Sitting above where the famous Bridge to Nowhere is located, this 5-mile round trip hike winds through two abandoned highway tunnels in the beautiful San Gabriel mountains.
The hike is located approximately 40 miles from DTLA. From I-210 in Azusa take Azusa Avenue (Hwy 39) north for 11.6 miles to the junction at the East Fork Road. Turn right on East Fork Road and drive 3.3 miles. Bare left onto Shoemaker Canyon Road and drive another 1.8 miles to the locked yellow gate (trailhead). Park in the designated parking area at the Shoemaker Viewpoint Day Use Area which is located at the end of Shoemaker Canyon Road. An Adventure Pass is not required.
It’s probably not a good idea to do this hike when it’s 90 degrees out but I was up for the challenge and needed an adventure. The trail is fully exposed, except for the tunnels of course, so come prepared. Sunscreen, bug spray, water, an umbrella and a flashlight, should definitely be on your list of things to bring when doing this hike.
Down below is the trailhead and road that leads to the Bridge to Nowhere, which is twice as long as this hike and also requires multiple river crossings.
The East Fork of the San Gabriel River is monumental in scale, boasting some of the most rugged relief in all of Southern California. Most engineers wouldn’t even think about building a highway through here to connect with Angeles Crest Highway but believe it or not, two generations of road builders tried to do just that.
In 1929, road crews constructed a highway in the lower reaches of the East Fork. The East Fork Road was still under construction when it was washed out during the great flood of March 1–2, 1938. The East Fork Road project was abandoned as a result of the flood, leaving only the bridge (now known as the Bridge to Nowhere) forever stranded in the middle of what is now the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
In 1954, engineers attacked the East Fork again. Using inmate labor, they began constructing the highway further up on the west wall of the canyon to avoid the possibility of another flood and to help Angelenos evacuate the city more quickly in the event of a major emergency.
Tunnel #1 is the longest of the two tunnels, at just over 1,000 feet long.
Words of wisdom like this can be found along the way.
Despite 15 years of hard work by the prisoners of Detention Camp 14, less than 5 miles of road were ever completed. Budget cuts and protests finally put an end to the construction in 1969 and the area was further protected from development after it was granted wilderness status in 1984.
A cluster of swallows have claimed the entrance to this tunnel as their home…
…and they weren’t happy with my arrival.
The unfinished look of tunnel #2 probably means the project wasn’t completely finished when it was abandoned in 1969.
At 700-feet long, it’s 300-feet shorter than its sister to the south.
Shoemaker Canyon was named for grizzled gold miner Alonzo Shoemaker, who worked this area of the East Fork during the 1870s and 1880s.
After completing the tunnel hike, I attempted to explore a lesser known mini-tunnel located underneath Shoemaker Canyon Road.
After making it in about 50-60 feet, I realized it was swarming with mosquitoes and black flies and got the hell out of there as fast as I could.
After that, I went to go check out another spot I had passed on my way in.
Located above a water tank that sits along Shaoemaker Canyon Road, this flat area included several outbuildings, some rusted tanks and an overgrown emergency helipad.
An old shed contructed out of river rock and corrugated steel sits next to a concrete vault, that looks like it could’ve been used to store equipment or possibly even explosives at some point.
The thick walls of the concrete vault ended up being the perfect place to escape the scorching sun.
There’s even a grave marker perched up on a hill but the story behind the name that’s listed on it is unknown.
Perhaps the Bridge to Nowhere hike would’ve been a better option on a hot summer day like this. At least I would’ve been able to cool off in the river. If you ever decide to do this hike, I would highly recommend doing it during the cooler months of October through May. Happy hiking.
Protecting and preserving historic, sacred, and sensitive sites should be practiced by all. Locations, directions, and names to some of the places found on this site are not listed, please don’t ask for them. Tread lightly, leave no trace and always respect the wonder that surrounds you.