Turnbull Canyon: A Beginner’s Hike to the Water & Electric Towers of Whittier

Turnbull Canyon Trail is so big that I had to actually hike this twice just to be able to cover most aspects of it.

And it’s large for a reason: the canyon is part of the Puente Hills Preserve in Uptown Whittier that links to other trails and canyons, most notably, Sycamore Canyon and Hellman Park.

The hike is divided into 5 trails:

    • Turnbull Canyon Trail: 1.3 miles, 350 feet elevation gain
    • Sumac Trail: .6 miles, 325 feet elevation gain
    • Elderberry Trail: .4 miles, 270 feet elevation gain
    • Workman Ridge Trail: 1.4 miles, 780 feet elevation gain
    • Worsham Canyon Trail: 1.3 miles, 530 feet elevation gain

For the purpose of this article, I covered the first two trails which ventured off into another canyon: Hellman Park.

This hike is great for beginners who are looking to graduate into the intermediate level of hiking.

It’s mostly flat depending on which route you take, but it also offers some moderately steep inclines for those who seek a workout.

The best part of this hike? A secret sector with some hidden “treasure,” including a rusted bike, and disassembled car and TV parts.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Someone forgot to include a parking lot for us hikers, which means you’ll have to find street parking and walk a quarter of a mile (or more) to the entrance of the hike.

Turnbull Canyon

Turnbull Canyon Trail

The trail starts off rather tame through the open fields of Whittier, with rich-looking houses nestled above of the hills.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Turnbull Canyon Trail
About a third of a mile in, I notice a hidden off trail to my right. It’s pretty steep to climb down, so be prepared to hang on to nearby twigs for dear life.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

The area below was very muddy with plenty of logs that were engraved with initials and graffiti.

I soon stumble upon a cute little area filled with empty water bottles and a lonely chair. Thank goodness, I could use a rest from all that hiking so far.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I continue to explore this area, having to duck and even crawl at times due to the overgrowth of twigs and branches in the area.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

At the very end of this “hidden off-trail” was a large hunk of scrap metal, which resembled a car part of some sorts.

Turnbull Canyon Trail
I decide I’ve spent enough time exploring this area, and make my way back up to the main trail head.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Watch your step climbing back up!

Turnbull Canyon Trail

About a half of a mile in, I capture what appears to be a moment of timeless love (or so it seems…)

Turnbull Canyon Trail

So far, the trail seems to be very quiet, peaceful, and slightly empty of human beings (hey, I’m not complaining).

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I soon notice (you guessed it) another off-trail to my right, just waiting to be explored.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

This area was a little more dense regarding the number of twigs and branches I had to duck and crawl through, but I did manage to find something slightly eerie…

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Rope. Let’s just say I didn’t stick around long to ask any questions.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Back to the main trailhead we go!

Turnbull Canyon Trail

To your right, you’ll notice an abundance of rolling hills and (somewhat) lush greenery (hey, California is trying).

Turnbull Canyon Trail

We’re almost to the fork in the road!

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Sure enough, a fork has emerged. If you keep going straight, you’ll trek through the Sumac trail which leads to a water tower.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Or, you can venture right to continue on the Turnbull Canyon Trail, which leads up to the electric towers.

Turnbull Canyon Trail Sign

Either way you go, both trails loop around and connect to each other, so you can certainly see the water tower and electric towers without having to double all the way back.

A Continuation of the Turnbull Canyon Trail

Part of this trail is very muddy, so it’d be wise to not bring any brand new shoes (mine got very soiled because I am blissfully ignorant sometimes).

Turnbull Canyon Trail

The nice part about this trail is the wondrous amount of shade compared to the first half of the trail head.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Turnbull Canyon Trail

There have been so far, 0 inclines, which is perfect for beginner hikers and kids.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

About a quarter of a mile in, with no other human in sight.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I notice the first electric tower in the distance, which means the second fork in the road must be near.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

About a 15 minute of a walk in, you’ll come to your next big decision of the day:
To your left: the incline to the electric towers
Straight ahead: the hike to the secret sector of hidden treasure

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I, of course, choose the latter, as I love stumbling upon seemingly random and useless junk.

To The Super Secret Sector of Treasures

The trail narrows slightly which provides a more intimate look at nature.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

The trail starts to ascend (about time) with some added switchbacks.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

This is where things get really interesting:

You can either continue straight up on the trail, which leads to a dead end upon a road.

Or, you can venture off into a very narrow trail within the wilderness of the hills (believe me, it can’t get more Man Vs Wild then this).

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Watch your footing on this part of the trail. One wrong slip-up and you could take quite the tumble down.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Treasure #1: a rusted bike sans wheels. I’m willing to bet that it could still work with a little elbow grease.

Turnbull Canyon rusted motorcycle

The view beyond the rusted bike. You can see the rest of the Turnbull Canyon Trail within the distance.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Treasure #2: rusted car parts, which includes wheels and a hood of some sorts.

Turnbull Canyon Trail rusted car

Turnbull Canyon Trail rusted car

The trail ends here, but you can be overly-ambitious like me and trek up the hill to find more treasure.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Treasure #3: A disassembled TV. You could have just sold the thing, buddy.

Turnbull Canyon hike

View from the middle of the hill. Overall vibe: Incredibly quiet and serene. You can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of calm and inner peace.

Turnbull Canyon hike

I turn around to continue my hike up the hill; You can even see the electric towers in the distance.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Treasure #4: I don’t even know anymore. What do you think it looks like?

Turnbull Canyon Trail

This is where the rest of the trek becomes increasingly difficult. Since this hill is void of any actual trails, you’ll have to use your climbing skills to get to the top.

A loot crate in the distance, what could be inside?

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I’ll tell you what’s inside: Disappointment.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Warning: The hill becomes very steep with a near 90° angle. There are no rocks to grab on to so you’ll have to leverage twigs and grass to pull yourself up.

This became quite difficult since the “rocks” and twigs seemed to be loosely connected to the soil, misleading me to believe I could put my entire weight on them for support.

In other words, anything and everything I grabbed on to for support ended up “falling apart” or snapping away from the soil, causing quite a few near tumbles on my part.

I was almost near the top when I reached a point where I was stuck on an almost 90° angle. Nothing around me could support the average human body weight, so I had to think of a way to bolster myself up.

The wonderful thing about the human brain is what it does in a “panic mode” type of situation. Ingenuity usually comes after the panic, or after the storm settles. This is exactly what happened with me.

I turn to my left to notice a large bush of twigs. I reach over to feel and tug it; It seems to be the only thing “connected” to the soil that can hold my body weight.

I carefully shimmy over to this bush and literally entangle myself in it. By doing this, I was able to climb up through the bush, which was holding my body weight, and on to the final level of the hill.

The view from the top, where you’re greeted with electric cables.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

If you keep going straight ahead, you’ll hit a seemingly empty road.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I find a trail to my left that leads directly down to the bottom. You mean to tell me I took the hard way up the hill this whole time?

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Sure enough, the trail connects to the narrow trail that led to the rusted bike.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I head back up towards the main trail head, curious to see where the ascension leads to.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

A couple of switchbacks within a steady incline; nothing too crazy.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

About a quarter of a mile up, the trail ends up at the same road that I stumbled upon at the top of the previous climb.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

In other words, there’s an easy and a hard way to this road. And I took both ways because why not?

To the electric towers we go!

Hike to the Electric Towers

I make my way back down through the narrow trail and to the second fork in the trailhead, the one that leads up to the electric towers.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Turnbull Canyon Trail

The hike is on a moderately steep incline, but shouldn’t pose too much trouble for beginner hikers.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

This part of the trail lasts about a quarter of a mile with some faint “humming” of the electric cables above.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

At long last, I’ve finally made it to what this trail is known for!

Turnbull Canyon Trail

A metal slide that is casually off to the side (just kidding, don’t actually slide down this).

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Turnbull Canyon Trail

The view from underneath one of the towers.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

More towers in the distance.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Whoops. A fallen sign that reads “ESA: No Entrance Permitted.” Oh well, too late for that.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

To the left of the towers lies a narrow trail that leads to a dead end.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

A steep hill near the end of the narrow trail, with a shadow of me in the distance.

Turnbull Canyon Trail

Oh look, berries! These are safe to eat, right?

Turnbull Canyon Trail

I turn back around to head home for the day, but I revisit this canyon at a later date to cover part 2: the water tower hike!

The Water Tower Hike

This hike begins at the start of the Sumac Trail, which is forked to the left of the Turnbull Canyon trail.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

I quickly come across a camera that apparently documents coyotes, bobcats, and other wildlife. I wonder if any paranormal activity has been documented as well?

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail wildlife camera

The Sumac trail starts off on a flat surface before quickly ascending up for the duration of the hike.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

Difficulty? Moderate, just like the hike to the electric towers.

In fact, you can see the very electric towers I was at before from a distance.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

A vantage point of the beginning of Turnbull Canyon, as well as the road that leads up to the top of the hill that I previously climbed (on an almost 90° angle).

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

A mini hill straight ahead that loops back down to the main trail head.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

About a quarter of a mile in, where the trail head starts to flatten.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

View of more rolling hills of Uptown Whittier.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

I continue up the path (which ascends slightly) to reach a fork in the road.

Turnbull Canyon sumac trail

This is now the beginning of another canyon of the Puente Hills Preserve: Hellman Park, which directly connects to both Turnbull Canyon and Sycamore Canyon.

Both forks in the road are part of the Rattlesnake Trail (and yes, beware of rattlesnakes).

Turnbull Canyon rattlesnake trail head

If you choose the leftmost fork, you’ll hike through the hilly ups and downs of the Rattlesnake Trail, while the right fork leads to the water tower.

I, of course, choose the right fork.

Luckily, this part of the trail is relatively short, so it should only take about 5 minutes to get to the water tower from this point.

Turnbull Canyon rattlesnake trail

Short? Yes.
Will it leave you slightly out of breath? Also yes.

Turnbull Canyon rattlesnake trail

There are 3 steep (but quick) ascensions to climb through before reaching the water tower, so beginner hikers beware.

Turnbull Canyon hike

The view from behind; you can see the rest of the Rattlesnake Trail and a Buddhist temple in the distance.

Turnbull Canyon hike

I finally reach the water tower that appears to be fenced off around the perimeter with barbed wire.

Turnbull Canyon water tower trail

You’ll notice quite a bit of graffiti on the tower, which is probably one of the reasons as to why it’s so guarded.

Turnbull Canyon water tower hike

You can either head back the way you came from or choose a route straight ahead that loops back around to the electric towers. I choose the latter out of sheer curiosity.

Back Towards the Electric Towers

An alternate trail that loops around the water tower (I did not come this way).

Turnbull Canyon hike

More electric towers in the distance as well as a vast mountain range. (Fun fact: if you head directly towards that mountain range, you’ll end up in Arizona).

Turnbull Canyon hike

About 500 feet later, I come across a small off trail that leads to a junkyard of some sorts.

Turnbull Canyon hike

Scrap metal and cement blocks with tasteful graffiti plastered all over it.

Turnbull Canyon graffiti

Turnbull Canyon hike

This area actually leads to another trail that connects to the Rose Hill Cemetery, but that’s a story for another time.

I exit the “junkyard” and soon come to a gated area that seems to have an opened door. This feels slightly illegal, but oh well.

Turnbull Canyon hike

Vantage point of the electric tower.

Turnbull Canyon hike

View from beyond the electric tower, which would be facing south toward Orange County.

Turnbull Canyon hike

The upper part of this trail loops around the electric tower while the lower part seems to be the start of an entirely new trail: the Ahwingna Trail, which I haven’t explored yet.

Turnbull Canyon hike

The rightmost trail, which loops through a guarded fence and to a new fork in the road.

Turnbull Canyon hike

When you reach the fork you have 3 choices:

  • The leftmost fork which leads to the top of the electric towers
  • The middle fork which is the start of a new trail: the Coyote Trail
  • The rightmost fork, which is also the start of the Coyote Trail (albeit, in a different direction)

Turnbull Canyon hike

Turnbull Canyon coyote trail

I decided to save the Coyote Trail for a different day and double back to continue on the initial trail head, which leads back to the electric towers off of the Turnbull Canyon trail.

Turnbull Canyon

View from the trail head; You can hear quite a bit of humming from the cables above.

Turnbull Canyon

I soon reach another fork in the road, past this gate in the photo.

Turnbull Canyon hike

Both forks actually lead to the electric towers, it just depends on if you want to take the upper or lower route.

I head towards the upper route first.

Turnbull Canyon hike

Another fork.

Turnbull Canyon hike

To your right: a small hill that directly connects to the electric towers.

Straight ahead: A road that leads to a dead end.

I opt for the rightmost fork, which led to an open expanse atop a hill.

Turnbull Canyon hike

You can see the trail to the left that leads to the electric towers.

Turnbull Canyon hike

I decide to turn around to quickly explore the other tangent of the trail.

Turnbull Canyon

The trail narrows as you head towards the main trail head.

Turnbull Canyon hike

I fork right to continue up the road, which leads to a dead end.

Turnbull Canyon hike

Turnbull Canyon hike

Now that my curiosity has been filled once again, I decide to take that lower route to the electric towers.

The start of the lower route.

Turnbull Canyon hike

The trail narrows as I make my way past a barbed-wire fence.

Turnbull Canyon

The descent is moderately steep with plenty of switchbacks.

Turnbull Canyon

A bed of cacti, which you’ll occasionally see on this hike.

Turnbull Canyon

The first of many switchbacks towards the electric towers.

Turnbull Canyon

Turnbull Canyon

The Finale of the Hike

I eventually make my way towards these towers and back onto the main Turnbull Canyon trail head.

The flattened road back.

Turnbull Canyon

I walk back through the entirety of the trail head, past the Sumac Trail (which lead to the water tower) and back towards the initial gate.

Turnbull Canyon

Turnbull Canyon hike

The road that leads back to sanity (aka my car).

Turnbull Canyon hike

Turnbull Canyon hike

Turnbull Canyon Hike Review

Total time spent on this hike: 4.5 hours.

Part 1: 2.5 hours (hike that leads to treasures and the electric towers)
Part 2: 2 hours (hike that leads to water tower and back around to electric towers)

Overall thoughts:

  • It’s perfect for beginner and intermediate hikers
  • If you climb high enough, you can see Downtown Los Angeles, the mountain range that leads to Arizona, and the landscapes of both Long Beach and Orange County.
  • The hike is great for treasure hunters
  • The canyon is large enough where you can easily explore different tangents and sectors (just try not to get lost)

Turnbull Canyon: A fairly easy hike through the rolling hills of Uptown Whittier that leads to a graffiti-plastered water tower and various electric towers.

Now if only I can find the time to explore the rest of the canyon.

Hope you enjoyed our tour of Turnbull Canyon hike, we would love to hear about your hikes in this area. Let us know how your trip went below in the comments section!

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