Posted by: GeekHiker | June 22, 2011

HIKE: Placerita Canyon Loop

This write-up is going to be a first for me: a trail that, as hiked, I can’t actually recommend.

This loop above and through Placerita Canyon takes in some pretty fantastic scenery, most of which can be seen if this trail were done as a simple out-and-back (which I’ll describe at the end).  As I hiked it last spring, though, the first part involved a brutal uphill section which I doubt I will ever hike again.

Starting from the Nature Center (see the Placerita Canyon Trail description), cross Placerita Creek and turn right onto the Canyon Trail.  Passing by the large picnic area, the trail ascends and becomes the Manzanita Mountain Trail, switchbacking up the south canyon wall, passing by a large water tank.

Placerita Canyon Loop 01
Crossing Placerita Creek

Placerita Canyon Loop 02
Passing the water tank

After about .5 miles, the trail will arrive at Manzanita Mountain, reached by turning right and ascending a small hill.  The point provides a scenic view of the canyon below and the Santa Clarita community beyond.  After enjoying the view from the point, descend the hill and brace yourself.

Placerita Canyon Loop 03
Looking down on Placerita Canyon and the water tank

Placerita Canyon Loop Pano 01
Placerita Canyon from Manzanita Mountain

Crossing into the Angeles National Forest, you’ll be heading up a wide fire road (marked “firebreak” on the map from the Visitor Center), which you’ll be following for the next 1.8 miles.  It’s not a steady climb, though, but involves clambering up a steep pitch, then rambling along the ridgeline before going up another steep pitch.  I’d estimate the pitches to be between 20 and 30 degrees; at some points, I was walking backwards to prevent my tendons from becoming stretched and my plantar fasciitis returning.  Take it slow, stay well hydrated, and start early in the day: there’s absolutely no shade.

Placerita Canyon Loop 04
One of the ascents along the firebreak

Finally, 2.6 miles of brutal climbing from your start, the road intersects (and flattens out, thankfully) with Whitney Canyon Road.  Turn left and walk along the easy grade about a quarter mile to Wilson Canyon Saddle, a favorite resting stop for mountain bikers, where you’ll find a pit toilet and picnic benches.  Be sure to make a quick detour up the hillside to the right for a sweeping view over Sylmar and the western San Fernando Valley on a clear day.

Placerita Canyon Loop Pano 02
Looking down to the Sylmar area

Placerita Canyon Loop 05
Flower along the side of the fire road

Returning to the road, look for the Los Pinetos trailhead on the left side, which will take you back into Placerita Canyon Park.  You’ll plunge you into some of the most beautiful oak woodland I’ve ever seen in Southern California.  A perfect mixture of sun and shade, the next mile or so downhill through forest canopy is relatively little traveled, and you’ll enjoy the sound of the wind in the trees and birds a world away from the city.

Placerita Canyon Loop 06
Along the Los Pinetos Trail

The trail continues downhill, passing Los Pinetos Spring (turn left here; don’t take the narrow use trail on the other side of the stream), then opening up to sunshine again as Los Pinetos Canyon approaches its junction with Placerita Canyon.

Placerita Canyon Loop Pano 03
Large manzanita along the descent to Placerita Canyon

Finally, 5.3 miles from your start the trail arrives at the wide flat bottom of Placerita Canyon.  Turn left here, and follow the Canyon Trail back to your car at the trailhead.

NOTE: Were I to do this trail again, I would do it as an out-and-back.  Starting at the main trailhead and going up the Canyon Trail, or simply starting at the Walker Ranch trailhead, I would go up the Los Pinetos Trail to Wilson Canyon Saddle.  From the saddle you can turn right and follow the road to the intersection with the firebreak and the views north, without having to tackle the steep pitches of the firebreak coming uphill, then simply backtrack to return.

Placerita Canyon Loop 07
Returning through the narrows of Placerita Canyon

Total Distance: 8.0 milesElevation Gain/Loss: 1,600’/1,600’Website:

Directions: From Interstate 5, Merge on to State Route 14. 2.7 miles from the interchange, exit at Placerita Canyon Road (Exit 3). Turn right and drive about 1.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the right. Park hours are sunrise to sunset. The Nature Center is open Tuesday-Sunday, 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Fee: None (as of this writing)

Hike Profile:
Placerita Canyon Loop Profile




  1. Here it is! Sorry for my preemptive comment on your earlier post… I’m sorry you had to suffer that nasty firebreak part: the first time I hiked this I did the loop in the reverse direction, and didn’t like coming down that part at all (oh my knees! and slip-sliding on the very steep parts). The next time, I did it the way you describe to see if it was any better that way round, but no! – brutal is the right word. I decided never to bother with that section again, and now do it there and back as you describe at the end. The Los Pinetos trail is nice and shady for ascending, and is so quiet and pretty that I don’t mind backtracking at all 🙂
    PS Long-time lurker, had to delurk to comment on these hikes. Always love your hike descriptions and photography, and your other posts too 😉

  2. Okay, I didnt’ even walk this, and am tired. I’m sorry you can’t recommend it but I’m with Social Dendrite, your hiking posts are awesome.

  3. Wow… That’s some steep elevation! Although… I dunno… I guess it would be nice to get it all out of the way at the start… Maybe. Hm. Actually the one time I did a walk like this my calves felt like jelly for the remaining three hours of downhill walking. that wasn’t fun at all.

  4. Your other Placerita Canyon hike had my mouth watering. I hope I don’t confuse the two whenever I finally make it out there! I will probably wait for the weather to cool down, however…

  5. Ah, consider the “up” the overcooked vegetables to the descent’s dessert.

  6. Social Dendrite – Yeah, not a big fan of the firebreak, and I think my knees would be completely blown if I tried it downhill. Definitely stick to Los Pinetos!

    MissMcCraken – LOL, once the uphill is out of the way, its not so bad.

    LeafProbably – Up-then-down hikes are better than down-then-up hikes, that’s for sure!

    MelHeth – Trust me, you would know if you were on the wrong trail!

    AbsurdBeats – *laughing* That’s one way to look at it!

  7. I used to ride my horse as a kid around Placerita Canyon in 1977, it was much less built up then but even then I could appreciate how beautiful it was. Thank you for the pictures it brought back happy memories:) I now live in England so it is green all the time not just during the rainy season.

  8. Hey, everyone. I’ve been hiking at Placerita for years. As far as the loop goes, I like to start at Manzanita, but really that’s hiking the trail “backwards”. Starting from the other end offers a much more forgiving gradient.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: