Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Hiking Henninger Flats
Hennginger Flats was one of the most intriguing hikes I have been on in awhile. So disparate are the Flats from the hike you take to get to them that I highly encourage all SoCal hikers to do this trail. Lemmee explain.
The most common way to access the Flats is to begin your hike in/around Eaton Canyon. You can park in the Canyon's parking lot but most days it is bustling and the weekend I hiked to the Flats was no exception. Instead, I recommend driving up to Crescent Drive in Altadena, parking there and taking the old Mount Wilson Toll road to the Flats. This hike is popular no matter where you start it but at least starting on Crescent makes the crowds thin out a bit.
Walking up Crescent you come to the gateway to the Toll Road. Apparently this gate is not locked by Parks personnel but rather on of the residents that lives on the street! It is locked during vampire hours so make sure to plan your hike accordingly.
The hikes begins downhill which is always appreciated and after you cross the bridge
it is ALLLLL uphill.
You gain around 1,200 feet in just under 3 miles so yes, you are going up a lot on this one. What makes the hike particularly taxing is the lack of shade. I would not recommend doing this during the Summer here in SoCal. I definitely had to stop a few times to hydrate and rest along the way despite the short mileage.
Also, this hike IS popular so you won't necessarily get the true go-it-alone wilderness experience but I found that as you get higher along the trail, the crowd thinning continued so many times I found myself hiking alone.
Due to its popularity and surprising toughness (due to the sun) the Parks people have placed benches along the way for some recuperation and some vista viewing.
Other than benches there are actual things you can view on the trail like mountains
and flowers (these guys were in abundance)
The trail is basically a series of long, looping switchbacks with no particular part being really steep but it is consistently uphill.
Eventually, the Flats do come into view
and boy are they flat! Everything surrounding them is typical California mountains but the topography creates this cool shelf effect in the middle of the range and after the hike up, you are thankful for some flat ground.
Considering you just came from an open, California fire road, the Flats are rather mindblowing. Here you will find pine trees shading every nook and cranny
You will find an old fire tower which is very reminiscent of the ones in the Adirondacks
You will find stoves burning wood and giving off a wonderful campfire aroma.
And you will find lots of campsites, which was one of the most surprisingly revelations of all. I have not camped much in SoCal (i.e.,"never") so I am not really up to speed about which campsites are where but I had no idea there were so many here at the Flats. I went to all of the campgrounds and was impressed by the layout, cleanliness and views right from your tent. You may have to contend with a gaggle of Girl Scouts or other battalions of campers that I saw on the trail but I think camping up there would be a great thing to do (the Mt. Fuji campground is probably the way to go for more solitude).
At the end of the day, you can see why ol Mr. Henninger decided to build a cabin in this neck of the woods.
Add on a museum at the Flats and you have a great hike waiting for you in Altadena. Of course, you can continue to take the Toll Road up to Mt. Wilson, which I hope to do one of these days but this hike vaults high onto my "Must Hike" list for SoCal. Whatever the effort you expend getting up the trail is richly rewarded by the pine trees greeting you on the Flats.
Posted by Peter Flanigan at 9:30 AM