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Hike Brown Mountain Dam Arroyo Seco

Hike Brown Mountain Dam (Arroyo Seco)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike Brown Mountain Dam
  • Where to Park at JPL
  • Insider Tips & Recommendations
Total Distance (?)7.4 miles (11.9 km)
Other Options Extra 0.6 Miles RT to Overlook
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Easy
Total Ascent (?)640 feet (195m)
Highest Elevation1,710 feet (521m)
Fees & PermitsNone
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Angeles National Forest
Park Phone626-574-1613
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy 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

Jpg Brown Mountain Dam Hike
As you approach, JPL will be on your left in the distance.
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Drive to the end of the lot and park on the right. There’s no parking fee.
Brown Mountain Dam Parking
The hike starts at the end of the wide dirt parking area, before the road turns into the gated entrance to JPL.

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.

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Garmin Inreach Mini 2

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

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

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 Ergo Poles 2

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

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: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.

My June 2022 Top Gear Picks

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.

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There are several crossings of the Arroyo Seco. If it’s been raining, these can be high. Use your best judgment and if you don’t feel comfortable crossing, then don’t. Most of the time, all of the crossings are very tame.
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There are numerous secluded picnic benches along the way. This one is up the stairs at the ruins at the Paul Little Picnic Area (more later). They offer an opportunity for a break and a spot to soak it all in.

Interactive Trail Map

Click Here To View

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.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

Elevation Profile

Hike Brown Mountain Dam Arroyo Seco Elevation
Don’t let this (one-way) profile fool you. Although the hike does imperceptibly climb, overall, it feels like a flat trail.

3D Map

Hike Brown Mountain Dam Arroyo Seco 3d Map
We’ll be following the Arroyo Seco and Gabrielino Trail from the flood plain into the narrower gorges in Angeles National Forest.

Hike Brief

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You’ll see dozens of ruins like this along the hike. In the early 1900s this route was a main thoroughfare into the mountains, and the area had as many as 180 cabins. Some cabins were private, and some you could rent. There were even stores like “Teddy’s Outpost” that offered refreshments and lodging. In the 1940s, the Pasadena Water Department bought the land and closed the cabins down.

Brown Mountain Dam Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Look for the trailhead at the end of the massive parking area.
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Go straight down the trail, avoiding the numerous side trails to the right and the left. We’ll be hiking between the stream and road.
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You’ll see this small sign at the start. We’re taking the Gabrielino Parallel Path, which is nicer than the road above. On the way back you can just take the road back down if you’d like to save a few minutes.

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.

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The trail is easy to follow on this stretch.
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When you get to the bridge, cross the stream, go under the bridge, and then up to the road.
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After going under the bridge the trail joins the paved road.

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.

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Hike over the first of several bridges.
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At the split for El Prieto, stay to the left.
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Hike up the wide and pleasant road. You’ll see relics of the old flood control scheme along the entire hike, including this spillway built in 1949.
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Keep hiking up through the concrete wall.
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Now the road is gone and you’re on lush singletrack.
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You’ll be following the Arroyo Seco up to the dam. You’ll get nice views like this when crossing over bridges.

Although Arroyo Seco means “dry stream,” it usually flows all year.

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Welcome to Angeles National Forest!
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Here’s the first of several stream crossings. They all have ways to rock and log hop across, you may just have to go up or downstream from the trail to find them.
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You’ll pass numerous ruins of cabins if you keep your eyes open. Generally only the foundations, like you see here, remain.
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At about 2 miles in you’ll reach Gould Mesa campground on your left. There’s a primitive toilet here if you need it.

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.

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At the end of Gould Mesa Campground, stay straight on the Gabrielino Trail. The road to the left goes up to Angeles Crest Highway.
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At that last intersection you’ll find a sign with distances that are off by a bit.
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After Gould Mesa the trail changes character again, and now you are hiking through steep canyon walls.
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At about 2.3 miles in, look to your right up Nino Canyon to see a hidden flood control barrier in the distance.
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Keep hiking up the Gabrielino Trail, with the high mountains surrounding you.
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When you get to the big sign for the Paul Little Picnic Area, go straight.

Paul Little worked for LA County parks in the 1950s and 60s and is responsible for creating many of the trails in the area.

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Go straight through the Paul Little picnic area. There are some ruins on the right that have a nice hidden picnic bench if you want a break.
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The trail is a little more primitive but still easy to follow.
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And about 0.25 miles after the turnoff, you arrive at the waterfall. That’s it! You just retrace your steps from here to return to the start.

Optional Waterfall Viewpoint Extension

If you want to view of the waterfall from above, follow this 0.3 mile extension.

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When you get to the big sign for the Paul Little Picnic Area, make the hard left and start hiking uphill.
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Switchbacks help on the short uphill climb.
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And at about 0.25 miles in, look down to the left for the waterfall and dam.
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Enjoy the postcard views of the waterfall.
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Continue a short way up the trail and look across the canyon to see Angeles Crest Highway in the distance. The highway gave people automobile access to Angeles National Forest, which ended the need for foot and mule access on the trails.
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And then you round a corner and get views of the higher peaks, on the left, Hoyt Mountain, on the right, Josephine Peak. If you want to explore more hikes here, Josephine Peak is a great hike to dip your toe in the water.
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From the viewpoint, just head back the way you came. As you descend, the high point in the distance is Brown Mountain, which the dam is named after.
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Hope you enjoyed the hike!!!

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.

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