- Total Miles: 3.25
- Time: 1.5 hrs
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
- Best Season: All Year
- Elevation Gain: 1149 ft
- Max Elevation: 2034 ft
- Type of Trail: Out & Back (Small Loop Included)
- Parking Lot: Street Parking
- Dogs: Allowed On A Leash
- Restrooms: Not Available
- Trail Popularity: High
- Pics Taken On: Nov 18, 2023
Sierra Madre has always been one of my favorite go-to foothill towns, but after hiking First Water Via Mt Wilson my appreciation for it significantly increased.
First Water is a hike that begins in the foothills and quickly ascends up the canyon wall before dropping into the canyon in what used to be First Water Camp, a resort that was once located in the shady brook surrounded by green vegetation. There are at least two large waterfalls that can be seen about halfway up the trail to First Water, and the third I managed to capture on the drone, so be sure to check that out later in this post.
Want to explore more LA hikes including abandoned places, huge waterfalls, and amazing views? Check out the link below!
First Water Trail Map
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Parking & Directions
To be redirected to the trailhead via Google Maps, click the following link: First Water Trailhead
Hiking First Water Via Mt Wilson
I began the hike by walking up the street next to Lizzie’s Trail In & The Richardson House, two historical structures in Sierra Madre which are open to the public every Saturday from 10 am to 12 pm.
The actual trailhead, which begins further up the street, is marked by a sign that says Mount Wilson Trail. Hence, the name of the hike.
The trail immediately ascended up the canyon. Thus, offering nice views of the valley below, even for a gloomy day. The Santa Ana Mts and Old Greyback are visible on clear days.
To the east, the Sierra Madre Dam sits at the mouth of the canyon. I was surprised to see so many houses literally right next to the dam, but then again, it was not holding back any water, at least not when I was up there.
The first fork on the trail was an interesting one. The left side takes you to First Water, but I was curious and first wanted to explore the path to the right of the fork.
It took me to a ridge and ended abruptly in an area that was marked as hazardous. On the opposite side of the canyon from where the ridge ended was an enormous waterfall that was almost entirely dry and not worth the detour if you ask me. Remember, stay left to get to First Water.
You can see the waterfall I’m talking about in the image below. You’ll be able to see this waterfall without taking the detour, and if you use your phone to zoom in you’ll be able to see if it’s flowing.
I arrived at the trail’s second fork shortly after the first but stuck to the right instead of left this time. The trail to the left is called Charlie’s New Trail. I took Charlie’s trail on the way back as you’ll see in a bit.
During my visit, I saw a lot of construction equipment temporarily left behind by volunteers, which brought a smile to my face as it meant that people in this area were respectful and didn’t take what didn’t belong to them. Needless to say, there was ZERO trash or graffiti.
Yet another reason why I love Sierra Madre.
After the bridge, I spotted two large waterfalls in the canyon below. The bottom waterfall is curved like a waterslide while the top falls is nearly vertical and slightly larger.
Here’s a shot of the slide looking falls.
Here are two shots of the second waterfall a little further upstream. If I had to estimate, I’d say it’s at least a good 35-40 feet high.
A third waterfall which can’t be seen from the trail is located even further upstream. This one is the least vertical of them all, but nevertheless measures 20 feet in height.
After the waterfalls, I continued up the mountain and reached the second merge between the Mt Wilson Trail and Charlie’s new trail.
Remember this fork because this is where you’ll hop on Charlie’s Trail when returning from First Water.
The last fork takes you down by the stream where First Water Camp was once located.
Although there is no sign of a once lively camp, the sylvan glen is a sight for sore eyes.
Vibrant green vegetation adorns the majority of the landscape as the creek runs through the middle of the canyon, and orange western sycamore leaves pop out among the green backdrop.
Downstream from the glen is a little 5-6 foot waterfall and a rock shelter.
A bench is located upstream and is more than ideal for a quiet reading in the mountains.
According to my favorite author John W. Robinson in his book The San Gabriels, this is where First Water Camp was founded by Lee F. Tigh in 1919. He purchased three cabins and built a store, restaurant, and recreation hall.
Over the years, he continued to add to the camp until he had 23 cabins and could accommodate 100 guests. He sold out in 1928, but other owners ran the camp for an additional decade.
Upstream, the canyon narrows down to about 5 feet, marking the end of the glen. I highly regret not exploring past this section, especially after seeing the myriad of waterfalls throughout the hike.
Remember I mentioned taking Charlie’s trail on the way back? Well, this is where I hopped on the trail.
Charlie’s trail splits off from the Mt Wilson Trail but runs parallel to it for 0.2 miles before descending back down and remerging.
There’s nothing too out of the norm about the trail, but it does provide better views of the valley below, a bench overlooking the ridge, and the dry waterfall across the canyon (the one I recommended not taking the detour for).
Once I merged back onto the Mt Wilson Trail, I headed back exactly the same way until I got to my truck, and that was a wrap. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend hiking First Water. It’s a pleasant hike in a beautiful foothill town.