Fish Fork

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Fish Fork Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
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Difficulty:3C1 V R (v5a4 V)
Raps:‌11, max ↨90ft
Overall:19h-3 days
Red Tape:No permit required
Shuttle:Required 120 min
Condition Reports:
30 Sep 2021

"Super gorgeous canyon. The approach was a bit longer than imagined. Came in from inspiration point..we kinda ditched the trail up at the ridge and jus

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Fish Fork is probably the best overall canyon experience in the San Gabriel Mountains, if such a concept has any merit. It's like expedition-size Eaton Canyon with no trash, clean delicious water, awesome views, really cool rappels and swims, a hydraulic on the 'crux' rappel, a decent hike in and an often involving hike out.

If done as a car shuttle, a fast team could complete it within 15hrs, though that number could be trimmed down substantially if the party moved quickly. The average time with a car shuttle is probably 1.5-2 days. It's worth going slow and enjoying this canyon, as it's really beautiful, and some portions are long so a nice dinner and bed always help.

If done as a loop starting near Columbine Spring, a team could probably manage about 15hrs. The loop consists of going from near Columbine Spring/Lupine Campground, south to Fish Fork, down Fish Fork, north up East Fork, and finally east up Prairie Fork. I do not advise doing Prairie Fork at night, at least not the first time. It can involve challenging routefinding that can make several hours difference.


The approach is pretty easy to follow until you start dropping into Fish Fork. You will probably want a GPS with a track of the 'trail' for this section. Study the approach well before you ever drive out there.

The hike starts easy by Columbine Spring, going up a fire road to the top of the ridge. Head north along the top of the ridge and you'll eventually come to a trail that goes right/southeast. There should be a sign here that has 'Fish Fork Trail' on it. Follow this trail down into Fish Fork, always making sure to keep your eyes on the map or GPS. It gets a little tricky close to first water, nothing you can't handle though champ!

There has also been trips done from Manker Flats to MtBaldy, using a car shuttle(easiest on the car route), that puts 3900ft of elevation gain into the approach with no exit elevation gain.

Another option thats been done is from Blue Ridge road, taking the steep Northern Backbone trail to Pine Mountain for 1300 ft of elevation gain. For the full route, travel down Pine's SW ridge on its natural path exclusively. The SW ridge splits into 2(transparently so) and continue on the same ridge to subpeak 7917. Downhill from the ridge (south and a little west) of this is a cliff section that marks the eastern boundary of drop-inability. Since its not viewable from the ridge, theres no harm in continuing down the ridge, but at elevation 7300 you are approaching the western boundary of sight driven drop-inability. Landmarks on the dropin are staying to the right of Baldy's north face ravine and left of San Antonio ridge's tributary to Fish Fork, and the creek elevation is visible from the top. There is no water along this approach option, with a suggested time frame of 2-3.5 hours from trailhead. Like the Manker approach, Pine Mountain can be climbed safely in the dark with flashlight, contrasted to the neglected Lupine approach fighting for every yard past Pine Mountain ridge.


The descent starts off rather laid-back with some creek walking. The first rappel is completely dry, though it's worth walking around in the shallow pool and checking out your surroundings. There are a couple of narrow sections up ahead. Nothing technical, just real pretty. The next rappel takes you down a cool cascading section with some interesting movement.

Then you'll come to a section that changes yearly. There's a huge chockstone up in the canyon above you as you rappel down into either 6 inches of water, or a raging torrent where you can't touch the bottom. Send a solid swimmer without a pack down first! A guided rappel is an excellent idea here, and is the choice I would take on a multiday descent.

Some smaller rappels might be necessary between here and the next major obstacle, the longest rapp. Send your strongest swimmer down this first as well without a pack. He or she will probably need to assist others as there is a strong current at the bottom of this awesome waterfall. It is easy to get sucked into the falls. There is one short rappel immediately after the 'crux', with another shortly after that which can be easily avoided with a downclimb canyon left.

Several more rappels remain, and a LOT of walking. I suggest some comfy light shoes with sticky rubber (think Five Ten Guide Tennie), as you'll want the extra grip when hiking in knee-deep water on slippery stones for a very long time.

Once you come to the confluence with East Fork, it's time for the next wonderful part of your journey, the part where you start going home!


Now you're at the confluence with East Fork. That was pretty cool, huh? Now you'll have to make it back to your vehicle. You'll have plenty of time to reflect on the canyon and your experiences regardless of whether you head north or south. If you're doing a car shuttle from Heaton Flat, you'll have less work ahead of you as well as an excellent trail to follow.

Red tape

Perhaps this isn't red tape, but you should make sure the road to Cabin Flat is open if you come in from that side. Otherwise, you might need to hike over Baldy from Manker Flat to make the trip work.

Beta sites

Trip reports and media


First descent is unknown, though I have met a gentleman who probably descended it years ago. When we did our first exploration of the area in 2009, we found old slings and biners at anchors.


Information provided by automated processes. KML map by (unknown). Main photo by (unknown). Authors are listed in chronological order.

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