Devil's Punchbowl: Great Hike Made Of Water Erosion

The Devil's Punchbowl is one of my favorite hiking areas. Not only is it good hiking for the average explorer, but the geology is fascinating and there are a variety of things to do. I've hiked there several times a year since 1999 and have taken lots of photographs. This article will tell you what it's like and some of how the canyon was created.

Devil's Punchbowl panorama. The Pinyon Earthquake Fault lies to the left. The Punchbowl Fault is on the right - note the different thrust to the cliffs. The San Andreas Fault is through the V between the furthest mountains.
Devil's Punchbowl panorama. The Pinyon Earthquake Fault lies to the left. The Punchbowl Fault is on the right - note the different thrust to the cliffs. The San Andreas Fault is through the V between the furthest mountains. | Source

How Water Erosion Works

This video simulates the process of water erosion. Imagine the mountains in the photo above being eroded in this way every time it rains or snows.

The canyon was formed from water erosion caused by snowmelt and rain falling on the 8,000 foot San Gabriel Mountains above. It lies in the middle of three fault lines - just north of the Punchbowl Fault, and south of the Pinyon Fault and the infamous San Andreas Fault.

Geologically, the area is called a "syncline" - a fold in the earth. It resulted from the edge of two of the earth's tectonic plates colliding somewhat as they slip by each other - the North American Plate heading slowly southwest, the Pacific Plate heading slowly northeast.

The movements of the three faults acted to push up what was once horizontal layers of sandstone and sedimentary deposits until they were almost vertical. These are the rocks you see pictured above and in the photo collection below.

The canyon itself is 300 feet deep, as measured from the vista point near the Punchbowl entrance. At the bottom runs Punchbowl Creek, the ultimate destination of most hikers.

The part time creek is the only water left from those thousand of years of erosion. It enters the canyon from a waterfall that looks like it's running out of a pipe, hitting the rocky creek bed five or six feet below, and trickling over rocks and sand for several miles beyond the canyon.

Driving into the Devil's Punchbowl unguarded parking lot. There is no entrance fee.
Driving into the Devil's Punchbowl unguarded parking lot. There is no entrance fee. | Source
The Nature Center is on the left of the entrance, the bird sanctuary on the right.
The Nature Center is on the left of the entrance, the bird sanctuary on the right.
Display cases inside the Nature Center showing small animals, reptiles, birds, and live snakes.
Display cases inside the Nature Center showing small animals, reptiles, birds, and live snakes.
The bird sanctuary is just big enough to hold two or three wounded birds - mainly owls.
The bird sanctuary is just big enough to hold two or three wounded birds - mainly owls.
Looking over the Punchbowl from the back deck of the sanctuary.
Looking over the Punchbowl from the back deck of the sanctuary.

Guided Tours & Activities

Devil's Punchbowl trails start at the entrance to the park, where you'll find a small nature center and bird sanctuary. Here you can talk to a forest ranger or other attendant and pick up trail maps. The forest ranger knows about animals and plants found in the area, and also about the canyon's geology.

The nature center contains exhibits of live and dead snakes, lizards, birds, and other fauna. The bird sanctuary is a caged area where wounded birds are kept safe until they heal, or kept permanently if they are not able to fly anymore.

You can also pick up a schedule of events, if you're interested in guided tours or activities. I've seen novice rock climbers practicing on some of the vertical rock faces, and school kids and scouts learning about the area. The park provides geology tours, nighttime stargazing tours, and full moon tours.

Devil's Punchbowl Trails

There are several hiking trails in the Punchbowl, some mapped and some not.

  1. The Pinon trail is a short loop trail that stays on the upper level. It's located to the left of the main trail, and is used to demonstrate some of the plants found there.
  2. Non-strenuous hikers can take the main trail down a short grade, fork off to the right to trail the canyon halfway up, then circle back to the entrance. In the photo collection below, I call this the middle trail.
  3. The steepest trail (main trail) goes all the way down the canyon to the creek bed 300 feet below. There it follows the creek to its head, past vertical rocks where students learn to rock climb, and curves back up with a steep climb to the top trail, which takes you back to the entrance.
  4. The longest trail is 4.5 miles and goes in a different direction. It heads across the top of the canyon a ways before dipping down into it and then up again, ending at a natural rock formation called Devil's Chair, from which you can see the entire Punchbowl.
  5. The one I like to follow is unmapped, which probably means it's not really a trail. It goes up the hill on the other side of the creek bed, and down again to a smaller creek where hardly anybody goes. You can follow the creek around to the left as it winds around a hill, until joining the main creek below the canyon. Or you can climb up rocks to the top of the hills overlooking the main creek bed and make your way back to the entrance from there.

Devil's Punchbowl Trail Map

Map of three of the trails described above. The middle trail is not marked.
Map of three of the trails described above. The middle trail is not marked. | Source

Main Trail to Punchbowl Creek

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The trail starts out fairly easy, steepening as it goes along, until it reaches the streambed 300 ft. below.A friend and me (right) before starting down the trail. The mountains in the background are 8,000 ft. high.Although we don't get to it until later in the hike, this is the "tiny" rock you see near the bottom of my friend's jacket. This view is still about 15 ft. below us.View from in back of the bird sanctuary near the photo above. Cliffs were originally formed from sedimentary layers deposited by water.Trailside cholla cactus in the sun.These rock cliffs off to the left of the trail, topped by pine trees, were pushed up by the Pinyon Fault in the opposite direction from the rest of the canyon.Trail becoming steeper and switchbacking, bank supports leaning over time.Approaching one my favorite rocks.I call it the body rock, although it's way bigger than an actual body.The jumble of boulders beyond the body rock.The trail in one of its easy stages.I think this is deerweed.These steps are one of the steepest parts of the trail down.Some of these rocks have tops that look like trails. Actually, they're thin on top and can be balanced on, if careful, until they end.The creek at the bottom as it cascades over a small waterfall (left of photo).This creek does not get as full as it used to. The snow pack has been low for the last several years.Creek water is cool and refreshing - safe to drink and refill your water bottle.
The trail starts out fairly easy, steepening as it goes along, until it reaches the streambed 300 ft. below.
The trail starts out fairly easy, steepening as it goes along, until it reaches the streambed 300 ft. below. | Source
A friend and me (right) before starting down the trail. The mountains in the background are 8,000 ft. high.
A friend and me (right) before starting down the trail. The mountains in the background are 8,000 ft. high.
Although we don't get to it until later in the hike, this is the "tiny" rock you see near the bottom of my friend's jacket. This view is still about 15 ft. below us.
Although we don't get to it until later in the hike, this is the "tiny" rock you see near the bottom of my friend's jacket. This view is still about 15 ft. below us.
View from in back of the bird sanctuary near the photo above. Cliffs were originally formed from sedimentary layers deposited by water.
View from in back of the bird sanctuary near the photo above. Cliffs were originally formed from sedimentary layers deposited by water.
Trailside cholla cactus in the sun.
Trailside cholla cactus in the sun.
These rock cliffs off to the left of the trail, topped by pine trees, were pushed up by the Pinyon Fault in the opposite direction from the rest of the canyon.
These rock cliffs off to the left of the trail, topped by pine trees, were pushed up by the Pinyon Fault in the opposite direction from the rest of the canyon.
Trail becoming steeper and switchbacking, bank supports leaning over time.
Trail becoming steeper and switchbacking, bank supports leaning over time.
Approaching one my favorite rocks.
Approaching one my favorite rocks.
I call it the body rock, although it's way bigger than an actual body.
I call it the body rock, although it's way bigger than an actual body.
The jumble of boulders beyond the body rock.
The jumble of boulders beyond the body rock.
The trail in one of its easy stages.
The trail in one of its easy stages.
I think this is deerweed.
I think this is deerweed.
These steps are one of the steepest parts of the trail down.
These steps are one of the steepest parts of the trail down.
Some of these rocks have tops that look like trails. Actually, they're thin on top and can be balanced on, if careful, until they end.
Some of these rocks have tops that look like trails. Actually, they're thin on top and can be balanced on, if careful, until they end.
The creek at the bottom as it cascades over a small waterfall (left of photo).
The creek at the bottom as it cascades over a small waterfall (left of photo).
This creek does not get as full as it used to. The snow pack has been low for the last several years.
This creek does not get as full as it used to. The snow pack has been low for the last several years.
Creek water is cool and refreshing - safe to drink and refill your water bottle.
Creek water is cool and refreshing - safe to drink and refill your water bottle.

Hiking Trail Photos - Streambed & Secondary Trails

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Attractive brush lines the trails and streambed.The smooth, water-worn rocks near the bottom of the stream. You can really see the wear when there is no water.Same creek bed without water. This is how it is during summer, fall, and the first part of winter these days.The end result of lack of water - death to the snakes.Skirting rocks along the bottom creekbed trail. Heading toward the head of the stream, about to ascend again.Near the head of the stream. Note the sparse snow on the mountaintops behind.Kids playing in the dry streambed.Rocks alongside the middle trail. The less intrepid hikers usually take the middle trail, instead of going all the way down.Brush often hides the terrain along the middle trail.Beautiful manzanita, with its red and white bark.Looking down from the middle trail at rock groupings below.Looking backward on the middle trail, as it's about to curve around and up to the upper trail.From the upper trail, watching kids playing on the rocks halfway up the canyon.From the upper trail, note where my finger points down. Those little holes in the cliffs are big enough for rock climbers to sit inside. The faint line of holes going up on the right is their ascension "trail."These cliffs were thrust upward by the Punchbowl Fault off the right edge of the canyon. They lean inward in the opposite direction from the Pinyon Fault cliffs.Balanced atop the bottom cliff is a "small" boulder about 8 ft. high.Sturdy rock benches are scattered along the upper trail on both sides of the Nature Center for resting and viewing.My friend's husband looking over the right side of the canyon from the upper trail, 300 ft. above the streambed. The rock climbers' cliff is on his left out of view.
Attractive brush lines the trails and streambed.
Attractive brush lines the trails and streambed. | Source
The smooth, water-worn rocks near the bottom of the stream. You can really see the wear when there is no water.
The smooth, water-worn rocks near the bottom of the stream. You can really see the wear when there is no water.
Same creek bed without water. This is how it is during summer, fall, and the first part of winter these days.
Same creek bed without water. This is how it is during summer, fall, and the first part of winter these days.
The end result of lack of water - death to the snakes.
The end result of lack of water - death to the snakes.
Skirting rocks along the bottom creekbed trail. Heading toward the head of the stream, about to ascend again.
Skirting rocks along the bottom creekbed trail. Heading toward the head of the stream, about to ascend again.
Near the head of the stream. Note the sparse snow on the mountaintops behind.
Near the head of the stream. Note the sparse snow on the mountaintops behind.
Kids playing in the dry streambed.
Kids playing in the dry streambed.
Rocks alongside the middle trail. The less intrepid hikers usually take the middle trail, instead of going all the way down.
Rocks alongside the middle trail. The less intrepid hikers usually take the middle trail, instead of going all the way down.
Brush often hides the terrain along the middle trail.
Brush often hides the terrain along the middle trail.
Beautiful manzanita, with its red and white bark.
Beautiful manzanita, with its red and white bark.
Looking down from the middle trail at rock groupings below.
Looking down from the middle trail at rock groupings below.
Looking backward on the middle trail, as it's about to curve around and up to the upper trail.
Looking backward on the middle trail, as it's about to curve around and up to the upper trail.
From the upper trail, watching kids playing on the rocks halfway up the canyon.
From the upper trail, watching kids playing on the rocks halfway up the canyon.
From the upper trail, note where my finger points down. Those little holes in the cliffs are big enough for rock climbers to sit inside. The faint line of holes going up on the right is their ascension "trail."
From the upper trail, note where my finger points down. Those little holes in the cliffs are big enough for rock climbers to sit inside. The faint line of holes going up on the right is their ascension "trail."
These cliffs were thrust upward by the Punchbowl Fault off the right edge of the canyon. They lean inward in the opposite direction from the Pinyon Fault cliffs.
These cliffs were thrust upward by the Punchbowl Fault off the right edge of the canyon. They lean inward in the opposite direction from the Pinyon Fault cliffs.
Balanced atop the bottom cliff is a "small" boulder about 8 ft. high.
Balanced atop the bottom cliff is a "small" boulder about 8 ft. high.
Sturdy rock benches are scattered along the upper trail on both sides of the Nature Center for resting and viewing.
Sturdy rock benches are scattered along the upper trail on both sides of the Nature Center for resting and viewing.
My friend's husband looking over the right side of the canyon from the upper trail, 300 ft. above the streambed. The rock climbers' cliff is on his left out of view.
My friend's husband looking over the right side of the canyon from the upper trail, 300 ft. above the streambed. The rock climbers' cliff is on his left out of view.
Be courteous of other hikers. Some may not be as agile as you are.
Be courteous of other hikers. Some may not be as agile as you are. | Source

Trail Tips & Etiquette

All kinds of people hike at the Devil's Punchbowl - individuals, families, scouting troops, college geology classes, astronomy enthusiasts, and rock climbers. Many hikers bring dogs. I go to photograph. No food is allowed inside, nor is smoking, since the area is filled with chaparral, (which is highly flammable) but there are picnic tables at the entrance.

Here are some tips for hiking along these trails that make the experience better for all hikers:

  • Go on a weekday, if you can. The trails get crowded during the weekends. Also, the best time of year to hike is late winter through early summer. After that the creek dries out.
  • Keep loud talking and yelling to a minimum. Instead, enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, sounds of birds, and the beauty of being outside in a majestic place.
  • Pass single file when encountering other hikers. Greet them and keep your dogs and kids under control.
  • Bring a fanny pack or other bag to keep trash in. Dumping it by the side of the trail or in the creek bed is plain discourteous.
  • Take care of sanitary needs before you go down. There are no facilities on the trails. Look near the entrance, behind the Nature Center, for the small buildings housing pit toilets.

Normally I don't like glitchy tourist spots, but this one I do. Nearly all the foods are local. I've bought house decor here. And it's a nice ritual to stop for a buffalo burger after a hike.
Normally I don't like glitchy tourist spots, but this one I do. Nearly all the foods are local. I've bought house d├ęcor here. And it's a nice ritual to stop for a buffalo burger after a hike. | Source

Hiking Location & Food

Devil's Punchbowl is a nature park run by the Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation Department. It is located in the mountains that frame the Antelope Valley, near Littlerock and Pearblossom, on the opposite side of the San Gabriel's from Pasadena and Azusa. It takes about an hour and a half to drive there from downtown Los Angeles.

Be sure to stop by Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock on your way out. They have a great market with local fruits and vegetables, lots of tourist items, and a little sit-down restaurant that offers buffalo burgers and great shakes (among other things). Check the map below for the exact location and enjoy your hike.

Devil's Punchbowl Location

A marker28000 Devils Punchbowl Rd. Pearblossom Ca. 93553 -
28000 Devils Punch Bowl Rd, Angeles National Forest, Pearblossom, CA 93553, USA
[get directions]

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Comments 17 comments

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 4 years ago from USA

Hi watergeek - Good writeup here and very enjoyable photos. Thanks.

Gus :-)))


leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 4 years ago from Western New York

What a gorgeous place to hike! I used to hike along the coast in Ventura County, but never made it inland to hike in the San Gabriel Mountains.


watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago Author

Once when I was hiking here I pretended I was a Native American hiding from another tribe. (I know, I'm an adult, but it's still fun to play when no one knows you're doing it.) I found some really cool caves that aren't readily noticeable, and could easily see how a tribe could survive in the canyon. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Adventure Colorad profile image

Adventure Colorad 4 years ago from Denver,CO

Looks like a great place to hike! I like finding those areas that feel remote even though they aren't too far from the city.


Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for the tour, tips and wonderful pictures.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great review! I've never even heard of it. Looks like a great hike and the pictures are great!


watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago Author

Thanks all. The Punchbowl is one of those places where you can take photos any time of the day and/or year and they'll all be different.


carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

Great information about hiking trails. And I am looking forward to a buffalo burger...never had one. Wonderful photos.


Juneaukid 4 years ago

Very informative and interesting--one of these days I may just take one of those trails.


sgiguere profile image

sgiguere 4 years ago from Marlborough MA

Beautiful photos! Your Hub makes me want to visit the Devil's Punchbowl, but I'm assuming it's out in the CA area? That would be a bit of a drive from the East Coast...


watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago Author

lol. Yes, sorry sgiguere. It's northeast of Los Angeles - a little far for you ;) But I'm sure you have really great scenery where you are too, scenery I'm missing by being here. All the photographic possibilities in this world just make me salivate :D


girishpuri profile image

girishpuri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

What a lovely place to hike, i enjoyed your hub with beautiful pics, awesome hub.


Om Paramapoonya profile image

Om Paramapoonya 4 years ago

Well-done! Your wonderful review and photos really made my feet itch for my hiking shoes. Rated up and awesome!


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

Lovely hub. I am going to link to my hub on Pinnacles. Love the bit on hiking etiquette. Up Interesting, beautiful and useful is my vote for your hub.


watergeek profile image

watergeek 4 years ago Author

Thanks all, and thanks for the link tirelesstraveler. Om, my hiking shoes are coming out this weekend. :)


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

Hiking is so amazing.

We are doing the Jingle Bell run in Pacific Grove this weekend, so my hiking will be along the ocean.


Armchair Builder profile image

Armchair Builder 4 years ago from Hawaii

Thanks for all the detail. My wife and I love to hike...will have to check this one out!

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