A Last Canyoneering Adventure in California’s Eaton Canyon?

Photograph by Eric Liefer
Canyoneering in California’s Eaton Canyon; Photograph by Eric Liefer

The San Gabriel Mountains tower far above their surroundings, dwarfing even one of our  most expansive creations. The massive metropolis of Los Angeles sprawls just to the West, reaching high for the sky but nowhere near the height of those peaks. Push a little further and the truly infinite expanse of the Pacific Ocean quietly waits, such an immeasurable and mystical thing, shifting and surging with the slightest swing of the moon.

Even in what is considered one of the world’s greatest cities, the humbling reality of its insignificance is all too prevalent. And for many people who are confined within the concrete, salvation lies within the sea and amongst those beautiful mountains. In the city, the trees are all planted in perfect rows, the bushes cut into unnatural shapes, and the creeks forced to flow between straight and predictable walls. They beg to wander.

High above the city, water crashes from the snow capped San Gabriel Mountains through a vast array of steep creeks and deep gorges. One such gorge, the chasm of Eaton Canyon, carves a deep and narrow passageway into the western flank of Mount Wilson, creating one of the most beautiful locations in southern California. For those experienced in technical canyoneering, the chasm can be explored with some difficulty. It was here, ten years ago down to the very day that my career as an adventurer began. Roots are planted, whether you like it or not, in the region in which you are raised. You have no choice in the matter. Some, however, run far deeper than others.

When I first heard of the pending closure of Eaton Canyon, which came just one hasty week ago and is set for July 1, I knew I had to pay my respects. We gathered at the trailhead for a final farewell, a bittersweet feeling to know we may never meet again. As we descended into Eaton’s depths flashbacks of some of my fondest memories quickly flood in, the water as clear and cold as I remember. The walls narrow as the water flows over a series of falls, each one more beautiful than the last. I took only a handful of photographs for the sake of enjoying her company one final time. Sometimes things are best left unsaid really.

On July 1, the U.S. Forest Service will be closing Eaton Canyon permanently above the lower falls. I care about Eaton. I care about the canyon. I care about keeping places like Eaton open to the public, so that more of us can witness the wonders of the natural world and bring our souls closer to such a spectacle. It is a necessity of the human spirit which is far too often neglected. We need places like this to keep us sane; we need them open so that others can see them for their own eyes, and leave humbled like so many before. In a world and society where places like this are fading fast, the loss of Eaton Canyon will be one of the greatest unsung tragedies. It is the prohibition of paradise.

Please help us save Eaton Canyon by letting the local branch of the U.S. Forest Service know how valuable these places are to remain open to the public by sending them a short comment below:

California Congresswoman Judy Chu is also a good contact to share your opinion about this imminent closure and the request for public input:


  1. BJ
    United States
    June 25, 2014, 12:01 am

    I’ll miss it too.

  2. Heather Chatem
    Bend, OR originally from La Crescenta, CA
    June 25, 2014, 8:44 am

    I have travelled the trail up Eaton Canyon many times for my own exploration, as well as taking whole class loads to share its beauty when I taught at the Frostig School for 12 years. I hope that you preserve the accessibility to the canyon, so many others can be moved to protect the majesty of the San Gabriels.

  3. Kelly Jackson
    June 25, 2014, 10:40 am

    Ummm…I don’t think this accurate information. The Forest Service is only closing the “trail” that leads to the 2nd waterfall. Check your sources (and cite them!).


  4. Brendan Crill
    Altadena, CA
    June 25, 2014, 11:37 am

    This blog post makes it sound like the whole canyon is being closed. Before you make a lot of phone calls, please note that according to USFS quotes (see http://www.altadenapoint.com/2014/06/24/42766/eaton-canyon-to-close-illegal-waterfall-trail for example) it’s actually the so-called upper falls that is closed. you can still hike to the main waterfall. Personally I think this is a good move, given that a few people die on the upper trail every year.

  5. Dave Kepple
    United States
    June 25, 2014, 11:42 am

    Alley 99 Show – PSA #3 Eaton Canyon
    Raun DaMon travels to Eaton Canyon in Pasadena, CA to describe the local flora and fauna. Professor Neuroblast plays the role of John Muir to describe the historical significance of this preserve.

  6. Eric Leifer
    June 25, 2014, 12:27 pm

    Thank you for the comments everyone! I should clarify the closure. The above story from the Altadena Post was published after I submitted this article.

    The closure will indeed be above the lower falls. From the perspective of a canyoneer however, which this story was written, Eaton Canyon will effectively now be off limits. There are over a dozen waterfalls above the lower one that can be accessed with technical canyoneering knowledge. One of them is pictured above in the feature photo.

    Thank you for your inquiries and I apologize for the confusion, it is important to clarify this closure. The lower falls will still be accessible.

  7. Steve Haussler
    Altadena, California
    June 25, 2014, 1:46 pm

    I certainly hope that one day, not too far down the line, a way to allow for skilled climbers to explore the canyon will be found. While the number of serious injuries, deaths and risks to our local rescue personnel cannot be ignored, I suspect this will end up a relatively temporary solution.

  8. Eric Leifer
    June 25, 2014, 3:38 pm

    I agree with all those points, Steve. The stress put on search and rescue in Eaton Canyon needs to be moderated, no question. Yet the hiker’s route around the lower falls is where a majority of the accidents occur, and is indeed terrifying and downright unsafe. I have done it once before. The technical canyoneering route down Eaton, with the appropriate skills and techniques, is quite safe in comparison. How do you, then, mitigate this problem without interfering with the use and enjoyment of this area by canyoneers? Not an easy problem to be solved.

  9. Keith
    Highland Park/Pasadena
    June 25, 2014, 5:51 pm

    Nothing is being closed that wasn’t already closed since before you were born. That part of the canyon has been “officially” closed, and illegal to hike/climb, since the late ’70’s. All they are doing is putting up signs. That doesn’t even warrant an article, let alone your response. This changes nothing in terms of the legality of hiking/climbing that part of the canyon. But hopefully it will steer some people away from the closed part of the canyon, so they don’t leave their trash everywhere and over-hike the trail.

  10. christopher cortes
    United States
    June 25, 2014, 10:02 pm

    I’ve hiked up the razor back trail to the second waterfall 3 times. You have to be an idiot to not know your own boundaries. I suppose they will remove the rope that makes the climb around the edged rock possible. Its always a few idiots that go and get themselves killed doing something they shouldnt be doing that ruins a great experience for everyone else.

  11. Stephanie Miller
    La Crescents
    June 26, 2014, 9:54 am

    I’ve hiked this canyon as a teen and then with my children and grandchildren for over 50 years. We’ve jumped the stream after a rain, swum in the pool, slide down the sliding rock, cooked breakfast on the barbeques, learned about poison oak and laughed and sung our way down the trails. The beautiful thing was it was nearby and we could get into this mountain retreat easily and quickly. Please keep this open so we can all make more memories!

  12. Peter Coro
    June 26, 2014, 3:36 pm

    If there was so much upkeep in an area but no money to perform such upkeep, I could at least understand. But people need to understand there’s risk in even the smallest hikes. That’s nature. It’s not only ridiculous that this area can be closed but is it not yet another slap to the face on the native American people. We took their land and yes to some degree made amends but now we want the land even though we are not going to allow people to see it? Then give these small sections that we keep closing, back to them. So we don’t just have land for the sake of restricting people to go there.

  13. John
    June 27, 2014, 12:06 am

    Yes, like Keith said, the upper regions have technically been closed since they took out the ladders and closed the tunnel. I climbed the razor back once with a friend in high school, came through the tunnel and then climbed down the face. I never did that again…i was terrified at times and never did it again. we were foolish and lucky to make it down with minimal scrapes.
    It is a shame to close it to those who have the technical skills to climb there the lovely upper regions, but i’ve seen the Sheriff’s helicopter and the Altadena S&R lift out dozens of people over the years.

  14. Lisa Ferguson
    South Africa
    June 27, 2014, 10:31 am

    Love to do this!

  15. Ben
    Shadow Hills
    June 27, 2014, 12:49 pm

    John and Keith, which organization has closed the upper portions since the late 70’s and under what authority? The area is in the Angeles National Forest so the likely organization is the Forest Service and they generally need to post an order (such as in the case of the Station Fire). To which such order are you referring, or why is such an order not needed? How do you “know” the area is closed?

  16. Eric Leifer
    June 27, 2014, 5:12 pm

    Technically, as I understand it, it has never officially been closed; it is an unauthorized trail not maintained by the Forest Service, and is a threat to public safety and is a liability issue. Over the years they have done their best to deter hikers from entering, but never took the legal actions to make it legally off limits. The dramatic increase in death and accidents in recent years have pushed them to now take the necessary action to make it official. The image below helps understand the area in effect.


    Typically a closure of public lands must follow the rules instated by the National Environmental Policy Act, which includes a public input period and many other considerations. NEPA does set forth exemption for imminent threats to public safety however, so it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

  17. Tim Martinez
    Pasadena, CA
    July 3, 2014, 11:27 pm

    “As someone who loves exploring the local mountains, I understand that restricted access to our open space can be troubling. However, I also find myself avoiding several once-beautiful open spaces which have now become trashed and destroyed. Eaton Canyon is quickly becoming one of them.”