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Los Angeles Hikes

Hike Brown Mountain Dam (Arroyo Seco)

  • 7.4 miles - Easy Effort
  • Or: Extra 0.6 Miles RT to Overlook
  • 3-4 Hours (Total)
  • 640 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 1,710 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

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.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike Brown Mountain Dam
  • Where to Park at JPL
  • Insider Tips & Recommendations

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.
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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.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated June 2024)

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

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

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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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!!!

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.