Just minutes from the San Fernando Valley on Little Tujunga Canyon Road, past horse ranches and mountain pinnacles, is the top of Dillon Divide and Pacoima Canyon. A tunnel that used to divert water from a placer gold prospect sits at the bottom along the river. The tunnel is open and still has a stream running through it. It’s a quick and easy adventure with just enough elevation for a nice sunset hike.
UPDATED 8/23/12: Added video of Dutch Louie Tunnel.
- 4.5 miles roundtrip to the tunnel
- A quick hike to escape and a better alternative (in my opinion) to Eaton and Runyon Canyons
- Great views of Little Tujunga Canyon and Dillon Divide
- Several stream crossings, and a stream running through the tunnel requires shoes getting wet
Streetview of trail head:
Video of the Dutch Louie Tunnel:
There is parking available alongside the road and a white gate. A water tower is a short jaunt uphill from there (you’ll see it pulling up but not from the actual parking area), which offers a perfect vantage of either side of the divide. This area has several fire roads that traverse ridges of chaparral, including the Kagel Truck Trail, but the one we’re interested in is Forest Route 4N35, or Pacoima road.
Display your Adventure Pass and follow the dirt road until it bisects with a smaller trail on the left, marked by a steal pole. The trail becomes much more intimate than the dirt road, but is well graded and maintained. You’ll notice scat piles in the middle of the trail-big cats are known to be in the area. The skeleton of a mountain lion confirms this in the canyon below, but I have not personally seen one and I have hiked this trail many times (morning, noon, and night), since I live nearby. The key to facing a big cat is to act big yourself and make lots of noise, unless there are cubs. That’s what the experts will tell you.
I’ve met a man named Garren on the trail several times; he voluntarily maintains the trail on weekends. If you see him, say hi. He has told me that this trail was where he learned to drive, as it used to be a road that went to Mt. Gleason. If you look closely, it appears that some of the rocks bare the evidence of this road. On one crop of rocks, blue sign paint remains fragmented from the nearby fault. There are reports that a car’s axle is in the riverbed, but I have not personally seen it.
The climate is comfortable and shaded at the canyon floor. A clear trail is blazed with cairns. The tunnel is another 15-20 minutes upstream on the left canyon wall. It is partially hidden by a tree, but you should hear the small waterfall at the entrance when you’re close. There is also a large boulder next to the trail that has a long white-painted line on it. Follow the line to the left canyon wall.
In September, when the water is low, I’ve noticed that spiders like to hang out in this tunnel. It seems to be the time of year when they are mating and are found in large clusters. I don’t recommend going into the tunnel at this time of year, unless you want to get friendly with them. After the rains come in winter, the rest of the year is fine.
It’s about 200 feet deep, but forks halfway in. Both channels are blocked. On a topo map, you’ll notice that this tunnel originally cut off a bend in the river. The gold was not extracted from the tunnel itself, but it was used to divert the stream. This area is called Dutch Louie Flat, named after the prospector who discovered placers in the stream bed and recovered several thousand dollars worth of gold. The Denver Mining Company worked the material just above bedrock in the dry riverbed. Today, you’ll see plenty of black sand where gold is usually found. I’ve panned with a sluice and haven’t found anything, but it might still be worth a shot. Just call me when you strike it rich. Fair’s fair?
Return the way you came. I love doing this hike in late afternoon light. If you’re looking out for it, you may notice bullet casings and other manmade items on the trail from careless visitors. If you find your pockets empty or room in your pack, please pick up some of this debris. It isn’t an epidemic (like Eaton Canyon), yet, but let’s make an effort to take care of the trail. I know Garren, myself, and many others would appreciate your help.
So, I like to conclude with a little piece of information at the bottom, to thank those who have paid attention and read the whole thing in this age of popcorn brains. There is poison oak in a couple of patches on the edge of the trail, both on the way down to the canyon and in the canyon itself. You might want to spare yourself the agony by keeping your eyes peeled to keep your skin from peeling later.
Take care of the place. It’s my backyard and yours too. A bit farther beyond Dagger Flat, the Station Fire has consumed the area and is unstable, at best. I recommend limiting your stay to the unburned areas.