Aspen Grove Hike
Summary for Aspen Grove Hike
Easy to Moderate
Wonderful hike to the only Aspen Grove in Southern California uses a little-known and thus uncrowded approach up the tranquil alpine canyon of lovely Fish Creek, also thereby avoiding the rough unmaintained road up to the defined trail head.
The Quaking Aspen (Populus Tremoloides) is a uniquely beautiful tree that is common in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They exist in only two locations outside the Sierra Nevada, one of which is right here in our local San Bernardino Mountains. The small oval leaves rustle together – or “quake” – when stirred by wind, thus producing a gentle and soothing natural sound and a striking visual effect even when green. The trees are also world-famous for their stunningly gorgeous coloration when resplendent with fall foliage. The brilliant gold hue with red highlights is breathtaking, and that coloration combined with the quaking of the leaves produces a shimmering effect along with a rather pleasant sound. Our local Aspen Grove is a treasure every Southern Californian should see each year in the fall. Note that timing is critical – the peak coloration lasts for a short time, only 1 or 2 weeks, and varies each year slightly depending on external factors like temperature and rainfall. Normally it’s the first or second week of October though. The Hiker’s Way will publish a blog post each year to let you know when to go!
Note that the hike described here DOES NOT start at the defined Forest Service Aspen Grove Trail head that you will read about everywhere else. A description of that hike can be found here or you can go to or call the Mill Creek Ranger Station. But be forewarned that the rough dirt road to the defined trail head is not a pleasant drive. Also the parking area is small and can be crowded when the foliage is at peak. In addition, even though the main Aspen Grove is only .8 mile from the trail head, many people don’t even see the main grove because there are some much smaller groves and stands of Aspens close to the parking area. It’s also not much of a hike even to the main grove if you start at the defined trail head, although you could extend it either north or south as desired. But the hike described below is a great easy to moderate hike up a particularly lovely shady canyon next to the Fish Creek, and is good for any time of the year, but especially when the Aspens are at peak, which phenomenon offers a dramatic payoff.
Directions to Trailhead for Aspen Grove Hike
Map of Aspen Grove Hike with Downloadable GPX File
Detailed Description for Aspen Grove Hike
Park your car at the dirt area on Highway 38 indicated on the map produced by the directions link above and display your adventure pass. Carefully cross the Highway to the south side and head to the left (east). You will see a dirt road leading down to the river almost directly across from your parking spot.
Do not take this road. Walk past it on the Highway shoulder continuing east about 100 yards and over a culvert/bridge. Just past this culvert you can turn to the right, and looking carefully about 50 feet from the road you will see a use trail heading to the left (east). This trail takes you to a dirt road about 200 yards ahead.
You can also just continue on the Highway another 200 yards or so to the dirt road, on which you will turn right (south). Note that while the use trail mentioned above also takes you to this road the advantage is that you then do not have to walk on the highway. However either way gets you to the same place. The road crosses a stream which flows through a culvert/small bridge. Note that this is actually the Santa Ana River, which in the spring can have a surprising amount of water. You will see a gate on the opposite side that blocks vehicles from entering, but you simply bypass this on either side.
Now you will continue up the rocky unmaintained road. There is a sign near here that reads “Trail” and goes off to the left, but this is not our trail so don’t take it. The next .5 miles or so until you actually get on the maintained Fish Creek Trail can be slightly confusing because there are a couple junctions like the one above with signs, but note that you are in the canyon of Fish Creek now and you want to always be heading up-stream. Fish Creek is to your right now flowing from the South to North. If you have GPS device you can use it with the GPS track in the map above above as well. After another .25 mile or so the road branches to the right. Don’t go this way but stay straight ahead on the rockier segment. You will actually cross Fish Creek once and end up on its right side. There may or may not be water in the stream here late in the dry season, but a bit further up you will find flowing water.
Soon you will come to another junction, but stay straight ahead. Here there is a sign to the right and a sign straight ahead denoting the 2E03 Forest Service Road. Keep straight ahead.
You are on a surprisingly good trail now and will it will be easy to continue ahead to the grove, as there are no more junctions before the Aspen Grove and the trail is very pleasant.
So you can simply enjoy the remainder of this wonderful hike as the trail continues on, crossing the lovely stream several times. This is an especially lovely alpine forested canyon, and even though the trail is excellent and well graded, it is unusual to see people here, so you will likely have it mostly to yourself (at least until you reach the Aspen Grove).
After about 2.5 miles the excitement builds as you encounter your first Quaking Aspens. The main grove is at about 3 miles from the start so press on. You will eventually come to a point where the trail turns away from the creek and up the slope to the left. Soon you will see the glorious Aspen Grove arrayed regally to the right along the creek in the canyon below. It’s a spectacular sight, particularly when the foliage is at peak, but note that it is remarkably beautiful in spring and summer as well. In the winter this area receives substantial snow fall and the grove may be inaccessible unless you are equipped for winter hiking.
There are some great boulders to sit on here as you peruse this magical and remarkably spiritual spot, and its also a good place to eat your lunch. If you are feeling energetic still, note that if you continue up the trail you will encounter a couple smaller Aspen Groves and some other scattered individual trees, and then eventually about .8 miles farther up you will reach the actual Aspen Grove Trail head. Otherwise simple retrace your steps down this wonderful alpine canyon back to your vehicle.
Note the various shades of color the aspens display over the different years portrayed below – but it’s always a beautiful place.
Video of Aspen Grove Hike on 10/16/2010
Here captured at the peak of fall color, the grove displays the spectacular gold and reddish hues for which the species is renowned.
Photo Gallery of Aspen Grove Hike on 10/16/2010
Here captured at the peak of fall color perfection, the grove displays the spectacular gold and reddish hues for which the species is renowned.
Photo Gallery of Aspen Grove Hike on 9/28/2014
Here the Aspens are just starting to turn and thus have not yet attained there full glorious color, but they are still quite beautiful. This gallery contains photos of different parts of the trail as well as the grove itself.
Photo Gallery of Aspen Grove Hike on 10/6/2013
Here the Aspens have turned and are at or close to peak color.
Photo Gallery of Aspen Grove Hike on 10/15/2011
Here the Aspens have turned and are slightly past peak color.