Switzer-land Resort: A Gem of the Great Hiking Era

For many of us, summer in Southern California means enjoying the outdoors. Two of the most renowned areas of our region for outdoor fun are the beaches and the mountains. This month’s artifact spotlight concerns the Switzer-land Resort in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Established by Harvey Walker and Perry Switzer in 1880, according to a newspaper interview Switzer gave in 1906, the camp was located about 15 miles up the Arroyo Seco in the mountains above Pasadena, Altadena, and La Cañada-Flintridge.

The going was a little tough, though, with some 60 stream crossings, either on foot or, twice a week, on a pack-mule. The reward, however, was the ability to camp in a gorgeous spot, including a nearby waterfall, just a short distance from “civilization.”

In 1894, the property was leased out, but a forest fire two years later led to its closure. It was a decade before the camp reopened, courtesy of two Pasadena men, Brainerd and Martin, who refitted the facility.

In 1911, Lloyd Austin assumed ownership of Switzer’s Camp and embarked on an ambitious improvement program, including a rustic, but beautifully decorated lodge, improved cabins, a tennis court, and, most spectacular, a stone chapel perched on the edge of the steep mountainside near the camp.

As the so-called Great Hiking Era (roughly from the 1890s to the 1930s) boomed, people flocked to the San Gabriels to enjoy the scenery, waterfalls, mountain air and other amenities.

The heyday of what Austin playfully rechristened “Switzer-land” was during the 1920s and a steady stream of real photo postcards, like the one shown here from the Homestead’s collection, depict the resort in its glory days. Note that, through an opening in the oaks behind the lodge, the chapel is visible!

Switzer-land Lodge in the 1920s
A real photograph postcard of the lodge at Switzer-land in the San Gabriel Mountains, ca. 1920. In the distance, up on a hill, is a view of the chapel.

In 1936, Austin retired and it is likely that the Great Depression had an effect on the viability of the resort. The physical end came for “Switzer-land” during World War II when the buildings were leveled for the construction of a dam downstream. Today, though, hikers and campers can get to the site, pitch a tent, note some ruins of the resort, and see the falls, such as they are in these drought-stricken times.

But, if there is a good rainy winter, as some meteorologists predict, maybe Switzer’s Falls will have some of the volume of the good old days of the Great Hiking Era!


Thanks to assistant director, and outdoor enthusiast, Paul R. Spitzzeri for this contribution.

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