Completed in 1936 as part of a plan to build a scenic highway along the east fork of the San Gabriel River connecting the San Gabriel Valley to Wrightwood, this concrete spanner is pretty much all that was left in 1938 after unprecedented storms that winter resulted in obliterating floods that washed out the five-miles of roadwork that had been laid below it, as well as any plans to rebuild. Since then accessible pretty much only by hike, horseback or helicopter, this isolated artifact of a lost highway has come to be known as the “Bridge To Nowhere,” and is a popular destination whose remarkable condition belies its 70th birthday this year.
The 10-mile roundtrip hike itself is often categorized as a moderate one, and I think that’s because of the relatively low elevation gain/loss incurred over its course (about 1,000 feet). I’d actually lean more toward labeling it strenuous not only because there’s plenty rock-strewn dry river bottom to traverse, but also because there are multiple water crossings, as well as several sections of the trail that lack serious definition and are pretty easy to lose. And should you undertake the trek without the benefit of cloudcover that can definitely add to the strain and drain. In other words getting to the Bridge To Nowhere requires focus and effort and caution and endurance along with a willingness to scramble up and down rocky parts, too. And don’t even get me started on the countless trailside Yucca whipplei (aka Our Lords’ Candle or Spanish bayonet) waiting to spear you in the shin.
But that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t a worthwhile excursion. The reward isn’t just the magnificent mystery bridge standing as a structurally engineered anomaly out in the middle of the wilderness. Although that destination does put the icing on the cake, another big part of the prize is the journey itself via the dramatic vistas, the varied terrain and scenery, the serenity of the rushing river, and the abundance of wildlife. Doing the hike Sunday we encountered much more than the requisite several variety of lizards. In this case we chanced upon a magnificent tarantula, and for the first time in my life I saw bighorn sheep in the wild. Unforgettable bonus!
There’s a crazy huge set of pix viewable via this Flickr set, and some additional logistical info about doing the hike after the jump.
Getting there takes about an hour from the downtown area: On the 210 Freeway, exit at Azusa and head north 10 miles or so into the Angeles National Forest. Turn right on East Fork Road and continue 8 more miles to the East Fork Station, where the road dead ends. Note that if you go around a hairpin 180 degree turn on East Fork Road, you missed the road into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. The trail head is a short distance down an obvious service road.
What you’ll need: Pack a lunch, snacks, sunscreen, plenty of water, a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved outer layer of clothing, an extra pair of socks in case you soak your shoes in the river. I also recommend long (or convertible) pants for some leg protection against the yucca plant spines. You’ll also need an Adventure Pass to display in your parked vehicle ($5; available at the ranger station just before civilization ends down near the mouth of the canyon).
How long will it take: If you want to go all the way to the bridge you should budget a full day for the hike. When my wife and I did it Sunday we went at a decidedly leisurely pace. Entering at the trailhead at 9:30 a.m. we were back out by 5 p.m. Your mileage may vary.