Velo Course: West Fork Extra...

a more open stretch of the canyon through which flows the west fork of the San Gabriel River

Back at the Claremont Cyclist I wrote a few posts mentioning the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, most notably the West Fork Wildflower Ride, but it is such a treasure of a ride that I decided it was worthy of Velo Course designation. The most basic West Fork ride is a simple seven miles in, seven miles out. Since it follows the river along a paved road the route does flow slightly up, and then down for the return. Slight is the optimal word there, and since the road is essentially closed, it is especially family friendly. It has also been designated as a National Scenic Bikeway.

Most local ride guide-type books worth their dollars include the West Fork in their list of family appropriate rides. And so they should - few are better than this. That's all fine and well, but in order to make it a little more challenging, the Velo Course route begins in the city of Duarte outside of the mountain realm and makes you climb a little before getting to the easy stuff.

highway 39 - almost to west fork

shady portions of the canyon gave my slow camera speed some
problems, and some unintended action shots

seems like the water should be moving, not the riverbank

The route: Begin at Encanto Park in Duarte where there is plenty of parking. Cross the river via the pedestrian/bike bridge and ride upstream on the San Gabriel River Trail. This is a good two mile stretch allowing you to spin your legs to life before the climbing starts. When the path ends at the mouth of San Gabriel (Azusa) Canyon simply cross the road (state highway 39) and keep heading up. You will read a lot about Highway 39, the entire climb to Crystal Lake, and beyond, is a challenging local favorite. This ride, however, only covers the lower, and less steep, portion of that longer ride. The climb to West Fork is more gradual, with some easy descents interspersed to provide a little respite for the legs. You will crest alongside the two dams and quickly cruise beside San Gabriel Canyon's two reservoirs, Morris and San Gabriel. You will notice the concrete ramp midway along Morris Reservoir, where the Navy tested submarine weapons systems beginning during WW II. You'll notice the difference in the two dams - Morris in concrete, while San Gabriel is earth-fill. After SG Reservoir, you come to the East Fork bridge, but don't cross. Continue along Hwy 39, pass the OHV area, pass the Forest Service facility, and one final short rise before a quick drop to the West Fork. Once you get yourself and your bike around the yellow gate you are free to cruise as slowly as you want; there is plenty to see. Watch the fisherfolk, look for Bear Creek tumbling down a side canyon, watch how the alders filter the sunlight to play on the water surface, get close to the dripping cliff and feel the cold water as it cascades, or drips, from above, peek at the Pasadena Bait Club lodge constructed circa 1919, spy the waterfalls dropping in from side canyons or gurgling along the main river, and finally relax a moment in the sun or shade at Glenn Campground where you turn around. Total mileage comes out at 38.58 miles, with 2293 feet of elevation gain. You can also add another two miles by climbing to the top of Cogswell Dam just beyond Glenn Camp.

just a trickle over that small waterfall

serenity now

pasadena bait club lodge

trees-full of cones

A couple things to keep in mind, Highway 39 is not only popular with cyclists, but drivers as well, and can get a fair amount of motorized traffic during the weekends. You can avoid that by picking a weekday to ride; there will be far fewer cars. My most recent ride along the West Fork came just a couple weeks ago, so early December; I had forgotten just how cold the West Fork air can get. It is a, mostly, narrow canyon with high walls and tall trees. Very shady in other words, and cold enough that I started to shiver. I made all kinds of excuses to stop in the occasional patches of sun for just a minute or two; just enough to unthaw my fingers and knees. You might want more than arm warmers and windbreaking vest for winter rides. Finally, water in the canyon is extremely low right now and, other than Bear Creek, there is almost no flow coming in from the smaller side canyons - Spring or early Summer is best for those. 

The attraction: As you will discover, the West Fork section of this ride is the jewel. Each season of the year offers up its own unique display - Spring wildflowers, Summer berries and waterfalls, Autumn leaves, Winter silence - you will likely make more than one trip. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the ride.


and wet in one place

The Velo course series at the CLR Effect is a continuation of the My Favorite Routes series that I did at the Claremont Cyclist. It describes various regular routes, or interesting irregular ones that I ride now, mixed together with routes I rode while living in different areas of Southern California in the past.


  1. Thanks so much for this write up and recommendation. Having ridden the loop from Pasadena to Hwy 39 and then down AC many times, but never even knew of West Fork, I knew aft adding this I had to ride it. We started at Encanto this time and took it slow up West Fork. Temps were around 35 and windy. We rode past a few waterfalls on the opposite side of the river where we slowed down, and past a few ice patches. W ascended the steep section before the "no trespassing" sign is the residence behind the fence the end of West Fork? is it possible to ride past those signs without fear of a ticket? can you eventually see the damn?

  2. You basically reached the end of the paved road. I have gone across the dam before, and if you have a mountain bike you can continue on a dirt road, which supposedly gets progressively worse. If, instead of going right and across the dam you go left, you can actually ride a loop (mtb) up above the West Fork Canyon and drop back down behind the Rincon Fire Station on Hwy 39. From the West Fork road you never get a good view of the dam.


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