There’s a different kind of holiday rush going on right now, and it’s found above Azusa in the San Gabriel Mountains. Lewis Falls, a 50-foot splendor on Soldier Creek, is a gift that keeps on giving. Reach it via a quick 1-mile (round-trip) hike under a canopy of lodgepole pines. Gaining just 200 feet in elevation, the hike is never steep but still offers a dose of adventure with a tricky creek crossing that may spell wet feet! (Bring an extra pair of socks.) Start on an unmarked yet obvious trail that parallels the creek and passes two privately owned cabins. Enter a cozy canyon and stroll under tall lodgepole pines stretching skyward, their needles scenting the air with winter’s aroma. This forest has made a robust recovery from the 2002 Curve Fire that scorched the area; only a few charred stumps remain. Along with bay trees, vibrant red and orange maples are young bloomers along the trail, covering the ruins of stone foundations and staircases. With a tenth of a mile to go, the trail awkwardly crosses Soldier Creek. Not your typical walk-across-a-log crossing, this is a diligent step-by-step over a bent tree with large, stemming branches as frothy waters churn below. Made it over to the other side? Good! Now continue up the narrow canyon on a rugged trail, scrambling over a few logs to reach the base of Lewis Falls, a silvery cascade currently flowing in full form over bare rock with patches of moss. Those feeling brave from the creek crossing may want to rock-hop to the right bank for a head-on view of the falls, which includes a glimpse of the short upper tier tumbling from a forest of pines and firs. It’s a waterfall life!
TIP: For an après picnic amidst a forest of natural Christmas trees, stop at West Fork Day Use Area 7.5 miles below Lewis Falls Trail on Route 39 (you’ll drive by it on your way out). Half a dozen picnic tables festoon the roaring West Fork of the San Gabriel River.
Take I-210 to Azusa and take the Route 39/San Gabriel Canyon Rd. exit. At the end of the ramp, turn north and drive 18.9 miles up Route 39. A $5 Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead and can be purchased at the East Fork Ranger Station on Route 39 at the foot of the mountains. The trailhead is 2.2 miles past Coldbrook Campground (the nearest bathroom) on the outside of a horseshoe bend to the left where Route 39 crosses Soldier Creek. Park along the side of the road and find the trail to the right of the creek next to a large yellow sign that reads, “NO FIRES.” After 200 feet, the trail turns right between two granite boulders and continues half a mile up the canyon to Lewis Falls. Dog-friendly!