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Tom Sloan Saddle and Brown Mt. Ridge
via Sunset Ridge and Millard Canyon
Altadena / Angeles National Forest / Southern California

Trail Stats
Mileage (r.t.) 7.2
Trailhead 2090'
Dawn Mine 3100'
Tom Sloan Saddle 4060'
Total gain/loss 2200'
Gain/loss per mi. 611'
The long hogback ridge of Brown Mountain runs east and west and separates Bear Canyon to the north and Millard and Grand canyons to the south. A conspicuous notch in the ridge, Tom Sloan Saddle, is named for one of the first forest rangers of the newly formed San Gabriel Forest Reserve, appointed about 1900. Today the saddle hosts the convergence of five trails.

Unfortunately, the 2009 Station Fire, which consumed 160,577 acres, caused considerable damage in Millard Canyon and surrounds, resulting in five years of closure. The area was reopened in summer 2014. The canyon is recovering but will take years to return to its former beauty.

In local hiking literature, a hike to Tom Sloan Saddle tends to be relegated as simply a passing point for a long loop or one-way hike. John Robinson includes it as part of his 12-mile Brown Mountain Loop and his 10-mile Eaton Saddle to Switzer Campground trek. Jerry Schad passes through Tom Sloan Saddle on his 10.6 mile Upper Millard Canyon loop heading to Mt. Lowe Trail Camp. However, Tom Sloan Saddle makes a worthy 7-mile, round-trip destination, particularly if you scramble up the west ridge another quarter mile for some marvelous vistas.

Tom Sloan Saddle and Mt. Lowe
Tom Sloan Saddle and Mt. Lowe - Looking east from an outcropping (4360'+) on Brown Mt. ridge. View image with labels
This hike has several variations ranging from 7 miles round trip climbing through the heart of woodsy Millard Canyon, to supplementing that with Sunset Ridge, Mt. Lowe rail bed, and the Dawn Mine trail. In route you will experience some beautifully rich chaparral and riparian plant communities, rugged canyons, waterfalls, and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and of urban sprawl to the south. A highlight of the trip is a visit to historic Dawn Mine. And if you like solitude, even on a weekend with great weather, you may have the upper reaches of the hike to yourself.

Be aware, if you take the route in lower canyon, route finding can be tricky. The first mile into the canyon is on a nicely maintained trail. But as you begin your 1.5-mile venture up the canyon to Dawn Mine, the "trail" is non-existent or in poor condition in places. There are numerous creek crossings (you probably can avoid getting wet), boulder hopping, and some climbing over and under logs. The trail from Dawn Mine to the saddle appears to get no maintenance and little traffic, but is still reasonably passable (as of 1-17-06).

Season: October - May

The lower portion of the trail to Dawn Mine is okay all year, but much of the upper trail to the saddle forges up a sun-bathed slope and can be miserable on a hot day. And the high points along the Brown Mountain ridge would be hot too. View Seasons of the San Gabriels for a detailed description of minding the seasons.

Getting to the Trailhead:

From the I-210 Foothill Freeway in Pasadena, exit at Lake Avenue. Drive north (toward the mountains) for 3.5 miles to the end of Lake Avenue. Turn left (west) on Loma Alta Drive and drive 1.0 mile to Chaney Trail (marked by a blinking yellow light). Turn right and drive north on Chaney Trail. You'll pass through a gate that is locked from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. After a winding 1.1 miles you reach Sunset Ridge. Turn right and park anywhere along the road, but don't block the gate. This is a popular trailhead, so there may be lots of cars. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park.

Trail Description:

Walk east on the paved fire road past the locked vehicle gate. In about 100 yards you reach a junction. An unmarked trail leads to the left (north) down to the Millard Campground. A sign-in box and a Mount Lowe historic informational sign are on the right. Continue up the paved road for another 300 yards to a trail on the left (Sunset Ridge Trail).

Leave the road and follow the Sunset Ridge Trail, first north, then curving around east. You'll begin to hear the delightful music of Mallard Falls out of view below you. In a few minutes, after you round a bend, views of the Saucer Branch Falls emerge in the canyon below to the north. In a few more minutes the trail gently descends to a junction, at about 1 mile from the start. To the right is the signed Sunset Trail (12W18) (an alternate route, see below). But to take the canyon route, veer left and immediately cross a ravine and pass a cabin on the right. You sharply descend and in about 3 minutes you arrive at the creek. The trail disappears into a jumble of boulders. This is your route! Before you begin up canyon, take note the trail that brought you here so you don't miss it on your return trip.

As you start your creek route, you will be heading east along the canyon bottom with its sparkling pools and rich woodsy charm. Generally, you will follow a section of trail for 20 to 80 yards, then cross the creek to find another section of trail. I counted 21 creek crossings to Dawn Mine. After about 7 minutes the canyon branches and you see a tributary coming in from the north. This is Saucer Branch (Read the Saucer Branch route description on my Millard Canyon Falls page). But you will veer right, continuing east.

After a couple bends, the canyon turns sharply to the north. You'll scramble up the creek staying to the left as you round the bend. Just past a large rock face, notice the path subtly emerging on the left disappearing under a bay tree (next to a rusted pipe). This route climbs high on the west bank to avoid an imposing stretch of huge boulders. If you miss the trail you'll find yourself climbing over and through the granite maze until the massive rocks forbid you to climb any further.

In about 10 or 12 minutes past the boulders, while on the right bank (east), you may notice a faint path leading across the creek to a open area (contains a few remnants of what looks to have been a miner's encampment). Continue up the trail on the east bank, and in an another minute you cross the creek to the left bank (west). You may notice a 3x2-foot water shaft coming out of the base of the rock face on the west bank. In another 5 creek crossings (10 or 12 minutes), you'll be on the east bank. Just before you pass under a suspended water pipe that crosses over the trail, there is a spur trail that cuts to the right (east). I recommend ignoring it and continuing straight on the trail under the pipe. In another minute the trails disappears into the creek bed and you pass through a narrow section of canyon with steep walls on both sides. Immediately the route emerges on the west bank to arrive at Dawn Mine, up on the left.

Dawn Mine
Dawn Mine - This abandoned mining equipment on the west bank of Millard Canyon marks the location of the mine.
Two steal beams jutting out from the rock wall mark the mine location. To see the tunnel, walk up past the beams to the entrance, which is hidden from view until you peek around the rock. Every responsible trail guide warns against going into the mineshaft because of possible hazards.

After your visit to Dawn Mine, cross the creek and follow the trail zigzaging briefly up the slope near a small spur ridge that juts westward into the main canyon. You're presented with an option of going left or right. Turn left (north) and in about 30 yards you reach a three-point switchback. A sharp right is the trail leading southeast to Dawn Station (an alternate route for your return trip). But for now, you will take the less-traveled path continuing up canyon (north).

In a couple minutes you'll have to negotiate a large tree which has fallen across the path (unless it's been cleared since January 17, 2006). In a couple more minutes the trail crosses the creek and a mine tunnel entrance appears on the wall of the west bank. Continue following the trail up creek. Route finding is tricky at times. You will arrive at a split in the creek (it took me about 25 minutes to get here from Dawn Mine). Take the left (west) branch. (The right [east] branch is the Grand Canyon tributary. Robinson's and Schad's descriptions here are confusing and inaccurate, so ignore them). Stay left, crossing the creek to the west bank and following the main creek. In about two minutes after the split as you're walking up the middle of the creek, notice the trail that emerges on the right (east) bank. This begins the more formal trail up the slope to the saddle. Don't miss it.

About a minute after you start on the east-bank trail, you reach the first of many switchbacks. It sharply cuts back to the right (south), and in another minute you negotiate another switchback, cutting back to the north. As the trail steadily climbs, you will experience emerging views of the surrounding canyons, slopes, and summits. Some parts of the route are in open sun, and some are in the dense shade of oak-covered dells. You pass by some steep water slides that would be an awesome display after a heavy storm. You will also pass some magnificent stands of manzanita with their trunks and branches coated with shinny brown. As you approach the ridge from the southeast, the saddle finally comes into view up ahead. In another 10 or 12 minutes you arrive at Tom Sloan Saddle.

Five trails emanate from Tom Sloan Saddle:

  • The trail you just came up is marked "Dawn Mine" and points southeast.
  • The trail on the right is marked "T. Sloan, Mt. Lowe Road 1.8 miles" and points east following south of the ridge.
  • The trail in front of you is marked "Mt. Lowe Road" and points north. The trail curves east and climbs the ridge.
  • The trail on the left of the trail above is marked "Bear Cyn Tr and points north.
  • To the left, the unmarked trail heads west steeply up the ridge heading to Brown Mt.

Brown Ridge
Brown Ridge - Looking west toward the third knob west of Tom Sloan Saddle.
Since brush and trees block your vistas from the saddle, a short scramble up the west ridge to the knobs in route to Brown Mountain will reward you with breathtaking views. I recommend bypassing the first two knobs and making your destination the third knob over, about a quarter mile and 300 feet in elevation gain. This rocky outcropping (4360'+) is a splendid summit to soak in wide reaching vistas.

If you're a peakbagger, you will be drawn to four peaks looming on the eastern line—Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Markham, and Mt. Lowe (see my hike description for these summits).

The trail roller-coastering west along the ridge heads to Brown Mountain (4485') in another three quarters of a mile (I've not yet hiked there but the trail appears to be well-worn).

Return the way you came. Or for an alternate route from Dawn Mine, see below.

Return Trip Option 1 - Return the same way
This option from Dawn Mine is to head back the same way you came. Remember, after following the creek back down a mile and a half from the mine, keep a careful eye out for the trail to the left that leads past the cabin and out of the canyon. If you find yourself at the top of Millard Canyon Falls you've gone one-tenth mile too far (see my Millard Canyon Falls hike descption for more).

Return Trip Option 2 - Return via Dawn Station and Sunset Ridge Trail
The other option is to ascend the trail southeast to the Mt. Lowe fire road. This is the Dawn Mine hike Schad describes (in reverse direction). This adds an extra mile and 600 feet of elevation gain (Schad's number). The route offers outstanding views of Millard Canyon and beyond, and it avoids the boulder hopping. It also gives you a better historical sense of the mining operation as you can visualize burros hauling the gold ore up this trial to the Mt. Lowe Railway (read more on my Dawn Mine hike description).

When you get to the three-point switchback near the small spur ridge that juts westward into the main canyon across from Dawn Mine, veer left (going right will take zigzag you back down to the creek next to the mine). In about 30 yards the trail curves around a shoulder with striking views down into the main canyon. The trail, ascending southeast to Dawn Station, is steep and is mostly in open sun, so it can be torture on a hot, sunny day. The route offers slendid views of the surrounding canyon but may be dicey in a place or two as it crosses perpetually sliding talus. After 0.7 mile, you reach Dawn Station on the Mt. Lowe fire road.

Dawn Station
Dawn Station - on the old Mt. Lowe Railway bed above Millard Canyon.
From Dawn Station, turn right (south) unto the dirt road and follow it down 0.2 mile to the Cape of Good Hope (where the pavement begins). Walk past the clearing on the right, and notice on the left side of the road where the old railway bed trail comes up from Echo Mountain. Enjoy the southeast view of the historic location on the other side of Las Flores Canyon. Continue down the paved road about a 100 yards and turn right unto the signed Sunset Ridge Trail (you can also go down the paved road, but it's a lot less scenic and suffers the full exposure of the sun). The trail zigazags and contours westward through lush chaparral and sections of tree-shaded forest into Millard Canyon. You'll pass old Sierra Camp (Sierra Saddle) at 0.8 miles and in another quater mile the trail nearly meets the paved road at the place where the road passes through a distinctive box-shaped road cut in the ridge. Continue down the trail until it reaches the junction near the canyon bottom. A footbridge and cabin are on the right. Veer left and follow the path back to the road. Turn right onto the road and walk the final 400 yards back to your car. icon

Trail Notes:

  • 2009 Station Fire - Consumed 160,577 acres and caused considerable damage in Millard Canyon, resulting in five years of closure. The area was reopened in summer 2014. NOTE: I've not hiked the trail to Tom Sloan Saddle since the Station Fire, so some of the trail and scenery descriptions above may not be presently accurate.

Related links on Dan's Hiking Pages:

Links:

Books:

  • Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels - by John Robinson (Wilderness Press: Berkley). Hike 21: "Brown Mountain Loop—Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine to Tom Sloan Saddle, Brown Mountain, Brown Mountain Fire Road, back to Millard Canyon." He describes a 12-miles loop with 2,500 feet in elevation gain. Brief historical background. His trail description is a little vague and inaccurate in places, prior to the 9th Edition (Wilderness Press: Birmingham, 2013) with Doug Christiansen).

  • Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County - by Jerry Schad (Wilderness Press: Berkley). Area A-5, Trip 9: "Upper Millard Canyon." He describes a 10.6-mile loop, with 2,700 feet in elevation gain, following the canyon route past Dawn Mine to Tom Sloan Saddle and on to Mt. Lowe Trail Camp and then returning on the fire road. Good trail description, but with some inaccuracy. Places the one-way distance to the Saddle at 3.6 miles.

  • Los Angeles County: A Day Hiker's Guide - by John McKinney (The Trailmaster, 2006). "Millard Canyon, Dawn Mine." Describes an out-and-back, 5 miles round trip with 800 feet in elevation gain, taking the route up the canyon. Brief historical background and good trail description, although scant in details about the mine vicinity. Previously published in Wild L.A.: A Day Hiker's Guide (2003), now out of print.
Last Hiked: January 17, 2006


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