Bridge to Nowhere Hike

Bridge to Nowhere Hike

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • Maps For the Hike
  • What Shoes to Wear
  • Parking Info
  • What To Look For on the Hike
  • Info on Bungee Jumping
Distance10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Time6+ Hours (Total Time)
Total Climbing1,950 feet (594m)
Highest Elevation2,755 feet (840m)
Dog FriendlyOff Leash Okay
Park NameSan Gabriel River Ranger District
Park Phone626-335-1251

The 6 hour, 10.5 mile Bridge to Nowhere hike in the San Gabriel Mountains is one those hikes that you have to do at least once in your life. As the name suggests, you hike along the San Gabriel River in the beautiful Sheep Mountain Wilderness for about 5 miles, and then, out of nowhere, there’s a huge, 120-foot high bridge! The hike is fun, especially on a hot summer day, because there are plenty of stream crossings and water holes to cool off in. It’s a classic Southern California hike that every local knows about, so give it a try.

What is the Bridge to Nowhere?

To start, this Bridge to Nowhere is not one of those tax boondoggles that you read about in the news. The Bridge to Nowhere was supposed to go somewhere. In 1929 work started on the East Fork Road, which was going to connect San Gabriel Valley with Wrightwood to the north.  The bridge was a vital link on that road and was built in 1936. But only two years later, in 1938, catastrophic flooding in the San Gabriel River washed the road away, leaving only, well, you guessed it, a Bridge to Nowhere.

Old Road On Bridge To Nowhere Trail
Keep your eyes open for remains of the old road that got washed away in the Great Flood of 1938. This was the road that led to the Bridge to Nowhere and you can see sections of pavement along the hike.

Then in the 1950s, when everyone was in the grips of Cold War nuclear holocaust paranoia, the government thought it would be a good idea to build a highway through the San Gabriel mountains to evacuate people from LA to the Mojave Desert. The abandoned Bridge to Nowhere was to be used in this new evacuation route. Work started on the new route, Shoemaker Canyon Road, in 1956, done mainly by prison inmates, hence the local nickname of “Convict Road.” The progress was slow, and only 5 miles of the proposed 25 mile road was finished by the time work was abandoned in 1969, leaving the appropriately named “Highway to Nowhere.” The highway never made it to the bridge, but you can still check it out on the drive (to or back from) the bridge hike.

When Is The Best Time to Hike the Bridge to Nowhere?

You can pretty much do this hike any time of the year, but there are a few things to watch out for.

If there have been heavy rains in Southern California and/or it’s winter, the San Gabriel River can be flooded. You have to cross the river a few times, and the water can be up to your waist and portions of the trail covered. This is not a very fun experience, I would do the hike another day.

If there’s any chance of thunderstorms or heavy rain on your hike day, there can be flash floods, and you’ll want to postpone. People have died in flash foods here, and you need to take it seriously.

There’s also no shade on the hike, so if you go on a hot day, it can get pretty brutal. Luckily you can dip into the water and cool off, but it can still be pretty hot. Leaving at sunrise is a good bet to avoid the heat, crowds, and overflowing parking lot. And if you have dogs, make sure they’re good in heat as well.

Gear for the Hike

Feet In San Gabriel River
You will get wet on this hike. You can try and jump across rocks to stay dry, but why? Embrace the water on this hike.

I’ve seen people do this hike with flip flops, a 12oz water bottle, and a bluetooth speaker. Don’t do this. Here’s what I would recommend.

My Top Gear Picks

Garmin inreach review

Do you have the right hiking gear? Will it stand up to the test? I waste lots of money testing hiking gear every year so that you don’t have to. My gear picks are solid choices that will serve you well on the trail. I don’t do sponsored or paid reviews, I just the share actual gear that I use all the time that’s made the cut. Here are my top picks:

  1. Garmin InReach Mini Emergency Beacon – Hiking out of cell phone range? Make sure you have one of these two-way satellite texting devices in case your hike doesn’t go as planned. You can read my full review here.
  2. Injinji Sock Liners With Darn Tough Hiking Socks – This combo is a great way to avoid blisters out on the trail. I have some insider-hiking tips for avoiding blisters here. Pair them with modern, high-tech hiking boots (for women and men) and your feet with thank you.
  3. Garmin Fenix 5x Plus – It’s a little pricey, but man do I love this thing. Not only does it have all the topo maps and navigation tools on my wrist, but it also acts as a long battery life, rugged, outdoors version of an Apple Watch. Track your workouts, sleep, heart rate, all that stuff.

I have lots of other great, sponsor-free, trail tested gear picks on my “best gear” page.

See My Full Gear List

How to Get to the Bridge to Nowhere

You can use this trailhead address: Bridge to Nowhere Trailhead, Camp Bonita Rd, La Verne, CA 91750.

The Bridge to Nowhere hike trailhead is about 30 minutes north of downtown Azuza, CA. The drive is spectacular and winds its way on the side of San Gabriel Canyon, with the river and reservoirs below. The overlooks are worth stopping at to soak in the views.

San Gabriel Resevoir
The drive to the trailhead is an adventure in itself. Photo Boris Hansen.

Can I drive to the Bridge to Nowhere?

Not without hiking the last 5 miles.

Parking for the Bridge to Nowhere

Fee Area Parking At Bridge To Nowhere Trail
You need a permit to park for the Bridge to Nowhere trail.

The parking lot for the Bridge to Nowhere is a fee area, and you need to buy a pass before you arrive at the trailhead. You can use a National Parks Pass (which I highly recommend if you hike a lot) or an Adventure Pass, and display it in your window. People do get tickets here for not having passes and for parking in “no parking” zones.

If there’s no parking left in the lot, you can park down on the side of the road. Some areas of the road are marked with “no parking” signs, so avoid those, but otherwise it’s open game. I’ve seen cars parked for miles along the road. Do yourself a favor and get there by sunrise at the latest, or go on a weekday.

Overflow Parking At Bridge To Nowhere
It’s about 11am, and people are parked along the road, about a mile from the trailhead.

Bridge to Nowhere Trail Maps

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing a good paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x Plus and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Many people also print out this web page for the turn-by-turn images. And if you really want to get tricky, YouTube Premium lets you download videos for offline use, so you can download the hike video and save it.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Many guides note that there’s about 800 feet of elevation change, which is kind of accurate. There’s actually about 800 feet of elevation difference between the start and finish. But there’s more like 1900 feet of total climbing when you factor in all the ups and downs on the trail. Overall it feels generally flat with a few short, steep uphill sections, but add in all the undulations and it can be more fatiguing than you’d think.

Bridge To Nowhere Elevation

3d Map Of Bridge To Nowhere Hike
This hike in the middle of the mountains avoids any major climbs by making it’s way up the valley. It’s still a tough one though.

What to Expect on the Hike

How To Hike To the Bridge to Nowhere

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You can watch this video in 360 degrees.
I have a version of this video where you can pan around in 360 degrees and see every angle of every trail junction, the trail conditions, and more. This is how you can use and view them.

View This Video in 360

Turn-By-Turn Directions

Again, just a reminder, try to stick to the right side of the San Gabriel River, your life will be easier. These hike directions will show you the way.

Bridge To Nowhere Trailhead Parking
Head to the end of the parking lot. There are bathrooms here too.
Bridge To Nowhere Trailhead
At the end of the trailhead parking lot you’ll see this gate, this is the trail, hike through it.
Heaton Flats Bathroom
After a few minutes of hiking downhill, you’ll arrive at the Heaton Flats Campground. This is your last chance for bathrooms.
Heaton Flats Campground
Head straight through on the main (wide) trail, avoiding any side trails.
Heaton Flats Trail Junction
On the right you’ll see the Heaton Flats trail junction that leads to the tough summit of Iron Mountain at 8,007 feet. Keep going straight, avoiding this trail.
Heaton Flats Trail Sign
Just pass the trail junction you’ll see signs for the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. Fill out a free permit in the metal box in front.
Sheep Wilderness Permit Box
After you fill out the form, put the top copy in the slot on the side of the box, and keep the lower copy for yourself.
East Fork Trail
At the end of Heaton Flats you’ll pass through this gate and onto a more normal trail. The trail to the Bridge to Nowhere is know as the East Fork Trail, because it follows the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
San Gabriel River Crossing
The trail is easy to follow, and you’ll eventually reach the first stream crossing. Go ahead and cross here.
East Fork Trail
After crossing the stream, hike up on the trail on the left bank.
Hikers On East Fork Trail
The trail climbs up on a ridge on the left bank of the river.
San Gabriel River Valley
You’ll start getting some great views of the San Gabriel River Valley here.
Remnants Of Washed Out Bridge
The trail descends to some concrete remnants of a bridge. Pass all the bridge pilings and cross back to the right bank after the last piling.
San Gabriel River Crossing
Cross the river past the last piling, heading up the trail on the other side.
Bridge To Nowhere Trail
The trail is easy to follow as you make your way up the right bank.
Marker On Bridge To Nowhere Trail
Hikers have left a stone arrow pointing the way for the returning hikers. Be aware as you hike to the Bridge, noting how you will turn when you return.
Bridge To Nowhere Trail
The trail continues on and is easy to follow. More great views await.
Climb On Bridge To Nowhere Trail
Okay, this is tricky. Instead of crossing the river here, head up the rocks on the right.
East Fork Trail
Once you climb the rocks, the trail continues straight. Avoid the side trails down to the river and continue straight and upstream.
Bridge To Nowhere Trail
You’ll go through this wash area. The trail splits apart and comes back together quite a bit, and this happens in other places as well. Try to take the path most worn, and again, if the trail peters out, turn around, retrace your steps to the last split, and try another way.
East Fork Trail
Eventually the trail becomes well defined again. This pattern will repeat itself as you continue.
Moon Over San Gabriel Valley
Hopefully the crowds are not so bad and you can enjoy the beauty around you. The hike along the valley offers some great scenery.
Trail Along River
Here’s another tricky area. Instead of crossing the the river, go through the boulders on the right bank to continue.
Bridge Into Sheep Wilderness
Cross Laurel Gulch on the John Seals Bridge, created by the volunteers of the San Gabriel Mountain Trailbuilders. The bridge was airlifted here with a helicopter.
Cris Hazzard With Sheep Mountain Wilderness Sign
Once you cross the bridge you’ll enter the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, which you needed the permit for.
East Fork Trail
This section of the East Fork Trail has some rocky sections. Just take your time.
East Fork Trail
Continue on the East Fork Trail with some ups and downs.
San Gabriel River Crossing
Okay, here’s your next river crossing. The easiest way to do this is just walk up the stream to the bend, then head back on the right side, looking for a single switchback that takes you up above the stream on the right bank, roughly where the higher arrow is here. It’s easy to miss unless you know what you’re looking for.
East Fork Trail
The trail will start to climb higher up on the right bank.
East Fork Trail
Eventually the East Fork Trail heads down into a wash. There are a lot of little splits here.
San Gabriel River Crossing
Okay, here’s the last set of river crossings. Cross when you arrive at the river and continue on the trail.
East Fork Trail
There’s a well established trail on the left bank here, but the crossings upstream can be a pain. A minute or so after the last crossing, veer right at this junction to cross back to the right side of the river right away.
San Gabriel River Crossing
The trail winds it’s way down to the river bank.
San Gabriel River Crossing
Cross the river for the last time and continue upstream on the trail.
Trail To Bridge To Nowhere
The East Fork trail makes its way up a wash area.
Trail To Bridge To Nowhere
Keep your eyes open for this trail split. you’ll see the trail off and up to the right climbing onto the ridge. That’s where you’re going. There are a few splits and ways to get up, but you need to get up there.
East Fork Trail
Once you’re up on the ridge, the trail is very easy to follow. Keep hiking straight.
Private Property Sign At The Bridge To Nowhere
You’ll see a sign letting you know that you’re entering private property (owned by the bungee jumping company). Again, be respectful and thankful that they allow hikers here.
Bridge To Nowhere
Here you are! Arriving at the bridge is not so spectacular. You’ll have to go across it for the views.
Bridge To Nowhere Bungee Jumping
I got here early when they were setting up the bungee jumping (on the right). They’ve designated an area for hikers to safely pass on the left. Again, you might not enjoy that this is here, but please be respectful of the area and business. Also, notice that the bridge is lower on the right side. Why? I have no idea.
San Gabriel River Gorge
Check out the gorge from the top of the bridge. The swimming holes are down there.
Trails Around Bridge To Nowhere
Continue over the bridge and down the trail for views of the bridge and to climb down to the watering holes. The trail can be loose and steep here, be careful. You can also continue on the upper ridge to an abandoned tunnel. Some folks camp tbere.
Cris Hazzard At Bridge To Nowhere
Grab your pictures of the bridge, and then continue back the way you came. if you get here early, you might even see some bighorn sheep on the hills above you.
San Gabriel River Valley
After you’re done with the bridge, simply head back the way you came.  And again, pay attention as you go, it’s easy to take a wrong turn if you’re motoring ahead on autopilot.

Bridge to Nowhere Bungee Jumping

The Bridge to Nowhere is also home to Southern California’s only commercially licensed bungee jumping option. The bungee jumping has been around since 1989 (the oldest in the USA), and the attraction has been featured in tons of movies, commercials, and even has some world records. For $99 you can hurl yourself off the Bridge to Nowhere into the abyss.

You might be asking yourself, “how is there a commercial bungee jumping operation in the middle of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness?” Well, the owner of the bungee jumping operation bought the land from private owners who owned the land as a gold mining claim. It turns out that the bridge was built in the claim area. The bungee jumping operation has a bit of controversy around it, and people have been trying to shut it down for years.

Love it or hate it, it’s there. Here’s what you need to know as a hiker:

If you’d like to bungee jump, you can make reservations and learn more at the Bungee America website. I’ve never done it, but folks like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Carey have, so you’ll be in good company.

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