Velo course: East Fork Loop

I wish I could do this ride more often, it possesses some of the most compelling and interesting scenery that our local mountains have to offer. For me, it is quite easily do-able by riding out from the front door, and is a longer, and much more scenic option the usual out and back along Glendora Mountain Road (GMR). When presented with an opportunity to ride this loop on Tuesday, and thus avoid the the weekend hustle, I naturally took it and ran.

getting interesting now - the upper end of the San Gabriel River Trail. and yes, there is water flowing once again

The route kicks off by rolling through the foothill communities of Claremont, LaVerne, San Dimas, Glendora, and Azusa. In Azusa, at the San Gabriel River, it takes to the San Gabriel River Trail (SGRT) but just briefly, less than two miles in fact, before jogging onto Highway 39. Highway 39 takes you deep into the San Gabriel Mountains via San Gabriel Canyon (aka Azusa Canyon) and is a quite popular recreation area all year round, especially during the summer months. Two reservoirs up canyon were built for flood control purposes and control the flow of water in the river; often the river is just a bed of dry bones, sand and rock, other times if flourishes with life. I was fortunate that this most recent ride up canyon saw the river flowing full bore, bank to bank, with stretches of riffles and rapids linking pools of emerald serenity.

Further up canyon, and after turning onto the East Fork Road, things close in a little more. At times the opposite wall of the canyon rises a bunny hop away. There is a lot of history to the East Fork stretch of the route: In 1854 gold was discovered in the river and the area quickly boomed with people looking for their piece of the fortune. A gold rush town sprang up near where GMR today begins its precipitous rise away from the river. This was Eldoradoville, and according the San Gabriel mountains authority, John Robinson, the boom town "boasted three hotels and a half dozen saloons", but was completely erased from existence during the flood of 1862. Scattered mining continued but moved further up the hillsides and small side canyons; evidence of this activity can still be seen today, including a small opening into the slope on GMR just past the East Fork junction.

After mining had mostly played out, the area became a resort destination. At areas where the canyon widens enough for people to build, they did. Camps and resorts flourished throughout the San Gabriel's during the Great Hiking Age (ca. 1880-1930s), and the East Fork had its share. All but one of these were destroyed by flood or fire over the passing years, places like Rincon Camp, Bonita Camp, and most recently Follows Camp; today only the small community of Camp Williams remains. Weekends have always been popular up here, especially during the summer months, when people flock to the cool waters of the river to escape the city heat. Local newspapers periodically report on the waste and destruction left in the wake of these city folk, but that is another story. It is enough to note that the East Fork remains a popular destination.

Just beyond Camp Williams, and if you didn't stop into the cool little cafe, is one final opportunity for rest - the Oaks Picnic Area, also has restrooms, but all was closed this trip due to federal government ineptitude. Just around the bend is the three-way junction of the East Fork Road, Bonita Canyon Road, and GMR. The climbing up to this point has been pretty undramatic - not especially steep, no prolonged effort, stretches of flat or even downhill where you can recover. Beyond the junction all that changes. GMR just goes up, for five miles, varying grades, some steep. Be prepared for some headwind too; since the road changes direction, weaving its way up the mountainside, you will find it behind you sometimes. It is only when blowing from the front that it hurts though. Rolling speeds of 6 to 7 mph should be expected for most. It is just five miles though, right, and at the top you get one final panoramic view back along the road, down into the canyon, before you bomb back down GMR to the city.

the first river crossing - silvery rapids in the morning sun

water tank with stairway off the Shoemaker Road

look at all that stonework holding up the Shoemaker Road - looks more impressive in person

Camp Williams Cafe & General Store - closed on Tuesday

intersection - the real climbing starts now

the East Fork San Gabriel River at Cattle Canyon - overpopulated with folks in the summer, but not today

GMR heading down to the East Fork on the right, Shoemaker Road on the left. so close, yet so far apart

The play-by-play: Start at the Vons parking lot (Baseline and Mills in Claremont), and head west on Baseline, transitioning to Foothill/Route 66, all the way to Lone Hill in the city of Glendora. Turn right there, then left on E. Foothill. Make a right on N. Valley Center Avenue, and then a left on Sierra Madre Avenue. Right after this turn is the bottom of GMR, depending on how fast you ride, and how many stops you make you will be back at this point in two or three hours. Stay on Sierra Madre Avenue all the way into Azusa, riding through a couple roundabouts. Pass the Azusa Greens Golf Course, and immediately past N. Todd Avenue make a right onto a little unmarked pathway. Take this until it runs into the SGRT and turn right onto it heading toward the mountains. When you get to the yellow gate, opposite the Forest Service Interpretive Center, transition onto Highway 39. You will stay on this roadway for numerous miles of up and down, mostly gentle up, until the East Fork Bridge (signed and obvious) where you will turn right, crossing the bridge and river / sand wash, what ever happens to be there at the time. This is the aptly named East Fork Road. Stay on it, passing the Burro Flat Shooting Range, a CDF fire station, and various ruins and homesteads. The East Fork Road is similar to Highway 39, though maybe a little more narrow.

Just before reaching the outskirts of River Community there is a junction with Shoemaker Canyon Road. If you have time and energy, this is one worth checking out, or at the least, sticky-noting it on your brain for future exploration. Shoemaker Canyon Road, starts out paved, but ultimately turns to dirt. I have read that there are some dark spooky tunnels along the dirt section, remnants of a failed plan to extend the road deeper into the mountain fastness. Back onto the East Fork Road, ride on through River Community and then Camp Williams. As noted above there is a cafe / general store where, if your timing in on, you can pick up refreshment. If not, no worries (unless you are low on water), there is still the Oaks picnic area. There is no drinking water at Oaks. Just around the bend from Oaks the the GMR junction. There is also a road continuing across a bridge, up the river canyon to parking for the trailhead to the Narrows and Bridge to Nowhere; it is a short detour to the end of road, not really worth much except for exploring further afoot (no bikes allowed as a short distance past the end of pavement, you enter the Sheep Mountain Wilderness). Alright then, nothing for it but to head up GMR, a pretty steep five miles, but you can do it. Just after the turn onto GMR look to the left for the small mine tunnel - it is a little more than head high above the road, but cycling shoes are no good at all for scrambling up the loose slope to peer inside. I don't think it is very deep anyway, otherwise the Forest Service would surely block it for safety.

At the next junction you have reached the GMR / GRR (Glendora Ridge Road) split. You could turn left along GRR if you were a climbing fool, and end up at Mt. Baldy Village with a fast descent taking you back home. Maybe next time. For now turn right to the high point of GMR, rest if you want / need, then enjoy the nice long downhill glide. When you get back to Sierra Madre Avenue turn left, then right at North Valley Center, left again on Foothill, go past Lone Hill, up the short hill, right on Amelia, then left on Foothill / Route 66. The rest is up to you, you could simply backtrack from here along Foothill and Baseline; I tend to zig and zag my way to Bonita and into Claremont Village for a Jamba Juice or even something to eat, before cutting through the Colleges and up Mills to the start. If you go my way, you will end the ride with just under 60 miles and 4600 feet of elevation gained.

Want some more views from the loop, here's a Flickr set for you.
Here is a recap of this same loop from January 2012.