Whenever I have to travel outside my usual habitat, I do the one thing all cyclists do, open up Google to see where I can ride!
My travels took me to the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, and while I’ve covered all the major river paths, I wondered about an offshoot to the east. I’m both a Los Angeles history and map nerd, so I always enjoy scrolling through the USGS Historical Map database.
One of my favorite maps is the one of Southern California in 1901 below. When you see a concentration of lines, you can recognize which communities were taking shape at the turn of the century. Whittier is in there. Who knew?
1901 Southern California Map(USGS)
So when the new, unimproved Google Maps showed a solid dark green line indicating a bike dedicated path running through Whittier, I had to go.
I parked off the Santa Fe Dam and headed down the San Gabriel River path a bit past my destination to take in the Pio Pico House, the home to the last governor of Alta California. It was closed at the time I was there, but you definitely got the vibe of what mid 18th century California looked like if you could imagine the house with nothing else around it.
After navigating around some side streets, I came upon the western entrance to the Whittier Greenway Trail. It is a bit unassuming from afar, but you notice it’s refinement when you reach the start.
The trail covers 4.5 miles along a bike dedicated path that opened in 2009. The throughway is built over an abandoned Union Pacific railway line that was constructed in 1917 giving passage into Orange County.
Now five years old is relatively new in the bike world, but not that new. In other words, things can go sideways pretty fast if the trail isn’t maintained. Well, I wasn’t there from day one, but I can’t imagine it looking any different.
The pavement is smooth, the aligning dirt path is clean and the landscaping is well maintained. One of the features that’s smart are the landscaped islands place that divides the path after any road crossing. It provides a visual cue to drivers that this is not a space to be confused as an alleyway.
One thing you notice as a cyclist, is even with a side path that’s meant to be used to walkers and joggers, that the majority of them prefer walking on the pavement of the bike path. The trail is pretty well utilized by this faction, meaning you have to watch your speed as you pass.
The first third of the trail moves pretty fast, with few street crossings and most of those through residential blocks. Once you hit Hadley Ave., you were faced with your first streetlight crossing. Not bad, especially since I got to take in the historic Cool-A-Coo factory off to the side.
I had to take a detour off the path once I hit the next light on Philadelphia St., as construction of a dog park interrupted my route. Navigating the side streets for a couple of blocks, I came across some quaintly sized turn of the century homes before finding my way back.
The highlight of the trail is riding over the bridge transversing Whittier Blvd. Not only do you feel like you’re floating above the clouds(or traffic), but the wind sculptures adds to the airiness.
From that point, the path cuts across a neighborhood grid diagonally before realigning with Lambert Rd. The remainder of the trail was a tad monotonous. While still beautifully landscaped, the features masked the surroundings a bit more making every section look similar to the next. You also needed to push a button to cross the street about every third of a mile.
And then it was over. Turning back, I actually decided to backtrack taking a parallel side street to the north to avoid all the lights. Yes, this was way faster.
I then decided to head up Greenleaf Ave., one of the major streets that makes you up downtown. While it looks like this main drag might have lost many of its century old buildings, it still felt like a cozy town lined with small businesses and people traveling by foot.
Being short on time, I didn’t have much of a chance to explore Whittier’s stately homes, but I did wander through enough to leave impressed. The area was littered with a beautiful collection of California Bungalow, Craftsman and other favorite styles from the turn of the century.
The good news for the Whittier Greenway Trail is that plans are moving forward to extend the path another 2.3 miles reaching the city’s eastern border. Since it will continue along the old right of way, there is also the potential for other cities to continue this extension.
In review, the trail is ideal for families looking to take their children out for a protected stroll. As for commuting, it may not be the time saver that you hope, but you’ll enjoy the beauty while you’re debating that.