100Hikes: #3 – Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls

My third hike took me deep into the Angeles National Forest to a place where nature rules and humans gape. The trailhead of my third hike was located 24 miles up the Angeles Crest Highway, three miles shy of where the highway has been closed to through traffic. So really, this is just about as far into the forest as you can drive.


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I had hoped that I would spend my Saturday afternoon on a nice and easy 2-3 mile hike. Instead, I hiked 5-6 miles and the last half was all uphill. I’m not fond of uphill right now. Uphill is not my friend.

The first hour of the hike was a little off kilter. First, I couldn’t find the Buckhorn Campground, where the trailhead resided. Since the campground is closed this time of year, the forestry service seemed to have removed all of the entrance signs from the highway. Eventually, I parked off of the highway and hiked into the campground. In the campground, I read a posted map showing that a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail had been closed and rerouted onto the Burkhart trail. Hiking a portion of the PCT really excited me. Along with the wildlife I hoped to see, it would be nice to talk with any PCT hikers and find out how their journey is going.

From the campsite, I found the Burkhart trail. It follows along side a creek 1.4 miles where it meets the Cooper Canyon trail. I figured that I would hike down the trail a bit, then turn around and head back, fulfilling my self-obligatory two miles. However, the more I traveled down the trail, the more I fell in love with the area. The sound of the nearby water and the singing birds kept me walking further down the path. Unlike my other hikes, I was to walk downhill rather than up for most of the first half. I knew that for every easy step I took downhill, I’d eventually have a difficult step to take on the way up.

A mile down the trail, I ran into a ranger going up. I asked him why a section of the PCT was closed. It appears that a few years ago, they discovered a habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa). Following guidelines of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, access to approximately 1,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest was temporarily limited, which included a section of the PCT. That was four years ago. Rumor has it that the park service is designing a bridge to cross this frog habitat, both protecting the frogs and allowing hikers to continue through.

Before the ranger continued on his way, he provided a friendly warning: “If you’re hiking down to the waterfall, keep in mind that it’s an 800 foot elevation gain on the way up.” What? Did he say a waterfall? Awesome! Now I had a destination for this hike! An hour later, I was at the falls.

I stayed at the falls for about 20 minutes then moved to a pool a short distance from the falls to eat lunch. I sat and watched a school of trout – each no more than 6-7 inches long – swim in the crystal-clear water. I threw in bits of a cereal bar and watched them fight over it. A few people came and went before I started hiking out. The hike back to the top was no joke. An 800-foot elevation gain in 1.4 miles shouldn’t be tough, but for a big guy like me, it is. In no time, I was huffing and puffing but kept a steady hiking pace. But I mentally toughened up and made it back to my car drenched in sweat but feeling good.

What I learned on the hike:

  1. I had been mentally linking heavy breathing to being tired. The link had now been broken. I continued up and off of the trail and back to my car feeling really great about this mental adjustment.
  2. I’ll need to use my CamelBack for warm-weather hikes.

Hike #3 Trip Stats:

  • Date of hike: May 9th, 2009
  • Location: Burkhart Trail – Angeles National Forest, California
  • Length: ±6.21 miles* (more likely 5 miles)
  • Duration: 3 hours, 54 minutes, 44 seconds
  • Average speed: ±1.6 mph* (more likely 1.2 mph)
  • Altitude at start: 6,611 feet
  • Altitude min: 5,618 feet

*These stats were gathered with my GPS, but since the hike took place in a canyon, the data is not accurate.

This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike. For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.



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