Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hiking Schizophrenic Elsmere Canyon

Laziness has been calling my name lately. I have hiked a bunch of the trails around Los Angeles but laziness has been whispering in my ear about not going an hour plus away to hike new hills and dales. 30 minutes away from LA seems to be my sweet spot as of late but I am quickly running out of those trails as well. What is a hiking-guy to do? Well, perhaps Elsmere Canyon in the wonderful Antelope Valley (while reinforcing my laziness) will give me a good hike. Did it?

As regular readers of this blog can attest, I am a HUGE fan of the Antelope Valley. While at a high elevation, it truly is a valley nestled between mountains which eventually gives way to desert. It is a place where you can get baked in the sun or chilled by snow and I have made several trips there over the last 2 years (Devil's Punchbowl, Chair, Vasquez, etc.) 

The air is different up here. The vistas are vast.

I am a fan. 

Elsmere Canyon sits at just the leading edge of the AV (the very first exit off the 14) and the parking lot is as basic as it gets, some pavement mixed with dirt but you don't care about that, what about the trail?

There are a few options but basically you are going to take the Elsemere Canyon Loop trail which is about 4+ miles to do the whole loop (the trail map, linked below, says its 6 but no way is it 6). There is also a cut-through trail that borders a creek

which I will cover in a bit but basically you are looping it no matter what.

You can either hike the East trail first or the West trail. As you might know, I usually (and unintentionally) chose the harder trail to hike and for Elsmere, that would be taking the West trail first. I knew I was in trouble when all the footprints I saw were heading in the opposite direction I was going. Make no mistake, the 1st mile of the Western trail is UP and hard, especially in the Summer sun.

(this is where you are headed)

There is no shade and even though I hiked this trail late in the day, I had to stop several times to hydrate. At least some nice Nature Fairy cut some steps up the trail at one point!

The Western trail is a rather narrow, kayak trail and while you won't be hanging on for dear life on any section of the trail, the drop offs are impressive. 

What is also impressive is the signage in the park. It was clear not too many people use this park but there were signs pointing you in the right direction, telling you mileage, etc. Sometimes the signs were a little vague if there was a split in the trail and you kind had to figure out which section of the trail was "open space" or not. 

Orienteering Tip
There was one portion of the trail without signage that made me stop for several minutes trying to figure out what is what. I didn't take any pictures of the junction but basically if you are hiking North to South on the West trail and once you gain the ridge you will come to a T. You want to take the trail to the right (South) and then follow that until you see the trail going down and to the right. Do not take the trail down and to the right.

(trail [and traffic] pictured, as you can see it keeps going down toward the road)

 Instead, there is another trail to the left which goes up, not immediately apparent but it is there. That is the correct way to go. Considering how well signed the area is, the fact that this critical juncture wasn't signed was really puzzling. 

This trail to the left basically walks an impressive ridgeline among these great rock formations.

Eventually you start to make the turn into the canyon proper. 

Can a park be schizophrenic? Elsmere Canyon seeks to answer the question in the affirmative after all on one side you have majestic beauty which makes this part a must see

and on the other side, well, lots and lots of power lines.

Is it jarring? Yes. Does 1/2 of a park that is unbelievably picturesque make up for the ugliness of man's imprint? I would have to say yes.

(Photo Title: Picturesque Schizophrenia)

Once you go down into the canyon

you basically have 2 choices. You can either head back out to the parking lot via the Creek Trail or head back up the canyon walls completing the Elsmere Canyon loop. I decided to both and headed back up the trail, once again tromping in the opposite way of the footprints.

Bonus points for going up this way? You can make yourself a tar baby along the way.

Trudging up the canyon again after already gaining and losing the altitude sucks, no way around it

but once you gain the ridgeline those views of the Antelope Valley make the climb up slightly worth it ;)

After getting beaten down by the sun, hiking along the Creek Trail is a nice alternative as the entire stretch of its .7 tenths of a mile is shaded. Some of the sights are sweet

and some, well leave something to be desired

(and yes, that is the "creek" of the Creek Trail)

So overall was this my favorite hike in the AV? No but it still was an AV hike and the views and the rock formations make the small 1/2 hour drive from LA worth it. I HIGHLY suggest you do this hike early in the morning or late in the day during the Summertime, otherwise you will be sweating buckets.

You want a trail map? Here your trail map!



  1. Fellow upstate NY-er here, recently relocated to Santa Clarita. Thanks for reviewing this hike, it's on my to-do list. Haven't gotten around to it despite living <10 miles away (When we stay close we tend to hike Placerita Canyon). One objection though- I would say Elsmere Canyon is at the bottom of the Santa Clarita Valley. Antelope Valley is Palmdale and beyond.

  2. ROC, thanks for stopping by! Always happy to hear of another one of us coming out this way. I generally agree with your geographic assessment but in my addled mind at least, when I turn onto the 14, I am in the AV so I am willing to lump in Elsmere into the AV section although you are most certainly right. Welcome to SoCal!

  3. lsanchezSan fernando CaApril 24, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Awesome . Hike for me a woman who had been dormant for a while no exercise and not getting out to see mother nature what a challenge best hike ever. Luckily I have a brother who is very athletic and that pushed me thru hike with humor telling me to watch out for wild animals. What a challenging experience and unbelievable sense of accomplishment. Cant wait to go back. I ALSO FORGOT TO MENTION MY THANKS TO MY SISTER PATRICIA C OR GETTING ME OUT

  4. I definitely agree with the Schizo aspect of this trail. Reading about some of the massive amounts of history around Elsmere canyon makes it even more interesting. Below is one of my favorite sites for history in that area:
    Just some things to look into, Beals Cut, Sierra Hwy, 14 Freeway, Old Tunnel, Aqueduct, Newhall Oil refinery, all the old oil well, the proposed largest landfill in the world at Elsemere Canyon (190 Million tons over 50 years), the animal crossing and UCLA reports with pictures and statistics of animals using it and much more.
    Reading about some or all of it just makes the hike and the whole area so much more interesting.

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