January 28, 2023

Photo Essay: Chasing Millard Falls After a Rainy LA Winter

I can still feel my ankles and legs aching from the short hike to Millard Falls yesterday morning. I'm so out of shape—and in such constant pain—that it's gotten to easy for me to decide to just not hike.
But yesterday, duty called—now that part of my duty is to produce short videos for KCET's SoCal Wanderer show.  

And although I've got plenty of places on my list to cover, the rainy winter we've had here in SoCal made me change my plans—because by all reports, our waterfalls had gotten really spectacular. 
So I got a new Adventure Pass—my first in many, many years—and drove a coworker up Chaney Trail in Altadena, California to reach the Millard Campground and the Millard Falls Trailhead.
I'd taken a hike through Millard Canyon back in May 2012, but it hadn't taken me very deep into the mountains of Angeles National Forest—keeping our group instead closer to the foothills and the Altadena neighborhood below.

That creek that we'd hopped across nearly 11 years ago was, I think, the same as the one that greeted us on yesterday's hike—this time flowing full and gushing and rushing with lots of mini-waterfalls along the way.

Once again, the task was to follow the creek, which took us past some old cabins and lots of old pipes—even a troll door that might house some kind of infrastructure or a mountain devil.

This canyon had once been used for lumber—and it's not too far from Dawn Mine, where gold once extracted from these mountains from 1895 to the 1950s.

But it was also a popular place for picnicking by the stream—an activity that Henry W. Millard, who homesteaded at the mouth of the canyon in 1862, capitalized on by building a toll road and charging for access.

Today, all you need is an Adventure Pass (just $5 for the day or $30 for the year) and a sense of adventure—and, under current conditions, no fear of getting wet.    

Water is running everywhere—tricking down boulders and feeding the stream from seemingly every direction.

And to get to the waterfall at the end of the trail, you must cross the stream—several times, back and forth. Although there are some logs placed at certain crossings, as well as strategically arranged rocks to hop across, I wore boots and socks that I didn't mind getting wet and just sloshed and slogged across, splashing with confidence instead of wobbling with the fear of falling.

Millard Canyon may be wetter now than it usually is, but it's long been a bountiful source of water—giving rise to the Millard Canyon Water Company in the second half of the 19th century. In 1896, the Lincoln Avenue Water Company acquired MCWC but stopped drilling water from its wells after contaminants were discovered in the 1980s (probably because of how close the site is to JPL).

It's less than a mile to get to our destination—but the more than ankle-deep water and all the rock scrambling meant that it took us a little more than an hour to get there. (Plus, we were shooting photos and video.) The payoff? A 50-foot waterfall in a grotto with lots of water flowing.

One of the features that sets it apart from other local waterfalls is a huge boulder that's jammed into the space at the top of the waterfall, which seems to give the flow a little extra oomph as it spits out of the top.  

There's something peaceful in the roar of the waterfall, which drowns out all conversation and deafens your worrying thoughts. 

It's particularly special to experience Millard Falls now, not just because of the rains—but also because the site was closed from 2009 to 2015 due to damage from the 2009 Station Fire (which also closed the Dawn Mine site, Angeles Crest Highway, and large swaths of Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains).

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