Return to the Days of Roadless Travel: Weekend Adventure at Sturtevant Camp

Los Angelinos are no stranger to the road. Whether you’re sitting in gridlock on the 405 or crawling along Sunset Boulevard, the daily struggle is real. And though you probably enjoy weekend road trips to Joshua Tree and Big Sur as much as I do, what if you could leave your car behind and return to the days of roadless travel?

Sturtevant Camp, located in Big Santa Anita Canyon of the Angeles National Forest, was established in 1893 by Wilbur Sturtevant. Of the five resorts built here during the “Great Hiking Era” of the 1880’s through the early 1930’s, only Sturtevant Camp still remains.

Guests could play croquet and tennis, lounge in hammocks, summit nearby peaks, attend masquerade parties, develop photos in the dark room, or fish in the San Gabriel River. All supplies were packed in by mules and burros. (Big Santa Anita Canyon)

In 1947, the Methodist Church purchased the camp, and in 2015, the non-profit organization Friends of the San Gabriels raised $75,000 to save the historic site, which is now managed by Adams’ Pack Station.

On a cool Southern California weekend in January, I had to honor of visiting Sturtevant Camp on assignment for Hipcamp, an online reservation system where you can discover the best campsites in California.

We hiked in 4 miles on Saturday morning from Chantry Flat to meet Deb Burgess, owner of Adams’ Pack Station and CEO of Friends of the San Gabriels, for the official tour.

A handwritten sign welcomed hikers and guests to enjoy coffee and tea in the Swiss open-air dining pavilion, originally constructed in 1898 and later enclosed. After a few runs on the zip line, we met our camp host Jack and settled in to our cozy cabin. We lounged in the hammock, enjoyed tacos for dinner and played board games until midnight.

If you’re looking for a weekend adventure close to home, look no further than Sturtevant Camp. Experience a moment in Los Angeles history, and help preserve this local treasure for future generations. Read on to find out everything you need to know, including when to go, how to get there, where to make reservations, and what to expect.

Plan Your Visit

Best Time to Go

Year-round, though October through May offer the most comfortable weather.

Driving Directions

Follow Santa Anita Avenue toward the San Gabriel Mountains to Chantry Flat, 3-mi from the entrance gate. Driving distance from downtown Los Angeles is approximately 40 minutes without traffic.

Parking

The trail to Sturtevant Camp begins from Chantry Flat, across the street from Adams’ Pack Station. Free street parking is available with an Adventure Pass, available at Adams’ Pack Station or your local sporting goods store. Paid parking is available at Adams’ Pack Station for $5 on weekdays and $10 on weekend and holidays. The road to Chantry Flat is open from 6:00 AM until 8:00 PM. Arrive before 7:30AM to secure a parking spot.

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Adams’ Pack Station
Trail Guide

While you can hike 8-mi out-and-back, we chose to hike the 10.6-mi loop from Chantry Flat to Sturtevant Camp and Mount Zion. If you’re up for a bigger challenge, you can also hike the 14-mi loop to Mount Wilson.

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To reach Sturtevant Camp via the Mount Zion loop, begin hiking down the paved Santa Anita Canyon Loop Trail across the street from Adams’ Pack Station until you reach the Gabrielino Trail Junction. From here you can hike a half mile to visit 50-ft Sturtevant Falls. If you visit the falls, retrace your steps back to the trail junction. While both trails will lead to Sturtevant Camp, the trail to the right is more scenic with a nice view of Sturtevant Falls from above.

Along the trail, you’ll pass hike-in cabins, privately owned and built between 1907 and 1936. Today only 81 cabins remain in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

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The hike to Sturtevant Camp is about 4 miles. When you are ready to leave Camp, find the trail behind the Honeymoon Cottage, and hike 1.25-mi to Mount Zion.

The Zion Trail was built by Wilbur Sturtevant in 1896 to provide direct access to his camp. During the 1960’s the trail fell into disrepair. It was reopened in 1987 thanks to the efforts of the Sierra Club and local volunteers who restored the trail. (LA Times)

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View of Mount Wilson from Mount Zion

From Mount Zion, descend the switchbacks to Hoegee Trail Camp and Winter Creek Junction. You make take the more scenic Lower Winter Creek Trail, which ends with a .5-mi climb up the paved road. We opted for the Upper Winter Creek Trail, adding 1- mi to the total distance and descending toward the picnic area/parking lot.

The total elevation gain is roughly 2,000 feet. For more details, read the trail guide for Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Camp and Mount Zion via SoCalHiker.net.

The Camp

Reservations

Sturtevant Camp is open to guests Friday through Sunday and Monday holidays. Advanced reservations are required, available online at Hipcamp.com.

Amenities

The Retreat Cabin, the Honeymoon Cottage, and 4 group cabins sleep are available for overnight guests. All cabins have heat and electricity. A generator powers the lights during scheduled evening hours.

Common facilities include a dining hall, fireplace room, commercial kitchen, and separate bathrooms with flush toilets and showers.

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Original Dining Pavilion Circa 1898

We stayed in the Retreat Cabin, which sleeps 6 people with one queen bed and two bunk beds. This cabin has a restroom, heater, and kitchenette with a 3-burner stove, cookware, and propane refrigerator. Linens, blankets and pillows are included.

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Retreat Cabin
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Retreat Cabin Bunk Beds
Activities

Activities include zip line, ping-pong, badminton, rope swing, board games, volleyball, horseshoes, tether-ball and croquet.

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Also, peek inside the oldest surviving US Forest Service Ranger Station in the country, built in 1903, which was being used as a storage room until our camp host Jack cleared and restored the interior to the original decor.

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Meet Jack
Pack Services

If you prefer to have the friendly donkeys carry your luggage, pack services are available on Fridays only. Contact Adams’ Pack Station to make advance reservations.

Drinking Water

Tap-water at Camp is treated weekly to meet potable standards.

Cell Phone Reception

Cellphone service is unavailable. Turn your phone on airplane mode to preserve your battery life for photos.

Provisions

You must carry or pack-in all of your food. If you want to elevate your Camp cuisine, Fireside Provisions makes it easy to prepare a gourmet feast anywhere. Just choose your menu, select your group size, then receive ingredients, recipes and checklists right to your door!

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Breakfast from the Retreat Cabin

Gear

If you’re a backpacking beginner, check out GetOutfitted, an online rental service that delivers premium camping gear directly to your doorstep.

Since this adventure is a cross between backpacking and glamping, you won’t need everything on my Backpacking Gear Checklist, but it’s a good place to start.

The Aftermath

At the end of your journey, treat yourself to lunch and souvenirs at Adams’ Pack Station.

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Disclaimer: I’m not an expert backpacker – these are just guidelines based on my experience. Also, this article includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item, Shoestring Adventures gets a small commission at no added cost to you. Thank you for supporting us with your purchase!



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