The Secret of Bear Canyon

Hiking Bear Canyon in the Angeles National Forest

Here’s a cool secret: The best water holes on the Arroyo Seco River are past ever-popular Switzer Falls. To end at the 50-foot plunge is to miss the best of Bear Canyon. In other words, keep going!

This 7-mile out-and-back (round-trip) in the Angeles National Forest begins at the Switzer Picnic Area and follows the Arroyo Seco River under the shade of towering oaks and sycamores, summer homes for the strikingly yellow hooded oriole. After about a mile and multiple stream crossings, switchbacks lead you out of the shade and into the sun, but you’ll also be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the canyon and the surrounding San Gabriel Mountains.

After the trail descends to the canyon floor, a short side hike leads to Switzer Falls. Sure, have a look—but the real fun is still ahead! Continuing on Bear Canyon Trail, you’ll soon reach a progression of pools to bathe in, perfect to beat the heat and used far less than Switzer’s swimming hole. Then, for the next 1.5 miles, the going is a bit wild. You’ll be boulder-hopping and bushwhacking on a route almost certainly devoid of hikers. Your goal is Bear Canyon Trail Camp, a shady spot with picnic tables, fire rings, and stoves, and a great place for a midhike meal before the uphill return trip.

Gallery image 1 of 9
Gallery image 2 of 9
Gallery image 3 of 9
Gallery image 4 of 9
Gallery image 5 of 9
Gallery image 6 of 9
Gallery image 7 of 9
Gallery image 8 of 9
Gallery image 9 of 9

As you head back the way you came, you already know the secret of Bear Canyon—those perfectly placed water holes where you can cool off yet again during the climb out of the canyon before you reach your car and head back to civilization.

TIP: Go at sunrise to beat the heat and crowds and have a chance to see an elusive bobcat hydrating at the river.

To get to the Switzer Picnic Area parking lot, take the I-210 to the Angeles Crest Highway (CA-2) in La Cañada and follow it north for 10 miles, turning right after the sign for the Switzer Picnic Area. Head down to the canyon floor and park in one of the many spots there. Be sure to display your National Forest Adventure Pass. Note: If the bottom lot is full, opt for one of two overflow lots, or a space farther up the highway. Dog-friendly!

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story

    Duck, Duck, Goose!

    Try to get a first-come, first-served campsite at one of the Lakes Basin’s lakeside campgrounds. We love Goose Lake Campground, where there are just 14 sites and no motorized boats.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Shealor Stunner

    Robust mountains, striking slabs of granite, and deep green pine reflections make Shealor Lake near Kirkwood resort a jewel of the El Dorado National Forest. Reach this alpine oasis on a 1.3-mile hike.

    View
  3. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    National Parks Road Trip: Circle of Discovery!

    Love national parks? Love road trips? Combine the two on one fabulous Circle of Discovery route in Northern California and Southern Oregon! This itinerary features 7 national parks with wondrous features.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Peak-a-View!

    Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the entire country and the seventh deepest in the world. For one of the very best perspectives of this shining blue beauty, hike up to Garfield Peak.

    View

Trending Stories Northern CA

View all Stories
  1. Image that represents the story
    Sponsored

    Hidden Stairways of SF: Urban Hike

    This guided hike sold out fast, but new dates have been added! Get outdoors and explore the hidden stairways and gardens of San Francisco anew. Small group and socially distanced.

    View
  2. Image that represents the story

    Lookout for This View!

    Sierra Buttes Lookout, at a lofty 8,591 feet, is a memory maker for its pucker-worthy stairway to the tower’s balcony. It's a 5-mile (round-trip) hike to reach it. And the reward? Epic!

    View
  3. Image that represents the story

    Ah, Good Point

    Ready for a rewarding view? Head to to one of the Peninsula’s favorite promontories: Mori Point. Climb your way up the Bootlegger’s Steps to the Mori Point headland for awesome vantages of the San Mateo Coast.

    View
  4. Image that represents the story

    Sleeper Hit

    It's all about the water, and the camping, at Utica Reservoir in Stanislaus National Forest, a High Sierra reservoir perfect for kayak explorations and pitching your tent lakeside..

    View