Castaic Potential Wilderness (Fish Trail)
Features: Fish Canyon is part of the nearly 70,000 acre potential Castaic Wilderness, which stretches down from Liebre and Sawmill Mountains to the rugged canyons of Castaic Creek and Fish Canyon in northern Los Angeles County. The forested upper ridges support rare California spotted owl and one of the most diverse oak forests in southern California. The creeks are home to many sensitive and endangered wildlife and fish species, including California red-legged frog, arroyo toad, foothill yellow-legged frog, and the unarmored three-spine stickleback (a native fish).
The least Bell’s vireo, southwestern willow fly-catcher, and other rare birds frequent the stream-side habitat, while the endangered California condor soars over the ridges. This area has some of the highest density and variety of Native American heritage values on the Angeles National Forest. Because of these outstanding natural and cultural values, the Forest Service recently recommended Wilderness protection for much of this area. Visiting Fish Canyon requires hiking on a former road closed to motor vehicles for three miles and a single-track trail for about a mile to the Piano Box, a narrow rocky and scenic gorge. The road/trail crosses the creek several times, so be prepared for some rock hopping or wading, and avoid this hike during heavy rains. Trails all but disappear above Piano Box, but experienced wilderness explorers may trek across country to Red Rock Mountain, a spectacular geological formation that dominates the surrounding wild lands (this is not recommended for the novice or faint of heart). The best hiking season is spring/early summer and late fall.
Directions: This outstanding wild area in the northern Angeles National Forest is just an hour from downtown Los Angeles. To get to the trailhead, drive north on Interstate 5 past Santa Clarita and Castaic. Take the Old Templin Highway Exit, turn right and drive about 7 miles northeast to the locked gate, park alongside the road. Proceed down the road to the Castaic Creek crossing and continue on the road to the old Fish Canyon Road turn off (on the left, about a mile from the gate). From there, it is about 2 miles to the former Cienaga Campground and another mile to the Piano Box gorge. The round trip hike is approximately 8 miles.
For current road and trail conditions, contact the Forest Service at the Santa Clara/Mojave Rivers Ranger Station at (661) 296-9710. Be sure to purchase an Adventure Pass for trailhead parking. Always hike with a friend and leave word concerning your hiking plans, destination, and return time. Maps: San Gabriel Mountains Recreation Map (Wilderness Press, 2005). Angeles National Forest Recreation Map (USDA Forest Service, 2008). USGS 7.5 minute topographic quad maps: Whittaker Peak, Liebre Mountain, & Burnt Peak.
Caution: Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.