Remembering A Golden History, Today
While modern mining in the Angeles National Forest may be in a tenuous state, the history of mining can still be explored at the Dawn Mine. The Dawn Mine has been running on and off again from the early to the mid 1900s. While gold was found in the mine, it was mainly enough to inspire the succession of mine owners hoping to strike the mother load until each eventually gave up.
In 1895, gold was first discovered in Millard Canyon. Dawn Mine was one of many claims that were staked in the canyon after the discovery. The mine was named after Dawn Ehrenfeld, a daughter of the claim owner’s (Bradford Peck) friend. Tunneling began in 1902—when the mine was sold to Michael Ryan. Ryan added a track out of the steep walled canyon which mules could pull ore up to a train track. He operated the mine successfully until his death in 1929.
The mine remained idle for a few years until Ryan’s widow leased it out to Hunger, Comstock, and Hilton, who bore more tunnels but only managed a short period of success until the gold petered out. While other miners tried to find more gold in the 1940s and 50s, there were no notable successes. The now inactive mine sports almost 900 ft of passageways between two levels. (Though reports vary)
While there have been many tunnel mines throughout the Los Angeles mountains, this mine is accessible to intrepid hikers while other mines have been gated off or are collapsed.
Hiking the Dawn Mine Trail
For those interested in hiking the Dawn Mine Trail, they will find a combination of breathtaking views, curious mining remnants, and a fair bit of confusion. There is little maintenance being done on the trail. Indeed, the official Angeles National Forest page describing this trail simply states:
The Dawn Mine Trail is 2.2 miles long. It begins at 2N50.1 at Dawn Station and ends at Tom Sloane Saddle. The trail is open for the following uses: Hiking
Similarly little information will be explicitly available for the trail itself. Trail signs that list more popular and better maintained trails do not include any reference to the Dawn Mine Trail. Do not count on referencing your phone, as there will be no cellular service in the canyon. Rather, be sure to have a map and some navigation tools (a GPS unit or at least a compass).
We recommend parking your car at the Millard Campground lot and taking the trail before the camp ground up to Sunset Ridge. (If you can find parking on Sunset Ridge, then that can save you the 1 mile hike up, though it is a pleasant hike). The first portion of the hike follows the Sunset trail with picturesque views before descending into the canyon. At cabin 16, take the lower trail to the bottom of the canyon and a creek. Here is where things start getting confusing. It is easy to miss the log “bridge” when you first come to the canyon floor. It is hidden behind a boulder and spanning the creek. Crossing the log will take you to the mine trail, while following what seems like the more obvious trail to the left will dead end at the top of a large waterfall.
From this point on, you should be roughly traveling north west. Helpful individuals have marked the trail with occasional strips of neon pink/orange tape and black spray-painted arrows. Yet, even these only appear later along the trail and only in parts where the trail becomes particularly difficult to navigate.
The Dawn Mine Trail was one of many casualties of the 2009 Station Fire, which closed the trail until 2014. Despite the recent reopening, many times the trail will seem to disappear, and it will take a bit of exploration to find the next part. Fallen trees, landslides, and growing brush often obscure or block the trail.
Make sure to have plenty of daylight left before embarking on this trail. While the trail is listed as being 2.2 miles long, between false starts, following side trails that apparently go nowhere, scrambling over boulders, fallen trees, and the gradual effects of exhaustion and heat, we found that, even though we started at 10AM, we did not return to the car until 4PM despite only sitting down once for a 10 minute breather. In our defense, this does not appear to be an uncommon problem, as many commenters on the trail have noted their own experiences of getting lost on it.
Of course, part of this is also due to time spent at the mine itself. There are two mine entrances, though only one is easily accessible. The second is 20ft above the first and requires some rock climbing and possesses only a third total passage length compared to the lower entrance. For the spelunkers, the first mine entrance is an exciting spot with a network of tunnels as well as a 50ft deep abyss near the front of the mine. Make sure to bring headlamps, helmets, and rope.
Be careful, consider your safety before taking any risks (you are far away from any roads and there is no cellular reception!) and bring plenty of water!