There are three ways to hike to the abandoned Dawn Mine above Altadena.
The first is closed, the second is overgrown, but the third, in a metaphorical bear sense, is just right.
John W. Robinson, in his book “Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels,” calls it “the most storied gold prospect in the front range.”
But that’s not saying much.
Because no one has made their fortune from gold in the mountains overlooking the San Gabriel Valley, that doesn’t mean that a bunch of people haven’t tried.
The prospectors started to scratch the surface of Millard Canyon in 1895, and one of those prospectors, Bradford Peck, named the area near the top of the canyon after a friend’s daughter, Dawn Ehrenfeld.
It wasn’t until 1902 that the real mining began. Michael T. Ryan, an Australian, began the first tunneling into the cliffs on one side of the tiny stream, creating the tunnel that we can still enter.
But he came across one problem. How to carry the tons of ore, that needed to be crushed to extract the gold? Hiking the two and a half miles down boulder strewn Millard Canyon was difficult and time consuming. So he forged a trail up the side of the mountain to the Mt. Lowe Railway. Once there he loaded the ore onto the Mt. Lowe train and it headed down, via the funicular, to extract that beautiful gold.
After Mr. Ryan gave up, realizing that he, like the others, was not going to make his fortune, the mine changed hands many times. In the 1950’s the area became derelict, littered with mining equipment and abandoned shacks.
Over the years they became covered with graffiti and run down. Eventually all were removed except an old engine, which still sits as a marker to the mine entrance.
To hike Dawn Mine, drive up the road called Chaney Trail (which is “closed” sunset to sunrise). Chaney Trail tees off West Alta Loma Drive, between Lincoln Ave and Fair Oaks Ave in Altadena.
Chaney Trail is a small winding road that leads up into the San Gabriels. At the end of this road is a car park — don’t park here, because this is the entrance to the closed section of the trail. Park instead at the highest point of Chaney Trail. It’s where the fire road leads up into the mountains. Parking is a problem, because there are so few spaces. It is usually full on weekends, so if you can, go on a weekday, or pray to the parking fairies.
Hike around the fire road barrier, past the water tank and then make a left after 0.4 of a mile, according to my phone, which obviously knows everything.
The turn is the sign posted for The Sunset Ridge Trail. This trail leads down into Millard Canyon.
Note: There is a fork on this trail, but keep left, down toward the canyon floor. At 1.05 miles from the car park, the path reaches the gently flowing stream at the bottom of the canyon, which was, in this October 2014 drought, really just a trickle. The mine is near the top of Millard Canyon, so head upstream, north, away from civilization.
Note: Downstream from here the trail is closed, which leads to the car park you are not supposed to park in, as the forestry service is attempting to rehabilitate it after the Station fire in 2009.
My first attempt to find Dawn Mine was a failure, because I went the wrongway. Although on the plus side, I did come across a stunningly beautiful three tiered 40-foot waterfall.
Where is went wrong was not making a right turn, although it is probably worth it just to see the waterfalls.bIf you do want to see Dawn Mine make a right 1.25 miles from the parking lot. Or to put it another way, make a right 0.2 miles after reaching the tream; Once making this turn, follow the river another 1.6 miles upstream, or 2.85 miles from the parking lot to the mine itself.Note: Downstream from here the trail is closed, which leads to the car park you are not supposed to park in, as the forestry service is attempting to rehabilitate it after the Station fire in 2009.
My first attempt to find Dawn Mine was a failure, because I went the wrong way. Although on the plus side, I did come across a stunningly beautiful three tired
40-foot waterfall. Where is went wrong was not making a right turn, although it is probably worthnit just to see the waterfalls.
If you do want to see Dawn Mine make a right 1.25 miles from the parking lot. Or to put it another way, make a right 0.2 miles after reaching the stream. Once making this turn, follow the river another 1.6 miles upstream, or 2.85 miles from the parking lot to the mine itself.nAlmost all of this 1.6 miles is hopping over rocks, clambering over boulders, or ducking under fallen trees.
Note: While doing all this hopping, clambering, and ducking, pause for a momentnand enjoy the peaceful miles-away-from-the-city burbling stream, squirrel and bird sounds.
From here on out it is practically impossible to get lost, just follow the stream.nThere are spray-painted arrows along the way, but they are not really necessary; just follow the stream.
Because this is not a well traveled path a number of the stones are loose so be careful of twisting an ankle, but that is not the only danger. When the cliffs were towering on one side of the valley, there was a huge cracking noise 50 feet ahead. A stone the size of my head had fallen from the cliff face and I just saw it bounce and settle with the other stones in the stream bed. Sitting on a tree limb, near where the stone fell, were two squirrels staring at me.
Because I can speak to the animals, here is a translation of what one of them was saying: “Damn it Bob, you pushed it too early, I told you to wait, I get to push it next time, then we get to have hiker for dinner.”
Because of all the clambering the trail seems longer than it is, but keep going, and then eventually there is an abandoned piece of machinery up to your left. It’s an old engine, with a flywheel attached to each side. The entrance to the mine is hidden just the other side of the engine. On hands and knees, the first view into the mine is what everyone expects when looking into a mine, the classic wooden posts holding up a crosspiece. Althoughnlater, thinking about it, I think this is part of a door to keep people out, and just thenjamb is left. But I could be wrong.
Barring entrance to the cave is a small body of water, people had helpfully thrown in pieces of wood and tree branches to create a slippery unstable walking surface. But I was told by another hiker I met that day, when he had visited the mine the
previous year and had decided to not enter as the water was too deep. I don’t know if this was because of the drought, but like those signs at amusement park water rides, You Might Get Wet.
Thirty feet into the tunnel, just past the pond, is a dry area splitting off into two tunnels, with a huge open gallery above. The light grey rock is splattered with yellow, which reflects in the second pond. There are holes drilled for dynamite still visible in the rock.nYou will need a flashlight, as the mine is pitch black even so short a distance inside. I didn’t go any further than this, as mines and underground scare the hell out of me, but just this short distance inside it was cool and peaceful, in a I-might-die-from-a-cave-in, sort of way.
But remember kids, abandoned mines are dangerous, and while I went alone, anfriend knew where I was going, and was waiting for my back-to-civilization text.
Now the facts: Starting elevation: 2000 ft. Ending elevation: 3135 ft. The total time of my hike, from car to car was three and a half hours, with a total of 5.7 miles,
all according to my phone. When hiking up Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine, it feels like sprawling Los Angeles is hundreds of miles away, with the silent trees and the burbling stream and the imposing canyon walls and the murderous chattering squirrels it’s a moment of quiet in a noisy city.
P.S. I mentioned that there were three ways to reach Dawn Mine, and just for balance sake, I will mention the abandoned trail, although I don’t recommend it, unless you like long hikes in the sun and wielding a machete. It is the trail that the Australian forged from the mine up to the Mt. Lowe Railway. Start at the same place, but follow the tarmacked fire road up the ridge of the mountain for three miles. Unlike down in the shaded valley, it is in the harsh sun all the way, but the road is smooth underfoot,neven if it is steep uphill most of the way. After the three miles there is a historical marker pointing out that this was a stop of the Mt. Lowe Railway and passengers used to disembark and hike down to Dawn Mine.
I attempted hiking down the trail, but after 50 feet it was almost completely overgrown and difficult to discern, so I left it for someone else, with an adventurous spirit, and a machete.