Wednesday, September 14, 2011

#211: Millard Canyon and Dawn Mine

A trip to Millard Canyon in Altadena is like stepping into a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Do you want to hike to the top of a waterfall, rock scramble to a spooky abandoned mine, or perhaps take a stroll along the beautiful Sunset Ridge Trail? With all the trails in the area, the possibilities are endless. 

I've been to Millard Canyon twice since it reopened, and I'm going to outline three excursions that this canyon has to offer: the Sunset Ridge Trail hike, the hike to the top of Millard Falls, and the rock scrambling adventure to Dawn Mine

Sunset Ridge Trail Hike

The Sunset Ridge Trail is mostly unshaded and takes you through much of the area hit by the fire. We did this as an out-and-back hike on a cool foggy morning in June. This moderate hike was about 2.5 miles.

From the upper trail head, ascend the fire road.  
Soon you will see a fork on the left with this sign. Take the left fork.
You'll pass by Millard Falls on the left as you head up the trail.
Although it's far away, it is quite loud.

Next you will come across another fork. Take the right fork.
The sign will indicate that this is the Sunset Ridge Trail.

The trail eventually meets a fire road, marked by a stone wall with a plaque saying "Erected in 1959..." At this point we turned back around, but there are continuing trails to take if you wish to keep going. 

One last note: this is a popular trail for mountain bikers, so be watchful!

Top of Millard Falls Hike

The hike to the bottom of Millard Falls is closed, but you can still get to the top of the falls. It is a roughly 2.5 mile moderate hike.

To get to the top of Millard Falls, ascend the fire road from the trail head and then take the left fork (the same one you take for the Sunset Ridge Trail). At the next fork, go left again. (going right will take you along the Sunset Ridge Trail)

You will pass by this house very shortly after the second fork

Next, you will come across this river:

Follow the river to the left. There's not much of a trail, so you'll just have to walk on the rocks. The river was pretty low in the summer, so it wasn't difficult. The river will lead you to the top of the waterfall. 

Do this at your own risk. Mike ventured out to the very edge,
but I don't recommend it!

Since this is a short hike, you can pair it with the Sunset Ridge hike.  

Dawn Mine Hike

I found the perfect summer/fall hike! It comes with a warning, however. This out and back hike is not for the beginning hiker. It's moderately strenuous and for much of it there's hardly a trail to follow.  The hike also requires a lot of rock scrambling and river crossings (I counted 19 crossings just to get to the mine!).  Our hike was 6 miles because we parked at the lower parking lot and took the connector trail to the fire road. It is about 4.5 miles if you start at the upper parking area.

If you are an adventurous hiker, you will love the hike to Dawn Mine.  The majority of the hike is shaded, and you follow the river most of the way, which cools it down even more. The river was low when we went last weekend, so all the crossings were easy.  The hardest part was definitely following the "trail"... Or what little trail there is. There are some points where it gets rocky and you just have to trust yourself to keep going. 

Do you see a trail?

Thankfully, we went with Mike and Michelle who had been to the mine two times before, so they knew where they were going. If this is your first time to the Mine, definitely bring a lot of water and give yourself plenty of time. The whole hike took us about 4.5 hours even though it was only 6 miles! 

I have a few tips for you if you choose to go to Dawn Mine. About halfway there, things will get very rocky and you will encounter these huge rocks:

Go to the left and hoist yourself over these boulders. 

You'll then pass through an unshaded rocky area, and then it will get shady again. You are almost there. 

For most of the hike you follow the river, but there will be some points when you will diverge from it. 

short detour to a double waterfall

Mike told us that a lot of people miss the Mine. It's difficult to spot. It will be high up on your left, and the most prominent landmark is this old piece of equipment:

look up the canyon wall on your left and you will see this
The mine is behind this rock. See Brad hiding behind there?

Mike, Michelle and Brad went in while I waited outside. Stalactites, a deep pool of emerald water and a hidden waterfall lie in the depths of Dawn Mine. There are also some innocuous long legged spiders, so this is not the place for arachnophobes.

The entrance. You must walk on the planks to avoid stepping in the water.
tiny stalactites
A very deep pool of water. Some guy put a glowstick tied to a rock in there and estimated it to be about 25 feet deep!

The waterfall
Waiting for my friends at the entrance to the Mine. 

Since abandoned mines can collapse at any moment, I do not recommend venturing into the mine. Do bring a flashlight and peer in, though. It's dark in there and you can feel a whoosh of cool air coming from its caverns. 


There are limited spaces on Chaney Trail Road by the upper trail head. We got there at 9 am and it was all full on our second visit, so we had to keep going down the road and park at the lower parking lot. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required. Near the lower parking lot you'll see this sign:

Follow this trail (.8 miles one way). It will merge with the main fire road
and take you to the main trail head.

Have you been to Millard Canyon? What did you think of it? Leave me a comment below :)

Millard Canyon

**Note: The interior photos of the mine and the double waterfall photo were taken by Mike. You can see the rest of his photos here**


  1. Millard Canyon is closed and fenced off so that the area can recover from the Station Fire so how were you able to do this hike?

  2. yeah the lower part was closed off but we did the upper part along the river which was not closed off. at the end of the hike, we were at the very top of the waterfall.

  3. Great post, I'm looking at doing the hike this weekend. Do you know how deep the mine goes?

    1. I know this response is a little bit late but here's a map of the inside of Dawn Mine. It goes in pretty deep. Make sure you bring some shoes you can get wet, there's always water inside...

  4. thanks alex--have fun! go early so it doesn't get too hot! i have no idea how deep it goes, sorry.

  5. Hey, i thought this trail was closed as well. Would love to do the hike you described above. Is it pretty straight forward if we follow your directions above?? Thanks!

  6. Hm, they might have closed it since I went...? Probably best to call the park service to double check before you go. The Dawn Mine hike is not straightforward at all... I would only recommend going if you are going with someone who knows the area, or if you have a lot of time to kill and are really good with directions. But the other two hikes are not too difficult to follow. I wouldn't call them "super" straightforward, but they're not bad. I tried to give the best directions possible, but if you're still unsure, I'm sure you can find more directions on google. Hope that helps-- have fun! :)

  7. anyone know if the falls are active right now? is it possible there is flowing water anywhere in LA these days?