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As spring arrives in Southern California, the weather becomes even more beautiful and the varied landscape beckons, inspiring one of my favorite pastimes – the weekend drive. With this in mind, I recently took my Jeep to one of my favorite local spots for a Sunday adventure. I drove up to Azusa Canyon, where I played in mountains, mud and streams.
Located a dozen miles above the city of Azusa, in the San Gabriel Mountains, Azusa Canyon is a natural playground with everything a four-wheel drive vehicle or any outdoor-lover could want.
The adventure into the canyon begins with a picturesque drive up Highway 39 (Azusa Avenue). This panoramic road cuts through rugged peaks and offers great vistas of two reservoirs (Morris and San Gabriel) as well as the ancient San Gabriel River snaking below.
There are scores of great spots to turn-in for viewing along the highway, but all stopped vehicles must display a $5 Adventure Pass, which can be purchased at ranger stations and at select stores before you enter the canyon.
The winding, climbing road was perfect for testing my Jeep’s power and handling. I followed it until I reached East Fork Bridge, where I turned right and headed for Camp Williams Resort for lunch.
Nestled in the wilderness along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, Camp Williams features 30 campsites, as well as a number of full hook-up RV sites. There is even a charming Hobbit House that sleeps four. The camp offers showers, restrooms and drinking and cooking water for renters. Activities include mountain biking, hiking, fishing for trout and gold panning in the once-rich stream.
The location also boasts Camp Williams Café and General Store, a charming, old-fashioned establishment with food, fishing supplies and camping necessities. They also sell the Adventure Pass. While here, I sat outside and enjoyed a tasty club sandwich, fries and a coke, along with a spectacular view of the mountains and people fishing in a trout-filled stream below.
After lunch I drove back over the East Fork Bridge, turned right and rolled into the San Gabriel Canyon Off-Road Area, the largest mud pit in Southern California. The cost is $8 to enter and all vehicles must be four-wheel drive and legally registered to enter. Driving minors must be accompanied by an adult and pass a driving safety test.
Once inside the 160-acre park, I carefully cruised around the sandy river bed, trying to act cool and not get my truck too dirty without letting other drivers know this was my first time actually driving off-road. As I meandered over rough terrain, I watched more experienced drivers tackle mud pits, sand dunes and large rock configurations.
A stream from the San Gabriel River also runs through the area, but because of an endangered fish, the Santa Ana Sucker, drivers cannot play in the water. They can only cross it at 90-degree angles.
For more information on visiting Azusa Canyon, call the San Gabriel River Ranger at (626) 335-1251. The off-road area can be reached at (626) 910-1235. For info on visiting Camp Williams, call (626) 910-1126 or visit www.campatwilliams.com.
-Photo and story by Greg Aragon