from the book Trails of the Sierra Madres,
by John W. Eagan, ©1978


Camp Angeles is a small tourist town of about fifteen-hundred permanent residents, hidden deep in the Sierra Madre backcountry, on what use to be called "Horse Flats." Most of the people live along the trolley line that's both their link to the outside world and the financial support for the town. The remaining one-hundred-fifty, two-hundred folk live within five kims of the rails, in buildings that range from the overblown, mansion-sized "hunting cabins" of those with lots of money (but usually little taste), to lean-tos, banged together out of deadwood and old tin-cans.

The town got its start back in the early 1900's, when the city of Los Angeles staked out the land, intending to use it for a city campground. They set up some cabins, a big meeting hall/cafeteria and carved out a handful of trails to the surrounding peaks, waterfalls, and other scenic spots. Then, they advertised it as "Los Angeles's Own Mountain Playground."

For the first couple of years, the tourist trade remained light except for official city-sponsered events. This is perhaps explained because, at the time, the only ways into the area were to either take the main Arroyo Seco trail up from Silverstone, then switch to the Diablo Cañon Ridge trail for the rest of the trip - a trip of nearly thirty-five kims - or you could shave about twenty kims off your hike by taking the trolley to Camp San Gabriel, and the West Fork trail to the Diablo. But even this shorter route was fifteen kims long and this scared off all but the most dedicated hikers.

So Los Angeles asked the Silverstone & Jade (still the Silverstone & San Pedro at that time) if they'd build a rail-line from their Camp San Gabriel terminus to Camp Angeles. The S&J said yes - if 'Angeles. would pay for the construction.

Much to their surprise, Los Angeles said they would. So the S&J carved their mountain railway another fourteen kims of track, built a small, rustic station and hotel at Camp Angeles and started running four trolleys a day there from downtown 'Angeles to go along with their already running six Silverstone to Camp San Gabriel trolleys.

Now with a way to get there that didn't take eight hours of walking Camp Angeles became very popular, both among the rich - who tended to stay at S&J's Alpine Hotel (which was soon revamped and expanded) - and to those of more modest means - who leaned towards staying at the cabins and campsites.

Not surprisingly, within a few years some of those who visited were working out ways to stay on a more permanent basis. To support themselves, they built small stores (usually with a cabin attached), worked as tour-guides, or maintenance personnel for the hotel and campgrounds, or just provided whatever services for the tourists they could.

By 1920 - at the height of the area's popularity - there were close to three-thousand living there, servicing more than one-hundred-thousand visitors a year. And almost three-hundred of Southern California's richest were maintaining summer homes at the site. Construction began on a new shorter railline from Silverstone to the area up the Arroyo Seco.

Unfortunately, the town's fortunes declined soon after that. Thanks to the new S&J line to Jade, the big tourist draws of the Widney Sea began to draw off many of those who had stayed at Camp Angeles long-term. And the facilities at the newly created Verde Lake, to the south of Los Angeles, picked up much of the day-trip trade. Then, the Angeles fire of 1924 burned down much of the town, including the S&J's station and the Alpine. After the fire, S&J replaced the tiny station, but not the hotel. The "Arroyo Route" project was canceled, with only three kims of the line completed (to the current site of "Hiker's Station") and S&J began to cut trips to the town.

By 1925, both visitors and residents were down to a third of their peak numbers and they were still dropping. Los Angeles officially abandoned the camp in 1928 and those still living there incorporated the area as the town of Camp Angeles in 1929.

[S&J's Camp San Gabriel, and Mt. Figueroa facilities also saw a sharp decline in visitors during this period - though, fortunately, not as deeply as Camp Angeles. At the time, the Silverstone & Jade made contingency plans to abandon both Camp San Gabriel and the rail-line from there back to Mt. Figueroa, in the event that their Alpine Division began losing too much money. This would have also meant abandoning the line to Camp Angeles. Had the number of visitors to S&J's mountain resorts dropped as much as Camp Angeles's, it is very likely that this abandonment would have taken place, which would not only have meant the loss of rustic Camp San Gabriel, but the death of Camp Angeles as well]


Map of Camp Angeles - click to zoom The town's population hit its nadir of 238 people in 1933, the same year as the big San Pedro quake. The quake damaged many of the facilities at Verde Lake and most of its visitors, now temporarily destination-less, chanced once more upon the resorts of the Sierra Madre's. Camp Angeles got a second chance on life.

Even after repairs to the quake-damaged Verde Lake area were finished in 1934, many of this new generation of vacationers continued to travel to Camp Angeles. In 1939, the town rebuilt the Alpine Hotel - which now catered to a larger, if less well-to-do crowd than before - and many abandoned cabins from the "Golden Era" were spruced up and inhabited once again. As trade picked up, the S&J resumed a eight trolley a day, twelve on holiday weekends schedule (the town had been down to one round-trip trolley on weekdays, three on weekends).

Since that time, visitor numbers have continued to grow, if slowly. By 1975, visitors passed the eighty-five-thousand mark for the first time since 1917, and the population of this quiet mountain resort stabilized at it's current level. Once seemingly destined to be yet another ghost town, Camp Angeles now looks here to stay.