Exploration #4: Dawn Mine

Readers, before I tell you about this week’s exploration, let me just take a moment to preach to you about the wonders of jungle boots.

Jungle boots, which are typically utilized by soldiers in humid, wet, jungle warfare situations, are a half-canvas, half-rubber, half-magic breed of combat boot that can be found for cheap in any self respecting army surplus store.

They’re durable, lightweight, water-resistant, ventilated, and not to mention ridiculously comfortable. In a word, they’re perfect.

I hold the opinion that jungle boots are the greatest thing to happen to the Urban Explorer since the multi-tool. And if you decide to go on this week’s exploration, I highly recommend that you acquire yourself a pair.

Because on the wet, rusty-metal-and-boulder ridden journey to Millard Canyon’s Dawn Mine, jungle boots saved my poor little feet from sure destruction more times then I can count.

The Dawn Mine, nestled deeply in Altadena’s San Gabriel Mountains, was a gold mine that opened in the late 1800s, and was closed and reopened periodically until it was finally abandoned for good in the 1950s. In a 1988 Los Angeles Times article, John McKinney reported that the mine shut down because it produced “more stories than gold.”

“Enough gold was mined to keep ever-optimistic prospectors certain that they would soon strike a rich ore-bearing vein, but the big bonanza was never found,” McKinney wrote.

Nowadays, it’s dark and spooky and cold and everything you would expect an abandoned mine to be. It’s not the safest place in the world either. Its floor is covered by at least two inches of water in most places, and there’s at least one gaping, water-filled pit in the ground.

But, if you’re careful (and if you’ve got yourself a pair of jungle boots!) it’s a super cool spot to explore.

Some highlights to check out: if you go down the tunnel to the left, you’ll find a trickling waterfall coming down from an enormous shaft in the ceiling.

There are also some really pretty sparkly mineral buildups on the walls that made my photographer Claire and I think we had struck gold for a minute.

Also, if you have incredible upper body strength, there’s a high rock ledge near the front of the mine that you can climb up onto.

Claire and I do not happen to have incredible upper body strength. However, we came across two other young gentlemen who were exploring the mine that helped hoist us up and it was great fun to scramble around up there.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that exploring the mine itself is only half of the adventure.

To get to and from the mine, you’ll take a beautiful five to six mile trek alongside a babbling brook, complete with gorgeous mountain views and multiple waterfalls.

It’s shady, serene and extra beautiful at this time of year with all of the trees changing colors. There’s just one catch: there’s no trail.

The trail that used to lead to the mine was abandoned long ago, and years of rockslides have essentially obliterated its remnants.

The only thing to guide you nowadays is the stream, and you will have to cross the brook many times and climb over numerous stretches of large boulders to reach your destination.

It’s certainly not a journey for the faint of heart, but I promise it’s worth it. I’ll give you fair warning, though: if you’re in the kind of shape that I am, your thighs will not be pleased with you the next day.


To trailhead and mine: I suggest going online and googling “Dan’s Hiking Pages: Dawn Mine.”

This is a more comprehensive trail guide. Also, keep in mind that the hike took a total of six hours.

Suggested Exploring Supplies:
-A friend (this one is dangerous to do alone)
-Plenty of water
-A snack
-A multi-tool
-A head lamp/flashlight
-Protective gloves
-Jungle boots (of course!)
-A National Forest Adventure Pass, required for parking at the trailhead. These can be found at almost any sporting goods store.