Saturday, December 27, 2014

Colby Canyon Recon

Colby Canyon is a gash on the south side of Strawberry Peak in the Angeles National Forest. The canyon and the surrounding area was burned badly during the 2009 Station Fire and was closed for  years afterwards. Very recently, however, the "No Parking" and "Trail Closed" signs at the trailhead came down making the canyon accessible once again. So the day after Christmas I made a reconnaissance of the canyon to get a look at what I'd been missing. My route took me up Colby Canyon to Josephine Saddle, then to the top of the unnamed point just south of the water tower, west along the undulating ridgeline to the Josephine Peak fire road, down the dirt road to the ACH at Clear Creek, then back to the trailhead at Colby Canyon. Round trip distance is approximately 6.2 miles.

Looking North into Colby Canyon from the Trailhead
The trailhead for Colby Canyon (12W23.2) is at a wide turn-off along the north side of the Angeles Crest Highway about 0.5 miles just east of the Switzer Picnic Area. From the obvious trailhead, the path drops immediately into lush Colby Canyon tracking the canyon bottom for a short distance before jumping a ridge and descending into Daisy Canyon.

Both Colby and Daisy Canyons are cool, shaded, and gurgle-y. When I made my visit, the water was still flowing in the canyon bottoms which was a pleasant alternative to the dusty rock beds that have passed for streams during these past 4 years of drought. These two little canyons were so pleasant that I could have easily spent a few hours just hanging out in them and enjoying their cool embrace.

Colby Canyon Falls
Lower Colby Canyon
Beyond Daisy Canyon, the trail contours a ridge east of and high above the canyon bottom allowing for spectacular views down Colby's serpentine and wooded course. The trail then dips down and crosses the streambed one more time before is begins its steep upward climb on the south-facing slope to Josephine Saddle. Here, the trail becomes considerably more rocky while the flora morphs into the familiar and ubiquitous Southern California chaparral.  

Looking South Down Colby Canyon

Typical Conditions Along Upper Colby Canyon Trail
Eventually, the trail crests in the lap of massive Strawberry Peak at the Josephine Saddle. To the west, expansive views open up into upper Big Tujunga Canyon. To the southeast Mt. Wilson and the San Gabriel cluster are visible. To the south, you can peer over the front range and into the vast Los Angles basin. On a clear day, you can even see Santa Catalina Island shimmering in the distant sea.

Strawberry Peak's Massive South Face 

View West Down Lucas Creek into Upper Big Tujunga Canyon
Mt. Wilson

San Gabriel Peak (L) and Mt. Disappointment (R)

City of Angels and Beyond
At Josephine Saddle, the trail intersects trail 12W23.1 and provides for a couple of alternatives. For a longer hike, one can follow 12W23.1 northeast as it wraps around the western edge of Strawberry Peak and then drops into Strawberry Potrero. The trail then ascends back up to the Strawberry-Lawlor saddle and descends to Red Box on a nicely maintained trail. At Red Box, you can follow the Gabrieleno Trail approximately 4 miles back to Switzer and then track back along ACH to the Colby Canyon trailhead.

You can also gain access to Strawberry Peak's west ridge route at the saddle. The faint use trail branches off of 12W23.1 a very short distance from the saddle. For a description of that route, see Keith Winston's report titled "Strawberry Peak West Ridge."

For a shorter hike, one can head west along 12W23.1 to the Josephine Peak fire road and then descend to Clear Creek. This option can be extended by continuing out to Josephine Peak before dropping down the fire road to the ACH.

And of course, you can always simply turn around a drop back down into verdant Colby Canyon.


  1. Thanks for the recon. How far up the trail do you have water in the canyon?

  2. Sean, the trail doesn't stay long in the streambed so I don't know exactly. But after the trail climbed out of Daisy and tracked above the canyon bottom, I could still hear water below. How much I can't say, but from what I saw, it appears that you can continue up the canyon bottom a fair distance beyond where the formal trail branches off. Might be worth a go just to see what's up canyon further.