© Christopher Earls Brennen

Hike K5. Piru Gorge


Piru Gorge in Southern California is remarkable for several reasons. First it is a remote wilderness within a few tens of miles of one of the largest conurbations in the world, the city of Los Angeles. But there are many such canyons in the Angeles National Forest. However, Piru Creek is contained upstream of the gorge in a reservoir known as Pyramid Lake and, after leaving the reservoir, flows for a mile or so alongside one of the busiest highways on earth, Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco. After that mile, Piru Creek makes an abrupt turn to the west and disappears back into a rugged and otherwise impenetrable wilderness. The convoluted route it takes, known as Piru Gorge, is about 20mi long. The creek eventually emerges again into the Los Angeles Basin at the town of Piru. The reservoirs and the creek are an attractive venue for fishermen who penetrate a short distance upstream from Piru Lake and, at the other extreme, a short distance downstream from Pyramid Lake. Because of the ruggedness of the terrain, the lack of established trails and the need to frequently climb boulders and wade knee-deep through the river, there are many miles that rarely witness a human presence. It is land where bears, coyotes, deer and a host of smaller animals roam freely and where, if you are extremely lucky, you might catch sight of a soaring California condor. If not, the ducks, herons, hawks and ospreys provide regular thrills.

This adventure hike that is best undertaken as an overnighter, takes you through this marvellous unspoilt wilderness from a point beside Interstate 5 to a parking area at Lake Piru. On the way you will enjoy the cascades and pools of the regulated discharge from Pyramid Lake and the alders, sycamores, cottonwoods and willows that regularity has promoted. It is among the best fly-fishing in Southern California and, if you are a fisherman, you might look forward to a great dinner prior to the overnight.


Drive north on Interstate 5 from Los Angeles through Santa Clarita and up the steep hill to Violin Summit. At the summit, take the offramp to Templin Highway, proceed under the freeway and then left to follow the route of the old highway that was replaced by Interstate 5. After about 5mi this ends beside Piru Creek at a place called Frenchman's Flat where the road has been transformed into a parking lot.


The hike begins on a broad flat between the road and the creek, called Frenchman's Flat (elevation 2100ft). The beginning of Piru Gorge is clearly visible to the west. Drop down onto the flats and follow the trail toward the left side as you enter the gorge. After about half a mile, you will arrive at a narrows where you can clamber over the rocks on the left. Downstream of this is the first rough section with many boulders. This is slow going if you stick by the stream. But you can bypass this difficulty by finding a trail that climbs onto a high bench on the left and takes you well downstream of the rough section. The going is then quite good for the next three miles, though you must wade through the stream in many places. There is a fair use-trail for about 3mi but it begins to peter out before Fish Fork. There are also many good, sandy campsites with fire rings along this first stretch.

About 3.75mi and 2hrs from the start you pass the northernmost point of the hike, a bend with a large gravel flat in the middle of the canyon bottom and a meadow on the right. Shortly downstream of this and about 4mi from the start you encounter the second rough section of large boulders and other obstacles. This is slow going but only about 200yds long. Thereafter, it is only a few hundred yards before you come to the notable junction with Fish Creek entering through cliffs on the right. The junction is marked by a broad shallow pool where the waters of Piru and Fish Creeks merge. It is 5.2mi and 3hr 15min from the start at an elevation of 1630ft. It is a good spot to stop for lunch. While doing so you might enjoy looking a short distance up Fish Creek where there is a campsite equipped with two stone chairs, a stone table and two bottles of vodka!


Last updated 9/9/99.
Christopher E. Brennen