Shoemaker Canyon Road: LA’s Nuclear Escape Tunnels

Nov 17, 2021

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Distance 

5 Miles

Time

~2.5 Hrs

Difficulty

Easy-Moderate

Season

Fall, Winter, Spring

Elevation Gain

1,404 Ft

Did you know LA has two abandoned tunnels that were built in order to escape nuclear attacks during the Cold War? You don’t want to miss walking through the deserted Shoemaker Canyon Road, also known as Road to Nowhere. Plus, I have two more secret tunnels that I found along this trail!

Shoemaker Canyon Road, located near Azusa, CA, is a 5-mile hike that features two long tunnels. It’s moderately trafficked and is rated as a moderately difficult hike with an elevation gain of 1,404 feet. Dogs are allowed on leashes and there are no restrooms.

 

Map of Shoemaker Canyon Hike

 

Directions & Parking

Shoemaker Canyon Road Directions: Shoemaker Viewpoint Day Use Area, Shoemaker Canyon Rd, Azusa, CA 9170

I came to Shoemaker Canyon Road in late February. If you plan on exploring these epic ruins, you’ll want to come in the early spring, fall, or winter months.

Hiking this trail in the summer will be agonizingly hot and sunny, especially since there’s hardly any shade. So, plan your trip accordingly! 

 

Gear I Used on This Hike

Nalgene Tritan BPA-Free Wide-Mouth Water Bottle

I prefer this 48 oz (1.4 liter) water bottle over a hydration bladder for several reasons: it leaves more room inside my backpack, it’s way easier to clean, and no leaky messes.

VIEW HERE

Merrel Moab 2 Vent Mid HIking Boots

These are the BEST hiking boots I’ve ever owned. They’re super light, highly ventilated for CA’s hot weather, and provide tons of traction.

outdoors men click HERE outdoors women click HERE

The products shown above are products I actually use. If you happen to purchase those products after clicking my link, we receive a small Amazon commission, which in turn helps us provide better and more fun content for you guys. 🙂

The Trail

 

Starting off at the parking lot, I made my way around the gates. This is where the trailhead begins. 

Looking over my right-hand side, I could see the parking lot of a popular hike known as the Bridge to Nowhere. That’ll be another adventure for another day. 

The view here is really nice, too!

First Tunnel (Hidden)

 

I wanted to venture off a bit since I knew there was a hidden tunnel near the parking lot of Shoemaker Canyon. 

To get to this first secret tunnel, you’ll need to spot the area where there are tons of small piles of dirt. It’ll be on your left-hand side towards the beginning of the hike. It’s well before the first main tunnel. 

This tunnel is hidden by shrubbery, so just look for these short stone walls towards the bottom ditch. 

This is how the entrance looks. 

I got my flashlight out and ventured inside. 

I got a pretty cool view of the canyon and hills. You’ve got to go inside and take a look for yourself!

Second Tunnel

After that first hidden tunnel, I continued making my way to the first “main” tunnel. 

Off to the side, I could see this enclosed area where they used to have tons of beehives a few years back. There’s also another beehive area along the trail. 

It seems like the beehive farming days are over. 

Further up, I could see the first main tunnel. This one was completed in 1961 and goes in about 400 yards. 

Although it’s been vandalized with graffiti, it’s still very intriguing to walk through this dark tunnel.

You can bring out your flashlight if you’d like since you do have to walk for a bit. But, I found it to be more exciting venturing into the unknown. 

A light at the end of the tunnel. 

Down the road, after crossing through the tunnel, I looked to my side and could spot it from afar.

In my opinion, this is one of the coolest views of this trail. You get to see the sun illuminate the canyon and trees all while spotting a dark tunnel nestled in the mountain.

It looks beautiful, yet eerie.

 

Third Tunnel (Hidden)

 

To get to the second tunnel, I decided to go completely off-trail to see what I could find. 

First, I spotted a water tank uphill. You won’t miss it, as it’s now covered in graffiti. However, don’t actually walk to the water tank. The tunnel is in the field below it. 

I made my way down through the purple-colored shrubbery. The tunnel is located right below the Shoemaker Canyon Trail, hidden by greenery. Walking through this wide and open area, I heard water flowing from a small creek. 

Here was the second hidden tunnel!

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit scared to walk inside. I didn’t know who or what would be awaiting me. 

You’ll want to take out your flashlight, like I did, just in case.

It’s a pretty short tunnel that leads to another view of the area. 

No bears or ghouls here. Just views!

Fourth Tunnel

 

Back on the main trail,  I headed to the second main tunnel. 

This second tunnel was completed in 1964 and is about half the length of the first tunnel. At 250 yards long, it’s more well kept and less vandalized than the first one. 

In case you’re wondering, the trail continues to Rattlesnake Peak. But, I decided I’d leave that trail for another day. This was the end of the tunnel and my journey. 

Another interesting and thrilling hike within the San Gabriel Mountains!

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History of Shoemaker Canyon Road

Shoemaker Canyon Road was named after a man named Alonzo Shoemaker. Shoemaker was a miner back in 1855. He ended up making his way into this side of the San Gabriel Canyon, where he developed his claim in the upper part. 

He and his mining partner, John McCaslin, worked on the Shoemaker mine for many years. Later, in 1890, four skilled miners began working at the Shoemaker Mine where they installed a hydraulic jet system for mining.

Throughout the decade, there was a coming and going of miners. Then, the Standbergs came into the canyon in 1903. E.C. Standberg was one of the best miners in the entire area during this time. Later, in the 1930s, he and his two sons decided to continue digging in the Shoemaker Claim for some years.

A Cold War Scare 

In the 1950s and ’60s, Cold War-era leaders felt it was necessary to build an escape route for fellow Angelinos to escape through. With rumors and fear circling, they began construction in 1956. 

They finished building the first tunnel in 1961 and then the second tunnel in 1964. The plan was to have the tunnels extend all the way to Nevada. But, after only 4.4 miles of work, construction ceased in 1969. 

It’s a very crazy story, indeed. Now the tunnels sit in between the canyon walls, forsaken, only to be traveled by curious cats and adventure seekers like you and me.

Look Out for These Plants!

California Dodder

I spotted lots of California Dodder throughout the trail. This plant species is actually a parasite! They often cover plants like buckwheat and black sage.

Unlike most parasites, these don’t actually kill their host species. They just coexist with one another.

Hoaryleaf Ceanothus

The Hoaryleaf Ceanothus grows all throughout SoCal and even reaching Baja California. These small white flowering shrubs grow in bunches and have fuzzy undersides.

They’re drought-resistant and bloom in the spring and winter months.

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We’re Monica and Phillip. Just like you, we share a passion for the outdoors and our beautiful state of California. After many years of exploring amazing and hidden places, we thought we’d share them with you! We hope this blog shows you tons of new CA adventures!

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