Home » This Southern California Mountain Road Could Reopen After Nearly 50 Years, But Should It?

This Southern California Mountain Road Could Reopen After Nearly 50 Years, But Should It?

Slow Road Sign

Road closures are quite common in mountainous regions of the United States. They’re often seasonal, and due to the amount of snowfall that their respective elevations see; many passes are simply too treacherous to traverse. Another common reason for closure is mud- and rock slides—in fact, a large stretch of Los Angeles County’s Angeles Crest Highway, also known as California State-Route 2 (SR-2), reopened late last year after a lengthy closure caused by such an event. It’s the main arterial road through the San Gabriel Mountains’ Angeles National Forest.

However, there’s another road not too far east of ACH that’s been closed for far, far longer, to the tune of 46 years: California State-Route 39 (SR-39), also known as San Gabriel Canyon Road.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

This 4.4-mile stretch of road could finally reopen in the not-too-terribly-distant future, and it’d be a major quality-of-life improvement for anyone who’s been inclined to hike, camp, explore, cycle, or enjoy a nice drive in this breathtaking corner of the West Coast. Let’s discuss its upsides and downsides.

Img 4469 Cc
Where SR-39 ends – Peter Nelson

The Road As It Is

SR-39 isn’t entirely closed; you can still jump off from the town of Azusa and cover most of it, but you’ll eventually get to a gate that’s been closed to the public ever since a massive rockslide in 1978. The drive up the gate is quite pleasant: It snakes through the mountains alongside the San Gabriel River, passing by dozens of hiking paths, campsites, a gun range, and even an off-road vehicle area.

There have been attempts to restore and reopen the road since 1978, but it’s in a tricky part of Angeles Forest where Mother Nature just won’t let up, laying down more rock slides, as well as mudslides, flooding, and wildfires.


The thing is, where SR-39 ends and where it used to intersect with Angeles Crest Highway is a stretch of under five miles. It may not sound like much, but it’d have a big impact on recreation and scenic driving for a massive chunk of the Southern California population.

Angeles Forest Sunset 1
Peter Nelson

The Positive Potential

The California Department of Transportation’s (Caltrans) District 7 recently unveiled to the public that it’s got SR-39 on its mind, and has come up with four potential methods of what to do with it.

One possibility, which is music to any responsible driving enthusiast’s ears, is full access to any vehicle, like any of the half-dozen other roads that people travel to take in all the mountain-top splendor. It would also serve car enthusiasts who attend the many car meets along Angeles Crest Highway on any given weekend. Or Friday morning.

This seems like the best option, as it would significantly cut down transportation time between different areas of Angeles National Forest (in turn reducing carbon emissions along the way), increase accessibility, and would perhaps require the fewest tax dollars to keep the road open. Full access to the road could also have a positive impact on the small businesses in the area that cater to people passing through.

Newcombs Golden Hour
The Newcombs Golden Hour Meet at sunset – Peter Nelson

Another option is to keep the road as-is – meaning closed. Easy enough. A third option is to do a limited restoration for forest service and evacuation access only.


Another possibility is only granting access to cyclists and what Caltrans refers to as “active transportation.” Besides roadie dorks like me getting their weekly elevation in, there’d be a shuttle service moving outdoor enthusiasts up and down the area throughout the day, plus service vehicles. This would give hikers easier access to all the trails that jump off SR-2 in that region.

I actually kind of dig this option – it’s nice enjoying mountain roads on the bike and not having to worry about shitty drivers who aren’t paying attention coming up behind me. But for the greater good of boosting access and allowing more people to enjoy the outdoors, this seems like a less-ideal option than fully reopening.

Angeles Forest Sunset 2
Peter Nelson

The Negative Potential

Here’s the thing, though: More roads means more traffic, which increases the likelihood of bad apples spoiling the bunch. People driving too fast on Angeles Forests’ roads is nothing new, but it persists as a problem. Ask anyone in Southern California who enjoys these roads responsibly, and they’ll tell you there are too many morons who pride themselves on “being the fastest in the canyons” and incessantly cross the double-yellow line when demonstrating their imagined prowess. No less dangerous are the clueless everyday drivers who aren’t used to driving on two-lane roads and cut across the double-yellow line out of pure stupidity. Do we really want to give either of these types more real estate to do so?

Then again, there will always be idiots, so perhaps it doesn’t matter. I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m tired of a few bad drivers ruining the fun for everyone, whether they’re wannabe racers or clueless idiots – both of which are a whole ‘nother blog, by the way. If SR-39 indeed reopens, perhaps there could be ways to cut down on irresponsible driving, which is something I’d love to write about in the future.

What do you think about reopening this twisty mountain road, or driving on twisty mountain roads in general? I’ll see you in the comments.


Top image composite: adobe.stock.com; Peter Nelson; Google Maps

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
29 days ago

I generally hate and am opposed to speed cameras, but this type of road might be an acceptable application. Speed camera obviously don’t result in immediate consequences and don’t slow traffic down at the time, but on twisty windy roads you either don’t get police enforcement or don’t want them pulling people over as that would cause other safety issues. Put speed cameras in the areas where idiots hit the higher speeds and they will soon learn. Flip side the cameras are very likely to be vandalized too.

27 days ago
Reply to  Cal67

Have a security camera out of reach watching the speed camera. It can identify when vandalism has occurred, and possibly who did it. Then after vandalism, a crew can come clean and/or replace broken parts.

29 days ago

I once took the family to an event at the top of Palomar Mountain in San Diego. The road up the mountain had a lot of twisties and there were a bunch of people on motorcycles whipping around the turns and it looked like fun… right up until we all saw the mangled biker getting loaded on the chopper to get airlifted out.

29 days ago

Well, since the gates are already there, open those bad boys up during the weekday for normal traffic. Then during the weekend, close them and alternate pedestrian/bikes and Time Attack (for a small fee to help maintain the road) weekends

29 days ago

Open it up and give it a dedicated bike lane.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x