, but it was clear that many people have seen it before as evidenced by some unsightly tagging and litter around it.
Anyways, the next long stretch of the hike went through a wide wash full of yucca patches and boulders along the way before the trail started climbing near Shoemaker Canyon.
At this point, the trail veered more in an easterly direction as it stayed to the south of the San Gabriel River and managed to cling to ledges and traverse some rock slides without the need to cross the river.
There was one spot where we found some steps and rock holds to avoid a river crossing, and there may be a spraypainted arrow hint to point that out.
Eventually, as the trail veered back to the north, it crossed a bridge over the mouth of Laurel Gulch before reaching a sign denoting the boundary of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
In about the next 0.4-mile beyond the Sheep Mountain Wilderness sign, that was when we finally encountered the next crossing of the San Gabriel River.
During this stretch of dry hiking, if you look up and across the river, you might notice Swan Rock, which is a section of cliff that had a pattern of what looked like a swan.
On our first visit, we were pretty focused on hiking and paying attention to where we were walking so we actually missed noticing Swan Rock at the time (I only noticed it in hindsight after looking back my photos)!
At the river crossing beyond Swan Rock, it was actually quite confusing to figure out where to go next.
In hindsight, we should have crossed and then crossed back to pick up the trail back on the east side of the river near the mouth of Allison Gulch, where there’s a dam remnant and a side cascade spilling by the dam wall.
On our first visit, we actually kept to the left of the river and had to weave through a lot of yucca patches as well as some dicey scrambling besides some cascades and pools on the San Gabriel River.
Trail Description – From Allison Gulch to the East Fork Deviation
Sticking with the East Fork Trail on the east side of the San Gabriel River near Allison Gulch, there was a spur trail that veered off into Allison Gulch.
That’s a different adventure to another waterfall called the Allison Gulch Falls, which is not easy to reach.
In any case, continuing with the East Fork Trail, it passed by an interesting sign saying something about “Bigfoot Crossing” before the trail then continued to cling onto ledges.
In one particular stretch, we encountered a spot where the trail was covered in a steep landslide during our January 2022 visit.
It was so narrow that it made some hikers that were following us (who had the wrong shoes on) turn back because they couldn’t keep their footing.
This was one stretch where having our trekking poles as well as grippy hiking shoes helped out a lot to get over this particular obstacle (though it wasn’t as sketchy when we came back in early April 2022).
The trail then pretty much continued following the old road’s trajectory before dropping back down into the canyon again and crossing the river to its west side before crossing back over to the east side not long thereafter (just after a cascade).
Once back on the east side of the river, the trail then went into a wide open part of the canyon where we can easily see the line in the cliff rising up out of the canyon, which was the former road leading the last mile to the Bridge to Nowhere.
However, it was in this open stretch that we noticed an unsigned fork (easy to miss).
Keeping right at this unsigned fork would eventually climb up to meet up with the road leading the rest of the way to the Bridge to Nowhere.
However, we were interested in going to the Devils Gulch so we kept left at this fork to stay within the canyon floor.
Trail Description – Scrambling To Devils Gulch And Devils Gulch Falls
Continuing on the informal path within the wide open canyon floor, we pretty much route-found our way through more yucca patches as far north as we could along the east side of the San Gabriel River.
Eventually, after another half-mile of this, we then encountered the next river crossing, where there was some kind of mechanical relic partially submerged kind of acting as a landmark here.
Beyond this river crossing, we then continued hiking through more yucca patches as the trail became less defined while we’d persist along the west side of the river going past the confluence with Rattlesnake Canyon.
This west bank interlude ultimately led us to the “trail” disappearing into the river again.
So, we crossed back to the east side, went past some kind of cable infrastructure, then passed some litter patch, before finally crossing the river yet again at the mouth of Devils Gulch.
During our January 2022 visit, there was a tiny waterfall right at the mouth of the gulch.
The easiest way for us to get into the Devils Gulch was to keep to the left of this waterfall before crossing over its tributary stream and do our scrambling to the right side, which involved a bit of bouldering and some mild bushwhacking.
After getting over a couple of boulder obstacles, the scramble then led us towards a spot where we managed to climb up to some odd concrete platform that was fronting an odd and out-of-place chimney.
We have no idea why nor how that chimney was there to begin with, but we knew from the presence of tagging that quite a few people have been here before to deface even this hidden spot.
Shortly after the chimney, that was when we finally arrived at the Devils Gulch Falls, which sat in a tight enclave with overhangs and some bare tree whose branches blocked any clean view of the entirety of the falls.
We had to scramble right up to the plunge pool beyond the tree to finally get a clean look at the waterfall, but its size (which I’m guessing is at least 40-50ft or so) made it hard to capture it properly in one shot.
Trail Description – Continuing to the Bridge to Nowhere
To my knowledge, perhaps the safest thing to do to leave Devils Gulch and continue to the Bridge to Nowhere would be to backtrack nearly a mile to the East Fork Deviation.
And then, rejoin the East Fork Trail and follow it for the remaining 1.4 miles or so on the road leading to the Bridge to Nowhere high above the San Gabriel River.
However, on our second visit, we learned that there is a cutoff trail further upstream of Devils Gulch that rejoins the East Fork Trail closer to the Bridge to Nowhere.
However, it didn’t seem obvious to us how far you had to go upstream along the San Gabriel River before climbing up to the East Fork Road.
As a result, I’d recommend doing this cutoff route in reverse (i.e. going to the Bridge to Nowhere first, then Devils Gulch Falls).
The full write-up for just the hike to the Bridge to Nowhere is on a separate page, which has its own set of cascades on the San Gabriel River itself.
Now assuming you’ve been to the Bridge to Nowhere and you’re heading back, we’ve managed to find the unsigned cutoff trail leading about 1/4-mile down to the San Gabriel River about a half-mile upstream of the mouth of Devil’s Gulch.
This was roughly a half-mile from the Bridge to Nowhere itself (near a sign indicating you’re entering the Bridge to Nowhere along with a “No Drone Zone” warning).
Believe it or not, this cutoff trail seemed to be surprisingly well-used or at least well-maintained as we noticed a rock cairn as well as an obvious use-trail that wasn’t too hard to follow.
Anyways, once we’re done with the hike, it was time to head back to the East Fork Trailhead, which was curiously much easier, especially given some red arrows painted on rocks to help lead the way.
Again, I wasn’t sure if these red arrows (and blue going the other way) were sanctioned and created by the bungee jumping company that runs the jumps from the Bridge to Nowhere, or if they were just taggers trying to be helpful.
All I know is that for the most part, the arrows were indeed helpful on the return hike, and it made us realize that we perhaps made more crossings of the San Gabriel River than what was necessary in each of our first two visits here.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but at least now we know, and any future visits will be made easier as a result.
Overall, our hike out-and-back hike on our first visit to Devils Gulch Falls took us about 8.5 hours away from the car (and we barely made it back in time before it got dark).
Of that time, it took us 3.5 hours on the return hike and nearly 4.5 hours on the way there with a half-hour break at the Devils Gulch Falls.
On our second visit, we made it up to the Bridge to Nowhere and its neighboring cascades, and then we took a cutoff trail leading directly to the Devils Gulch Falls.
Then, we returned to the East Fork Trail the same way we went out on our first visit, which ultimately completed a loop that my GPS logs suggested was about 12.6 miles long.
What’s With The Bridge To Nowhere Anyways?
The Bridge to Nowhere was actually the lone finished bridge that was part of route that would have linked Wrightwood with the rest of the LA Basin to the south near Azusa.
This project took place in the 1930s, which was an interesting time because quite a few ambitious works were in progress or operating under the belief that technology could overcome various obstacles posed by Nature (e.g. the Mt Lowe Railway).
Unfortunately, Nature regained control through a series of severe floods and landslides leaving only the completed bridge over the San Gabriel River that would now become known as the Bridge to Nowhere.
Like with the Mt Lowe Railway, the calamities proved too costly to overcome (let alone maintain such works) and thus were abandoned.
Therefore, the East Fork Trail pretty much followed most of this former road, and some remnants of the project could still be seen to this day (e.g. asphalt and concrete surfaces).
Devils 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.
Devils Gulch Falls shares the same trailhead as the popular Bridge to Nowhere hike, which begins at the East Fork Trailhead.
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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