ɫ̳

Skip to content

ɫ̳ |
Rancho Cucamonga gets $2.6 million to buy 122 acres for new trail into national forest

Land deal is aimed at improving public access to Cucamonga Canyon while addressing persistant concerns with safety, traffic and more.

Hikers Zack and Estella Lake make their way to Sapphire Falls through Cucamonga Canyon on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)
Hikers Zack and Estella Lake make their way to Sapphire Falls through Cucamonga Canyon on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)
Brooke Staggs
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Southern California hikers just inched closer to legally visiting popular waterfalls in lower Cucamonga Canyon and the surrounding national forest for the first time in 11 years.

The U.S. Forest Service closed this stretch of the San Gabriel Mountains to the public back in 2013, after YouTube videos and other social media posts about Sapphire Falls triggered a parade of up to 400 visitors a day. Some hikers died, while others had to be rescued from the area’s steep cliffs. Some trespassed across private property or left behind . And since there’s no dedicated parking nearby, cars clogged the neighborhood near Almond and Sapphire streets.

Now Rancho Cucamonga is getting $1 million from the state and $1.6 million from the federal government to buy up to 122 acres of a 264-acre parcel known as King Ranch, which sits between that neighborhood and the surrounding San Bernardino and Angeles national forests.

Members of the King family — including late Rancho Cucamonga mayor Jeffrey King and his widow, retired San Bernardino County Judge Pamela King — have shared ownership of the land since the late 1800s. It’s been home to citrus trees and a Christmas tree farm over the years, but remains largely undeveloped.

If city leaders can close a deal on the southwest corner of King Ranch, they hope to restore and preserve the area, which is home to some threatened and endangered species. Then they aim to use a bit of that acreage to help build a new trail system, which could offer hikers a safe route into the canyon as soon as next spring.

“This is public land. We want to make sure that it is open to the public,” said Michael Parmer, assistant to the city manager for Rancho Cucamonga. “We want to make sure people have an opportunity to enjoy what’s in our backyard.”

  • The Cucamonga Canyon entrance sign is seen on Thursday, March...

    The Cucamonga Canyon entrance sign is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • Smaller off-shoot trail of Cucamonga Canyon is seen on Thursday,...

    Smaller off-shoot trail of Cucamonga Canyon is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • The Cucamonga Canyon entrance sign is seen on Thursday, March...

    The Cucamonga Canyon entrance sign is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • Smaller off shoot trail of Cucamonga Canyon is seen on...

    Smaller off shoot trail of Cucamonga Canyon is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • Hikers Zack and Estella Lake make their way to Sapphire...

    Hikers Zack and Estella Lake make their way to Sapphire Falls through Cucamonga Canyon on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • The road to Cucamonga Canyon and Sapphire Falls is seen...

    The road to Cucamonga Canyon and Sapphire Falls is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • The road to Cucamonga Canyon and Sapphire Falls is seen...

    The road to Cucamonga Canyon and Sapphire Falls is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

  • Foliage along Cucamonga Canyon is seen on Thursday, March 21,...

    Foliage along Cucamonga Canyon is seen on Thursday, March 21, 2024 in Rancho Cucamonga. The city aims to buy nearby land to build a new trail. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, ɫ̳/SCNG)

of

Expand

The problem isn’t unique to Rancho Cucamonga. More than 15 million acres of federal and state lands in 11 western states, including California, are inaccessible to the public because they’re surrounded by private land, according to , a company that makes a suite of navigation apps. That’s an area nearly twice as large as all nine of California’s national parks combined.

In parts of Southern California, and other public lands also are frequently closed because of risks or damage from wildfires and flooding, which have become more severe in recent years due to climate change.

That’s why organizations like the nonprofit Trust for Public Land work to not only preserve green spaces but also to ensure access for the public.

“Only 36% of residents in Rancho Cucamonga live within a 10-minute walk of a park or greenspace,” said Alex Size, a local conservation director for Trust for Public Land. “However, we understand that access to the outdoors is a fundamental human need, and Southern California’s communities are stronger, healthier and more connected when everyone has increased access to the outdoors.”

So by using “public funds for public access to public lands, such as the San Bernardino National Forest,” Size said, “more Southern Californians will be able to engage with nature responsibly and more thoughtfully in the future.”

Rancho Cucamonga has discussing potential solutions with various agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, San Bernardino County, the local fire department and Cucamonga Valley Water District, which also owns property in the area.

City leaders last year adopted a 38-page , with several options to give people safer access to the canyon. Now they’re pursuing “option 3,” which starts with building a new trailhead on property known as Morgan Ranch, off Skyline Road and Almond Street.

That a year ago after Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, included the project among his 2023 federal earmarks.

“As a strong supporter of creating more open spaces in the Inland Empire for residents to enjoy, I was proud to secure $1 million in federal funding to create a trailhead at Cucamonga Canyon,” Aguilar said via email. “This trailhead will make this area safer for hikers and help boost our region’s tourism economy.”

Staff is completing environmental reviews for the trailhead portion of the project now, Parmer said, with hopes to finalize them in a couple months.

Once a city-owned trailhead is in place, Rancho Cucamonga could install cameras, boost police patrols on peak days, and even close the trail in times of severe fire danger or other hazards. The city also could work with the U.S. Forest Service to manage capacity by selling limited numbers of passes, as happens in places such as Cedar Creek in San Diego.

The goal is to also create some off-street parking in the area, though Parmer said those details are still being worked out.

From the trailhead, the city’s plan calls for hikers to head northwest to the federal access road, which is known as both Big Tree Road and West Cucamonga Truck Trail.  They could then take that federal access road up to a spot known as Party Point. And from there, Parmer said they hope to work with the U.S. Forest Service to develop a safe route down into the canyon so people can enjoy Sapphire Falls again.

But between the trailhead and the federal access road lies King Ranch. That’s where new state and federal funds come into play.

Earlier this month, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, she’d secured $1.6 million in federal earmarks to help Rancho Cucamonga buy a portion of King Ranch and build a section of public trail there.

When she was assessing applications for those funds from area leaders and organizations, Chu said via email that it was clear buying this land “for conservation, rehabilitation and preservation purposes would be critical to protecting the area’s natural and cultural resources.” That includes “supporting sensitive, threatened and otherwise ecologically significant species” while also helping Rancho Cucamonga “better facilitate the area’s high visitation.”

Then on Monday, March 18, California State Parks announced it had awarded the city $1 million from its competitive California Habitat Conservation Fund Grant Program.

Money from that program also will help expand and improve trails in San Pedro, Huntington Beach and Moreno Valley, and fund education programs in Glendale and Riverside’s Hidden Valley Wildlife Area. But the $1 million set aside for the land purchase in Rancho Cucamonga was one of the largest grants carved out from the $6.7 million pool of program funding.

“To acquire 120 acres of property next to a major city like this in Southern California is really an impressive feat,” said Sedrick Mitchell, a spokesman for the state parks department. “And the fact that it’s next to U.S. Forest Service lands makes it that much more important to the state and to people living in that region.”

The ranch land needed for the trail has been appraised between $2 million and $3 million, according to Parmer. So he hopes the city will have enough in state and federal funds to close the deal.

Members of the King family who own shares of the land in question couldn’t be reached or declined requests to comment for this story. Court records show a legal dispute over dividing the property was settled in June.

Gus Bahena, a spokesman for San Bernardino National Forest, said they’re “satisfied” to hear Rancho Cucamonga received funding to help with the land purchase. And he said the Forest Service will continue to work with the city and other involved agencies “to review plans that would provide options for safe and legal access to Cucamonga Canyon.”

More in ɫ̳