Hike Brown Mountain Dam (Arroyo Seco)
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||7.4 miles (11.9 km)|
|Other Options||Extra 0.6 Miles RT to Overlook|
|Hike Time||3-4 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||640 feet (195m)|
|Highest Elevation||1,710 feet (521m)|
|Fees & Permits||None|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Angeles National Forest|
|Weather & Forecast||Latest Conditions|
|Stay Safe||Copy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.|
Hiking to the Brown Mountain Dam waterfall hike quickly transports you from suburban LA to a natural wonderland. You’ll start in suburban Altadena, then follow the Arroyo Seco, a lifeline watershed, into Angeles National Forest, to the hidden waterfall at the abandoned Brown Mountain Dam. The shaded trail passes ruins, secluded picnic areas, and beautiful willows, oaks, and sycamores. Today it’s a flat and relatively easy hike that’s fun for all levels of hiker.
This hike is also known as the “JPL Hiking Trail,” the “JPL Trail,” and the “Arroyo Seco Trail.”
Where is the JPL Trail Parking?
Don’t just search for the JPL Parking lot and go. There are multiple “JPL Trail” locations on the mapping services. We will park at the massive lot on the northeast side of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Use this address or lat/lon:
JPL Parking Lot Entrance, Explorer Rd, Altadena, CA 91001 – 34.202461220102016, -118.16579655823301
Gear For the Hike
This is a straightforward hike that can be done in fitness clothing or light hiking gear. There are several stream crossings that all have logs and rocks you can use to cross. Using trekking poles can be helpful, as can vented trail runners that get wet and dry quickly. Bring 1-2L of water and don’t drink directly from the Arroyo Seco – you have to filter the water here.
Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
Altra Lone Peak 6
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Terraventure 3 or Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.
Brown Mountain Dam Trail Maps
You’ll be following the Gabrielino Trail for the majority of the hike. The trail is well-worn and a favorite of hikers and mountain bikers. There are numerous unofficial side trails along the way, but we’ll be staying on the (main) Gabrielino Trail along the Arroyo Seco. If you haven’t seen or heard the stream in a few minutes, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Interactive Trail Map
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
- Brown Canyon Barrier Dam was built in 1943 in an attempt to control flooding from the mountains. In 1938 the “flood of the century” led to deaths and damage in LA. It even destroyed an entire resort, Camp Oakwilde, just a short way up from where the dam is. The powers that be decided to try to control the water flow. There were numerous projects, including paving the LA River. The Brown Mountain Dam was one of those projects.
- In most cases where humans try to “improve” mother nature, the dam was quickly rendered a failure when the area behind it was filled with silt and debris. Not only that, but the dam prevented the movement of wildlife up and down the Arroyo Seco, disrupting an age-old migration corridor. There’s a strong argument for removing dams like this, but it’s hard to see how that would happen today. You can dive deeper into the saga of protecting the Arroyo Seco at the Arroyo Seco Foundation’s website.
Brown Mountain Dam Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
The Gabrielino Trail is named after the native Tongva tribes who lived in the area before the Spanish arrived. It’s also the nation’s first National Recreation Trail, which “represents its region, supports a diverse community, and is among America’s best trails.” I have a full guide to the Gabrielino NRT, along with a deeper dive into its history, in my guide.
The paved section doesn’t last long. About 100 years ago this paved section went all the way up to Camp Oakwilde, about 1.5 miles up from the dam.
Although Arroyo Seco means “dry stream,” it usually flows all year.
Gould Mesa is named after Will D. Gould (1846-1926), a lawyer whose cases brought him in front of the Supreme Court. Gould was also prominent in the temperance movement. He bought 1,100 acres in eastern La Cañada and created a ranch, and his horse trails stretched into this area.
Paul Little worked for LA County parks in the 1950s and 60s and is responsible for creating many of the trails in the area.
Optional Waterfall Viewpoint Extension
If you want to view of the waterfall from above, follow this 0.3 mile extension.
This guide last updated on May 29, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.