For outdoor lovers, Bridge to Nowhere is the affectionate name of a local treasure near LA, of an abandoned bridge on a washed-away road in the San Gabriel Mountains that spans across the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. You’ll find excessive fun on this 10-mile round trip hike with 900 feet of elevation change. This is one of those hikes that is a right of passage of the area and you must do at some point. You hike along the San Gabriel River in the beautiful Sheep Mountain Wilderness for about 5 miles, and then, out of nowhere, there’s a huge, 120-foot high bridge! You may even see some old California gold panners in the streams like we did the day we hiked. The hike is fun, especially on a hot summer day, because there are plenty of stream crossings and water holes to cool off in. It’s a classic Southern California hike that every local knows about, so give it a try.
The Bridge to Nowhere was supposed to go somewhere. In 1929 work started on the East Fork Road, which was going to connect San Gabriel Valley with Wrightwood to the north. The bridge was a vital link on that road and was built in 1936. But only two years later, in 1938, catastrophic flooding in the San Gabriel River washed the road away, leaving only, well, you guessed it, a Bridge to Nowhere. On the hike you can keep your eyes open for the remains of the old road that was washing away in the great flood. You will see sections of pavement along the hike that led to the bridge.
How to get to the Trailhead
The Bridge to Nowhere hike trailhead is only about 35 minutes north of Azusa, Ca at the base of the Los Angeles mountains along the San Gabriel River. The trailhead is around an hour north east of LA city taking I-10 East to the 65. The trailhead is a bit over an hour north from Orange County area taking the 57 north to the 210 briefly before exiting. This makes for a convenient half day or day trip outside of the city. This is also a great spot to overnight camp for a night before the hike and there is lots of close camping areas.
To get to the trailhead from Azusa, head north on San Gabriel Canyon Road for about 11 miles, then turn right at East Fork Road. Take this about 6 miles to the end and the parking lot. Note that the lot gets crowded, but you can park along the sides of the road. Pay attention to the signs. There are a few sections where parking is not allowed.
Miles– 10.5 miles
Elevation– 1870 feet elevation gain, highest peak 2755 feet
Type– out and back
Time– 6 plus hours
This trail is open year round and I have hiked it in the cold as well as the heat. The trial has lots of shade and different water streams to cool off in which is great for warmer weather. If there have been heavy rains in Southern California and/or it’s winter, the San Gabriel River can be flooded. You have to cross the river a few times, and the water can be up to your waist and portions of the trail covered. This is not a very fun experience, I would do the hike another day. Be wary of rains and careful of the weather for this hike. The trail is not very clearly marked for the first several miles and with the river crossings it can be confusing.
If there’s any chance of thunderstorms or heavy rain on your hike day, there can be flash floods, and you’ll want to postpone. People have died in flash foods here, and you need to take it seriously.
You need a California Discover pass to park your car in the trailhead parking area since it is a Forest Service fee area.
You need to buy a pass before you arrive at the trailhead. You can use a National Parks Pass (which I highly recommend if you hike a lot) or an Adventure Pass, and display it in your window. People do get tickets here for not having passes and for parking in “no parking” zones.
If there’s no parking left in the lot, you can park down on the side of the road. Some areas of the road are marked with “no parking” signs, so avoid those, but otherwise it’s open game. I’ve seen cars parked for miles along the road. Do yourself a favor and get there by sunrise or 8 am at the latest, or go on a weekday.
- You will get wet because of all the countless stream crossing in the river so be prepared gear-wise.
- Generally stay to the right of the river bank when in doubt on the trial and crossings
- There are primitive bathrooms in the parking lot and a few minutes down the trail at Heaton Flats. There are also bathrooms in the Bridge to Nowhere parking lot
- You might see (or hear) miners illegally panning for gold. There are people who live and camp out here, looking for gold. They’re used to hikers but expect to be given their space. Be respectful.
- There are swimming holes under the bridge below that can be hiked down to for swimming. Pack or wear a suit if you want.
- The best views of the gorge are on the bridge! Be careful of the bungee jumpers and company. If you are lucky you will get to see some take the jump off the bridge.
I am not going to lie this is a more confusing trail that is not marked as clearly as other hikes in socal area. I definitely felt a bit lost a few times and was always careful especially in my stream crossings because they were more disorienting. The nice thing is since the trail is pretty trafficked that there are always people to follow and ask for directions. There is no cell service so be sure to hike only during the day and start early as well as being prepared with maps and gps.
At Heaton Flats keep going straight through the campground and do not take the iron mountain trail. There is a free permit in the box for the Sheep Mountain Wilderness and fill one out. You leave one copy in the box and keep one copy on yourself for any rangers you may encounter. The trail to the bridge is known as the East fork trail because it follows the east fork of the San Gabriel river. At the beginning of the river crossings you will cross over to the left ledge of the river but will eventually mostly be on the right side. There are two main river crossings otherwise try to stay mostly right. You will then come the Laurel Gulch on the John Seals Bridge, created by the volunteers of the San Gabriel Mountain Trailbuilders. The bridge was airlifted here with a helicopter. You cross this bridge and you will enter Sheep Mountain Wilderness where there is a big sign that you need the permit for.
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Throwback to the Bridge to Nowhere hike. An interesting history surrounds the Bridge to Nowhere as it was once supposed to be part of a mountain road. But in 1938, a massive flood, the great flood of 1938, wiped out most of the road as they were building it so they decided to abandon the road project, leaving the bridge to “nowhere”. ~ The hike follows the old mountain road. 10 miles is the round trip distance of the hike, requiring at least 8 hours at a normal pace. There are many other secrets located around this area we will be exploring in the future. As with all hikes on this page they require additional research before getting out there.
Bridge to Nowhere Bungee Jumping
The Bridge to Nowhere is also home to Southern California’s only commercially licensed bungee jumping option. The bungee jumping has been around since 1989 (the oldest in the USA), and the attraction has been featured in tons of movies, commercials, and even has some world records. For $99 you can hurl yourself off the Bridge to Nowhere into the abyss.
There is a commercial bungee jumping operation in the middle of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness because the owner of the bungee jumping operation bought the land from private owners who owned the land as a gold mining claim. It turns out that the bridge was built in the claim area. The bungee jumping operation has a bit of controversy around it, and people have been trying to shut it down for years it seems.
- Parking gets full because it’s not just for hikers, it’s for bungee jumpers too. There’s no way to drive to the Bridge to Nowhere.
- You will see people on the trail who are inexperienced and sometimes ill-prepared. Do your best to be kind, empathetic, and helpful. They have as much a right to be here as we do.
- If the bungee jumping is operating when you get there, they’ll be blaring music. This part is always the toughest for me to handle, but just shift your focus to the surrealism of it and it’ll be okay.
- Be respectful of the bungee jumping business and pass on the part of the bridge marked for hikers. Remember, you are on private property that the owners allow hikers to enjoy.
Heaton Flats Campground
This is the main campground that is connected to the trail of the Bridge to Nowhere hike. The only fee is a $5 parking fee in the lot and has a toilet but no water source. Heaton Flats is less than a mile into the hike and is a small and quaint campground under tree cover. This is a good spot if you want to camp the night before hiking and is right along the trial. This also means its a highly trafficked camp area and if you are camping in the area and staying for a weekend there are better private and serene options than this. The campground is a .5 mile hike in from the parking lot near the location shown below.
Crystal Lake Camping
Crystal Lake recreation area is in the Los Angeles Nation Forest which has campgrounds with nearby trails, lake recreation, fishing, rentable cabins & more. This camping area is at the base of the Los Angeles Forest and the San Gabriel Canyon at an elevation of 5,600 feet offering a quick getaway for the weekend outside of the city. This campground is very near located to the Bridge to Nowhere hike.