Hiking the Devil's Punchbowl in Los Angeles County

Updated on October 3, 2018
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Susette has a Masters degree in Sustainable Development. She leads her local Green Council and writes for The Sustainable Business Review.

The Devil's Punchbowl is one of my favorite hiking areas. I've hiked there several times a year since 1999 and have taken lots of photographs. The geology of the area makes it extra interesting. Did you know that the San Gabriel Mountains, where the Punchbowl is located, are actually the edges of two tectonic plates pushing up against each other? Did you also know that these mountains, from base to top, are some of the highest in the world? It's a great idea to research before going, or to take one of the geology hikes offered by Punchbowl guides.

Although there are trails to follow, many hikers prefer the challenge of climbing the rocks.
Although there are trails to follow, many hikers prefer the challenge of climbing the rocks. | Source

Geologically, the area is called a "syncline"––a fold in the earth. The fold resulted from the edge of two of the earth's tectonic plates pushing against each other as they slipped by over the millennia––the North American Plate heading slowly southwest, the Pacific Plate heading slowly northeast.

The movements of the tectonic plates shoved up what was once horizontal layers of sandstone and sedimentary deposits until they were almost vertical. These are the rocks you see pictured above and in the photo collection below. When you're hiking there, it's amazing to see the colors in the rocks and imagine how those layers used to be flat. The earth has to be really powerful to push against itself like that.

The Devil’s Punchbowl is a unique 1,310 acre geological wonder where visitors can walk, hike or take a horseback ride on a 7.5 mile round-trip trail through a deep canyon formed by the runoff of large quantities of water from the higher San Gabriel Mountains. ––LA County Parks Dept.

Punchbowl Canyon is 300 feet deep, as measured from the vista point near the Punchbowl entrance. It lies in the middle of two major fault lines––on the west, the Punchbowl Fault running north/southwest; on the east, the San Andreas Fault running north/southwest. Sections of the San Andreas Fault are still active earthquake zones.

Inside the canyon there are several minor fault lines as well––the Pinyon Fault, Fenner Fault, and the Cocktail Fault, among others. You can tell where each of these faults are located by looking at the colors and shapes of the various sedimentary layers throughout the canyon.

Devil's Punchbowl panorama, looking southeast. The Pinyon Earthquake Fault lies to the left. The Punchbowl Fault is on the right - note the different thrust to the cliffs. The San Andreas Fault is through the V between the furthest mountains.
Devil's Punchbowl panorama, looking southeast. The Pinyon Earthquake Fault lies to the left. The Punchbowl Fault is on the right - note the different thrust to the cliffs. The San Andreas Fault is through the V between the furthest mountains. | Source

Punchbowl Creek

At the bottom of the canyon runs Punchbowl Creek, the ultimate destination of most family hikers. This part time creek is the only water left from thousands of years of water erosion, where falling rain dug vertical gouges and ravines out of the mountains as it flowed down their sides.

Punchbowl Creek starts from a waterfall about a mile up that looks like it's coming out of a rocky pipe. When the flow hits the stream bed five or six feet below, it trickles down the creek over rocks and sand for several miles beyond the canyon, then disappears into the desert.

How Water Erosion Works

This video shows the process of water erosion. Imagine the mountains in the photo above being eroded in this way every time it rains or snows.

Tours & Activities

The park is open from 9:00-5:00 every day except Monday, when it's closed. Trails start at the entrance to the park, where you'll find a small nature center and bird sanctuary. Here you can talk to a forest ranger or other attendant and pick up trail maps. The forest ranger knows about animals and plants found in the area, and also about the canyon's geology.

The nature center contains exhibits of live and dead snakes, lizards, birds, and other fauna. The bird sanctuary is a caged area where wounded birds are kept safe until they heal, or kept permanently if they are not able to fly anymore.

You can also pick up a schedule of events, if you're interested in guided tours or activities. I've seen novice rock climbers practicing on some of the vertical rock faces, and school kids and scouts touring the area, with a guide explaining its history. The park provides geology tours, nighttime stargazing tours, and full moon tours.

Driving into the Devil's Punchbowl unguarded parking lot. There is no entrance fee.
Driving into the Devil's Punchbowl unguarded parking lot. There is no entrance fee. | Source
The Nature Center is on the left of the entrance, the bird sanctuary on the right.
The Nature Center is on the left of the entrance, the bird sanctuary on the right. | Source
Display cases inside the Nature Center show small animals, reptiles, birds, and live snakes.
Display cases inside the Nature Center show small animals, reptiles, birds, and live snakes. | Source
The bird sanctuary is just big enough to hold two or three wounded birds - mainly owls.
The bird sanctuary is just big enough to hold two or three wounded birds - mainly owls. | Source
Looking over the Punchbowl from the back deck of the sanctuary.
Looking over the Punchbowl from the back deck of the sanctuary. | Source

Devil's Punchbowl Trails

There are several hiking trails in the Punchbowl, some mapped and some not:

  1. The Pinon trail is a short loop trail that stays on the upper level. It's located to the left of the main trail, and is used to demonstrate some of the plants found there.
  2. Non-strenuous hikers can take the main trail down a short grade, fork off to the right to trail the canyon halfway up, then circle back to the entrance. In the photo collection below, I call this the middle trail.
  3. The steepest trail (main trail) goes all the way down the canyon to the creek bed 300 feet below. There it follows the creek to its head, past vertical rocks where students learn to rock climb, and curves back up with a steep climb to the top trail, which takes you back to the entrance.
  4. The longest trail is 4.5 miles and goes in a different direction. It heads across the top of the canyon a ways before dipping down into it and then up again, ending at a natural rock formation called Devil's Chair, from which you can see the entire Punchbowl.
  5. The one I like to follow is unmapped, which probably means it's not really a trail. It goes up the hill on the other side of the creek bed, and down again to a smaller creek where hardly anybody goes. You can follow the creek around to the left as it winds around a hill, until joining the main creek below the canyon. Or you can climb up rocks to the top of the hills overlooking the main creek bed and make your way back to the entrance from there.

Check out the photographs following the map below. They will show you several views of the main trail, the creek bed, and a couple of minor trails.

Trail Map

Map of three of the trails described above. The middle trail is not marked.
Map of three of the trails described above. The middle trail is not marked. | Source

Main Trail to Punchbowl Creek

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The trail starts out fairly easy, steepening as it goes along, until it reaches the streambed 300 ft. below. Click on the mini-photos above to enlarge them.A friend and me (right) before starting down the trail. The mountains in the background are 8,000 ft. high.Although we don't get to it until later in the hike, this is the "tiny" rock you see near the bottom of my friend's jacket. You're looking at it from 15 feet above.View from in back of the bird sanctuary near the photo above. Cliffs were originally formed from sedimentary layers deposited by water.Trailside cholla cactus in the sun.These rock cliffs off to the left of the trail, topped by pine trees, were pushed up by the Pinyon Fault in the opposite direction from the rest of the canyon.Trail becoming steeper and switchbacking, bank supports leaning over time.Approaching one my favorite rocks.I call it the body rock, although it's way bigger than an actual body.The jumble of boulders beyond the body rock.The trail in one of its easy stages.I think this is deerweed.These steps are one of the steepest parts of the trail.Some of these rocks have tops that look like trails. Actually, they're thin on top and can be balanced on, if careful, until they end.The creek at the bottom as it cascades over a small waterfall (left of photo).This creek does not get as full as it used to. The snow pack has been low for the last several years.Creek water is cool and refreshing - safe to drink and refill your water bottle.
The trail starts out fairly easy, steepening as it goes along, until it reaches the streambed 300 ft. below. Click on the mini-photos above to enlarge them.
The trail starts out fairly easy, steepening as it goes along, until it reaches the streambed 300 ft. below. Click on the mini-photos above to enlarge them. | Source
A friend and me (right) before starting down the trail. The mountains in the background are 8,000 ft. high.
A friend and me (right) before starting down the trail. The mountains in the background are 8,000 ft. high. | Source
Although we don't get to it until later in the hike, this is the "tiny" rock you see near the bottom of my friend's jacket. You're looking at it from 15 feet above.
Although we don't get to it until later in the hike, this is the "tiny" rock you see near the bottom of my friend's jacket. You're looking at it from 15 feet above. | Source
View from in back of the bird sanctuary near the photo above. Cliffs were originally formed from sedimentary layers deposited by water.
View from in back of the bird sanctuary near the photo above. Cliffs were originally formed from sedimentary layers deposited by water. | Source
Trailside cholla cactus in the sun.
Trailside cholla cactus in the sun. | Source
These rock cliffs off to the left of the trail, topped by pine trees, were pushed up by the Pinyon Fault in the opposite direction from the rest of the canyon.
These rock cliffs off to the left of the trail, topped by pine trees, were pushed up by the Pinyon Fault in the opposite direction from the rest of the canyon. | Source
Trail becoming steeper and switchbacking, bank supports leaning over time.
Trail becoming steeper and switchbacking, bank supports leaning over time. | Source
Approaching one my favorite rocks.
Approaching one my favorite rocks. | Source
I call it the body rock, although it's way bigger than an actual body.
I call it the body rock, although it's way bigger than an actual body. | Source
The jumble of boulders beyond the body rock.
The jumble of boulders beyond the body rock. | Source
The trail in one of its easy stages.
The trail in one of its easy stages. | Source
I think this is deerweed.
I think this is deerweed. | Source
These steps are one of the steepest parts of the trail.
These steps are one of the steepest parts of the trail. | Source
Some of these rocks have tops that look like trails. Actually, they're thin on top and can be balanced on, if careful, until they end.
Some of these rocks have tops that look like trails. Actually, they're thin on top and can be balanced on, if careful, until they end. | Source
The creek at the bottom as it cascades over a small waterfall (left of photo).
The creek at the bottom as it cascades over a small waterfall (left of photo). | Source
This creek does not get as full as it used to. The snow pack has been low for the last several years.
This creek does not get as full as it used to. The snow pack has been low for the last several years. | Source
Creek water is cool and refreshing - safe to drink and refill your water bottle.
Creek water is cool and refreshing - safe to drink and refill your water bottle. | Source

Stream Bed & Secondary Trails

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Attractive brush lines the trails and streambed.The smooth, water-worn rocks near the bottom of the stream. You can really see the wear when there is no water.Same creek bed without water. This is how it is during summer, fall, and the first part of winter these days.The end result of lack of water - death to the snakes.Skirting rocks along the bottom creekbed trail. Heading toward the head of the stream, about to ascend again.Near the head of the stream. Note the sparse snow on the mountaintops behind.Kids playing in the dry streambed.Rocks alongside the middle trail. The less intrepid hikers usually take the middle trail, instead of going all the way down.Brush often hides the terrain along the middle trail.Beautiful manzanita, with its red and white bark.Looking down from the middle trail at rock groupings below.Looking backward on the middle trail, as it's about to curve around and up to the upper trail.From the upper trail, watching kids playing on the rocks halfway up the canyon.From the upper trail, note where my finger points down. Those little holes in the cliffs are big enough for rock climbers to sit inside. The faint line of holes going up on the right is their ascension "trail."These cliffs were thrust upward by the Punchbowl Fault off the right edge of the canyon. They lean inward in the opposite direction from the Pinyon Fault cliffs.Balanced atop the bottom cliff is a "small" boulder about 8 ft. high.Sturdy rock benches are scattered along the upper trail on both sides of the Nature Center for resting and viewing.My friend's husband looking over the right side of the canyon from the upper trail, 300 ft. above the streambed. The rock climbers' cliff is on his left out of view.
Attractive brush lines the trails and streambed.
Attractive brush lines the trails and streambed. | Source
The smooth, water-worn rocks near the bottom of the stream. You can really see the wear when there is no water.
The smooth, water-worn rocks near the bottom of the stream. You can really see the wear when there is no water. | Source
Same creek bed without water. This is how it is during summer, fall, and the first part of winter these days.
Same creek bed without water. This is how it is during summer, fall, and the first part of winter these days. | Source
The end result of lack of water - death to the snakes.
The end result of lack of water - death to the snakes. | Source
Skirting rocks along the bottom creekbed trail. Heading toward the head of the stream, about to ascend again.
Skirting rocks along the bottom creekbed trail. Heading toward the head of the stream, about to ascend again. | Source
Near the head of the stream. Note the sparse snow on the mountaintops behind.
Near the head of the stream. Note the sparse snow on the mountaintops behind. | Source
Kids playing in the dry streambed.
Kids playing in the dry streambed. | Source
Rocks alongside the middle trail. The less intrepid hikers usually take the middle trail, instead of going all the way down.
Rocks alongside the middle trail. The less intrepid hikers usually take the middle trail, instead of going all the way down. | Source
Brush often hides the terrain along the middle trail.
Brush often hides the terrain along the middle trail. | Source
Beautiful manzanita, with its red and white bark.
Beautiful manzanita, with its red and white bark. | Source
Looking down from the middle trail at rock groupings below.
Looking down from the middle trail at rock groupings below. | Source
Looking backward on the middle trail, as it's about to curve around and up to the upper trail.
Looking backward on the middle trail, as it's about to curve around and up to the upper trail. | Source
From the upper trail, watching kids playing on the rocks halfway up the canyon.
From the upper trail, watching kids playing on the rocks halfway up the canyon. | Source
From the upper trail, note where my finger points down. Those little holes in the cliffs are big enough for rock climbers to sit inside. The faint line of holes going up on the right is their ascension "trail."
From the upper trail, note where my finger points down. Those little holes in the cliffs are big enough for rock climbers to sit inside. The faint line of holes going up on the right is their ascension "trail." | Source
These cliffs were thrust upward by the Punchbowl Fault off the right edge of the canyon. They lean inward in the opposite direction from the Pinyon Fault cliffs.
These cliffs were thrust upward by the Punchbowl Fault off the right edge of the canyon. They lean inward in the opposite direction from the Pinyon Fault cliffs. | Source
Balanced atop the bottom cliff is a "small" boulder about 8 ft. high.
Balanced atop the bottom cliff is a "small" boulder about 8 ft. high. | Source
Sturdy rock benches are scattered along the upper trail on both sides of the Nature Center for resting and viewing.
Sturdy rock benches are scattered along the upper trail on both sides of the Nature Center for resting and viewing. | Source
My friend's husband looking over the right side of the canyon from the upper trail, 300 ft. above the streambed. The rock climbers' cliff is on his left out of view.
My friend's husband looking over the right side of the canyon from the upper trail, 300 ft. above the streambed. The rock climbers' cliff is on his left out of view. | Source

Hiking Trail Tips & Etiquette

All kinds of people hike at the Devil's Punchbowl––individuals, families, scouting troops, college geology classes, astronomy enthusiasts, and rock climbers. Many hikers bring dogs. I go to photograph. No food is allowed inside, nor is smoking, since the area is filled with chaparral, (which is highly flammable) but there are picnic tables at the entrance.

Here are some tips for hiking along these trails that make the experience better for all hikers:

  • Go on a weekday, if you can. The trails get crowded during the weekends. Also, the best time of year to hike is late winter through early summer. After that the creek dries out.
  • Keep loud talking and yelling to a minimum. Instead, enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, sounds of birds, and the beauty of being outside in a majestic place.
  • Pass single file when encountering other hikers. Greet them and keep your dogs and kids under control.
  • Bring a fanny pack or other bag to keep trash in. Dumping it by the side of the trail or in the creek bed is plain discourteous. My fanny pack has three pockets in which I carry my wallet (with ID), a compass, lip balm, a pen/paper, an energy bar, and trash. It also has a water bottle, which I love to fill with fresh creek water.
  • Bring your camera in a padded case with a strap that will let you hang it from one shoulder and across your chest. I never go hiking without mine. I also bought an extra battery, which I use all the time, and a larger picture card.
  • Take care of sanitary needs before you go down. There are no facilities on the trails. Look near the entrance, behind the Nature Center, for the small buildings housing pit toilets.

Be courteous of other hikers. Some may not be as agile as you are.
Be courteous of other hikers. Some may not be as agile as you are. | Source

Location of the Devils' Punchbowl

Devil's Punchbowl is a designated nature park run by the Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation Department. It is located in the mountains that frame the Antelope Valley, near Littlerock and Pearblossom, on the opposite side of the San Gabriel Mountains from Pasadena and Azusa. It takes about an hour and a half to drive there from downtown Los Angeles.

A
28000 Devils Punchbowl Rd. Pearblossom Ca. 93553:
28000 Devils Punch Bowl Rd, Angeles National Forest, Pearblossom, CA 93553, USA

get directions

Eating After Hiking the Punchbowl

I'm always hungry after a day of hiking. If you are too, be sure to stop by Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock on your way out. They have a great market with local fruits and vegetables, lots of tourist items, and a little sit-down restaurant that offers buffalo burgers and great shakes (among other things). Check the map above for the Punchbowl's location and enjoy your hike!

Normally I don't like glitchy tourist spots, but this one I do. Nearly all the foods are local, I've bought house décor here, and it's a nice ritual to stop for a buffalo burger after a hike.
Normally I don't like glitchy tourist spots, but this one I do. Nearly all the foods are local, I've bought house décor here, and it's a nice ritual to stop for a buffalo burger after a hike. | Source

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • Armchair Builder profile image

        Michael Luckado 

        5 years ago from Hawaii

        Thanks for all the detail. My wife and I love to hike...will have to check this one out!

      • tirelesstraveler profile image

        Judy Specht 

        5 years ago from California

        Hiking is so amazing.

        We are doing the Jingle Bell run in Pacific Grove this weekend, so my hiking will be along the ocean.

      • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

        watergeek 

        5 years ago from Pasadena CA

        Thanks all, and thanks for the link tirelesstraveler. Om, my hiking shoes are coming out this weekend. :)

      • tirelesstraveler profile image

        Judy Specht 

        5 years ago from California

        Lovely hub. I am going to link to my hub on Pinnacles. Love the bit on hiking etiquette. Up Interesting, beautiful and useful is my vote for your hub.

      • Om Paramapoonya profile image

        Om Paramapoonya 

        5 years ago

        Well-done! Your wonderful review and photos really made my feet itch for my hiking shoes. Rated up and awesome!

      • girishpuri profile image

        Girish puri 

        5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

        What a lovely place to hike, i enjoyed your hub with beautiful pics, awesome hub.

      • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

        watergeek 

        5 years ago from Pasadena CA

        lol. Yes, sorry sgiguere. It's northeast of Los Angeles - a little far for you ;) But I'm sure you have really great scenery where you are too, scenery I'm missing by being here. All the photographic possibilities in this world just make me salivate :D

      • sgiguere profile image

        Stephanie Giguere 

        5 years ago from Marlborough MA

        Beautiful photos! Your Hub makes me want to visit the Devil's Punchbowl, but I'm assuming it's out in the CA area? That would be a bit of a drive from the East Coast...

      • profile image

        Juneaukid 

        5 years ago

        Very informative and interesting--one of these days I may just take one of those trails.

      • carol7777 profile image

        carol stanley 

        5 years ago from Arizona

        Great information about hiking trails. And I am looking forward to a buffalo burger...never had one. Wonderful photos.

      • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

        watergeek 

        5 years ago from Pasadena CA

        Thanks all. The Punchbowl is one of those places where you can take photos any time of the day and/or year and they'll all be different.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Great review! I've never even heard of it. Looks like a great hike and the pictures are great!

      • Mhatter99 profile image

        Martin Kloess 

        5 years ago from San Francisco

        Thank you for the tour, tips and wonderful pictures.

      • Adventure Colorad profile image

        Adventure Colorad 

        5 years ago from Denver,CO

        Looks like a great place to hike! I like finding those areas that feel remote even though they aren't too far from the city.

      • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

        watergeek 

        5 years ago from Pasadena CA

        Once when I was hiking here I pretended I was a Native American hiding from another tribe. (I know, I'm an adult, but it's still fun to play when no one knows you're doing it.) I found some really cool caves that aren't readily noticeable, and could easily see how a tribe could survive in the canyon. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • leahlefler profile image

        Leah Lefler 

        5 years ago from Western New York

        What a gorgeous place to hike! I used to hike along the coast in Ventura County, but never made it inland to hike in the San Gabriel Mountains.

      • GusTheRedneck profile image

        Gustave Kilthau 

        5 years ago from USA

        Hi watergeek - Good writeup here and very enjoyable photos. Thanks.

        Gus :-)))

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