Hikes Using This Trail
Links To Further Information
The Barley Flats Trail connects Barley Flats (see Barley Flats Road) and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road (3N19) at Alder Creek.
The Barley Flats Trail has these attractions:
- It is one of the few trails in the Upper Big Tujunga Creek area, sampling an area that is not often visited by hikers.
- It gives good views in many places since it is a ridge trail. The views include most of the Upper Big Tujunga drainage area, much of the Alder Creek drainage and a portion of that of Mill Creek, both of which are the major tributaries. Visible peaks include the north side of Strawberry Peak, Mt. Gleason, Granite, Roundtop, Pacifico Mountain, Winston, Waterman, Twin Peaks and Vetter Mountain. There are good distant views of the Precambrian anorthosite body in the roadcuts along the Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, where the startling pure whiteness of the anorthosite contrasts starkly with the dark evergreen foliage of the chaparral.
- It travels through vegetation quite different from much of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The only detraction is that the trail is somewhat overgrown in early 2000, although the JPL Trailbuilders are clearing the trail in late 2000 and early 2001 (see below). Some hikers might agree with Russell Bell that this trail is "uninspiring".
Maps: A trail that roughly corresponds to this trail is shown on the Chilao Flat USGS 7.5' x 7.5' topo map, editions 1972 and later, but not on the 1959 edition. However, the actual trail is significantly different and longer from the plotted trail. The trail is 11W09 on the 1995 Forest Service Angeles National Forest Map.
Season: November to June.
Trailheads and directions to trailheads:
Southern trailhead (~5,500'): At the sign just before the entrance gate to the compounds at Barley Flats. See Barley Flats Road for directions.
Northern trailhead (~3,440'): On Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road at the southeast corner of its junction with Alder Creek, 3.8 miles southeast from the Forest Highway and 5.1 miles northwest from Shortcut Saddle on the Crest Highway. The trailhead is not marked except for a sign that says "Alder Creek".
A car shuttle between the two trailheads is 7.8 miles, taking about 17 minutes.
Length: 3.5 miles according to the trailhead sign, although we suspect the trail is actually a bit longer. Tom's pedometer read 4.2 miles, and even with the maximum 10% error makes the trail 3.8 miles long. A measurement from Topo! on the trail as shown on the topo map gives only 2.7 miles, which is definitely way too low.
Elevation Changes: The trail loses ~2100' of elevation from Barley Flats to Alder Creek, with no significant gain in that direction.
Trail Condition: In early 2000, the tread of the trail is in excellent shape nearly everywhere, but the brush is growing into the trail airspace in many places. One has to fight sharp ceanothus branches to get through some sections of it, and there are three downed trees, one of which requires negotiation of a gap between its two trunks. Tom negotiated the trail in shorts and T-shirt on 2/7/00 without any scratches, so it was passable then fairly easily. However, after further growth in spring 2000, Russell Bell's T-shirt didn't make it through as well, ending the trip with big holes from the ceanothus.
If the next five hikers bring pruners with them and each prune for 30 minutes, the trail would be significantly improved. And if someone brought a hand saw for one of the three downed trees, they'd make the following hikers quite grateful.
Fortunately, the JPL Trailbuilders began brushing the trail in late 2000, and continue to work on the trail in early 2001, so the trail condition is steadily improving.
Trail Maintenance: Unknown before 2000; JPL Trailbuilders in 2000 and 2001.
History: Trail is shown on the 1920 Angeles National Forest map on the endpapers of The San Gabriels by John W. Robinson. Also in that book, page 212, Robinson writes that the game was plentiful in the area and attracted many adventure-seeking sportsmen in the 1890s. The trail was difficult and Robinson quotes Theodore Lukens of Pasadena as saying, "Most of the trail was just a tunnel through the most stubborn thorny brush, tearing our clothes and packs." Although that excerpt refers to the section from Valley Forge to Barley Flats, which was later replaced by the Short Cut Canyon Trail, it adequately describes the Barley Flats section today!
This description begins at the signed southern trailhead at Barley Flats.
Just below the trailhead sign is an overflowing trash can, which results in garbage strewn along the first part of the trail. It's been that way on a number of our visits. Is there that much usage, which argues for an additional can? Or has the trash can never been emptied? Or do we always come just before the trash is collected?
The first half mile of trail is easily passable, and apparently gets at least some usage from hunters, or at least visitors that leave shotgun shells strewn along the trail. Beyond that point, the trail gives up-close and personal lessons in why the plant community here is called hard chaparral.
The hard chaparral here consists of chamise, manzanita, scrub oak and three species of vigorous tall ceanothus, all plants with leaves that are small, firm, thick and leathery. The even-aged, almost-pure stands of ceanothus result from a large fire sometime within the last thirty years since all three species sprout from seeds which germinate only after being heated by a fire.
The three common species of ceanothus are:
- Hoaryleaf Ceanothus Ceanothus crassifolius
- Hairy Ceanothus Ceanothus oliganthus
- Chaparral whitethorn Ceanothus leucodermis
On most trails, you may need to consult a guide to identify these species in winter when the plants are not blooming. However, this trail gives a different means of identification:
- The branches that you either duck under or push out of the way are from the whitethorn ceanothus. Hiking the trail will allow you to achieve an intimate familiarity with this species. When one of the thorns catches you, you can immediately recognize the "whitethorns". Furthermore, the description of hard chaparral as vegetation that can only be traversed by crawling through it will resonate strongly as you are ducking as low as you can go in some places, hoping that the thorns won't pierce your hat.
- The tall "trees" along the trail are the hairy ceanothus. But just in case you don't notice them earlier on the trail, a lesson in the multiple-trunk growth habit of the hairy ceanothus is mandated by the need to crawl through a specimen that has fallen across the trail. You'll meet a few more along the trail as well that are more easily surmounted.
- Finally, the ceanothus that doesn't give you any trouble on the trail is the hoaryleaf ceanothus.
Also see Key to Identifying Ceanothus in the SGM.
Ceanothus is not the only plant you will get very personal with. At various times you will be wading or moving cautiously through yerba santa, chamise, scrub oak and other members of the Plant Communities along the trail.
This community of plants is quite different from much of the rest of the San Gabriel Mountains. This is probably due to several factors:
- time since the last fire;
- extent of the last fire;
- location on the north slope of an east-west ridge just north of the parallel ridge of Mt. Wilson; and
- elevation of 3500 - 5500'.
The only similar place that comes to mind is the north side of Agua Tibia Mountain of the Palomar Mountain Range, which also has parameters very similar to this location, including the distance from the ocean and shielding by a similar ridge.
The trail descends the prominent ridge heading a bit east of north. Fainter side trails split off the main trail at several places on the ridge, and probably rejoin the main trail later. The main trail is clearly defined and more heavily used, and we had no problems following it. The trail stays a bit on the east side of the ridge, and rejoins the ridge at the saddle just before the 5239' peak.
The first half of the trail alternates between three different environments: fairly open areas with good views, shady areas with fairly heavy oak tree cover, and tunnels through ceanothus forests. All three environments are encountered in the first 1.5 miles, at which point you meet the double-trunk fallen tree.
With every passage through the ceanothus forest, you keep hoping that finally the ceanothus forest has been left behind at higher altitude, and the rest is smooth sailing, but the ceanothus continues to surprise one by its reappearance. Of course, when this California Lilac blooms in spring, this should be a spectacular sight.
The trail plays tag with the firebreak marked on the map, one of the reasons that the trail is longer than the line on the map which follows the firebreak. The firebreak area presents distinctly different plant communities from the surrounding area.
Near the end of the trail, the ceanothus finally mostly disappears, and you cross an intermittent stream in the midst of arroyo willows. The shotgun shells reappear, and downstream you see an apparently impenetrable barrier for the Upper Tujunga Creek. It isn't clear how the river gets through what looks like a long ridge blocking it until you are almost in the streambed and can see the cut the river has made. Both it and the riverbed in the area are impressive sights. Scrambling along the streambed amidst the sycamores and white alders is a treat.
Your first glance at the tunnel for Alder Creek under Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road tells you that this tunnel was built recently. In the early 1980s, the unpaved Shortcut Road became the paved Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. The tunnel for Alder Creek was clearly sized to make sure that the 100 year flood didn't undermine the new road.
There is a metal post just on the other side of the Upper Big Tujunga Creek that marks where you climb out of the riverbed to meet your car at the parking area.
If you start from the northern trailhead at Alder Creek, note that the parking area is not visible from Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, as it is hidden by a dirt berm. The parking area is reached via what looks like a dirt road just east of the Alder Creek crossing, on the south side of the road. From the parking area, pick up the trail on the downstream side of the parking area. When you get to the metal pole, look across the river to pick up the trail, which starts upstream a few hundred yards on the other side.
Detailed Trip Log
This log gives the mileage and time to features along the trail from Barley Flats, along with their altitude. The mileage is from TJC's pedometer reading. The mileages are probably accurate only to 0.1 mile, but are given to 0.01 mile to prevent adding rounding errors.
Times are from the start of the hike. Your times may be shorter since Jane and Tom spent a lot of time looking at the plants and views along the way. The altitudes are from the topo map, for features that could clearly be identified there, and from TJC's adjusted altimeter reading for other locations. Tom's raw pedometer mileages have been multiplied by 0.9 since the pedometer calibration changed a month or two before this hike, perhaps after being dropped.
Recording number Mileage Time From Start Altitude Comments 0 0.00 0:00 5500 Barley Flats Trailhead 1 0.67 0:22 5220 In oak trees after brushing off ceanothus 2 0.95 0:41 5095 Downed tree on trail that requires crawling between its trunks 3 1.35 0:58 4870 More brushy areas 4 1.8 1:16 4545 Maybe done with brush now? On firebreak again. 5 4.28 2:54 3440 Alder Creek Trailhead
Hikes Using This Trail
When available, the date of the information is given in parentheses for each link.
The Barley Flats Trail R. Bell (Jun00)
54-7 Barley Flats to Alder Creek, T. Chester and J. Strong (07Feb00)
No guidebook that we know of discusses this trail.
Links To Further Information
Copyright © 2000-2001 by Tom Chester and Jane Strong.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester | Jane Strong
Updated 12 January 2001.