Does LA have waterfalls?
Yes, there are actually a lot of waterfall hikes near Los Angeles but the season for it is short and dependent on SoCal’s rainfall season so late Winter and Spring are the best time to see waterfalls near LA. This year in 2023, we have had an astoundingly good rainfall so far, but I would still recommend hiking to waterfalls in SoCal by May.
Best Waterfall Hikes in LA – located on the front range of Angeles National Forest and Mount Baldy Area
These trails are all easily accessed from the cities south of Angeles National Forest: San Gabriel Valley (Pasadena, Altadena, Sierra Madre) and Ontario. You do not need to drive on Angeles Crest (Hwy 2) to access these trailheads which I personally find very nauseating and far from OC.
San Antonio Falls
San Antonio Falls is the big waterfall you see at the beginning of the ski hut trail to Mount Baldy on the fire road. It is only a 0.6-mile flat walk on a gravel road, starting at the Mount Baldy Ski Hut trailhead. Once you reach the viewpoint, you can hike down to the bottom of the waterfall. The waterfall does dry out when the snow melts on Mount Baldy so Winter and early Spring is the best time to see it.
Stoddard Canyon Falls is one of the best waterfalls and swimming holes near Los Angeles, tucked away on the road to Mount Baldy. If you want to see Stoddard Falls, earlier in the season can provide a more robust flow but if you want to go in the swimming hole, I’d recommend visiting at the end of summer in August/ September. It’s a very short hike and a perfect way to cool down after a hot summer hike up Mount Baldy. But don’t forget your summer hiking essentials for the water!
Eaton Canyon Falls
Eaton Canyon Waterfall is one of the easiest-to-access waterfall hikes near Los Angeles which makes it a very popular trail. The hike starts at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center but you can also access it from the Henninger Flat trail where you’ll park in residential streets, just be aware of the parking sign restrictions.
The Eaton Canyon Trail is about a mile long, flat, and well-shaded. Note – this is a very popular hiking destination on the weekends.
Millard Falls is the best bang for your buck if you live nearby and only have a short amount of time to explore. It’s almost just as easy to access as Eaton Canyon Falls but without the crowds. It is easily accessible from the edge of the city of Altadena, CA, just north of Pasadena, and is a very short hike. Millard Falls is only a one-mile round trip, very flat hike, but it crosses the creek a couple of times and can be a bit overgrown.
Sturtevant Falls is currently closed from the Bobcat Fire but it’s a stunning waterfall hike just north of Arcadia in Sierra Madre when access is open. The parking lot at Chantry Flat is very popular and fills up quickly. The hike is relatively flat and shaded, excluding the first ten minutes of the hike – it starts as a steep downhill hike and is fully exposed so I highly recommend avoiding doing that hike out on a hot summer afternoon.
You can also hike to the top of Sturtevant Falls and scramble down to it but I would not recommend this unless you know what you’re doing.
Hermit Falls also starts from Chantry Flat but breaks away from the main forest service road earlier on. There is a narrow dirt trail to the right which leads downhill and pops you out on top of the falls. Hermit Falls is more commonly known for cliff jumping than the waterfall itself, as you have to jump into the water to see it. There are two cliff jumps which can both be very dangerous and resues are known to be common there so jump at your own risk. See the same website for road closure updates as Sturtevant Falls.
Best Waterfall Hikes in LA – located on the back of Angeles National Forest, accessed via Angeles Crest
All of these waterfall hiking trails are short and easy (less than 4 miles one way) and very popular so try to visit on a weekday if possible.
Cooper Canyon Falls is deep in Angeles National Forest and is one of my favorite waterfall hikes, despite the crowds. You’ll drive about an hour on Angeles Crest Hwy to reach the trailhead which is tucked at the end of a campground. There is a short, loose scramble trail down with a rope to reach the waterfall at the end so be careful! The water is extremely clear and the bowl that surrounds it is very lush with some large rocks to sit and enjoy an afternoon.
Switzer Falls is probably the most popular waterfall hiking trail in the San Gabriel mountains, but I’m going to let you in on a secret many people don’t know about. When you reach Switzer Falls, you will likely be enjoying the waterfall with many other hikers – don’t stop here. Keep hiking up above the waterfall on the right side (the trail can be very narrow, slippery, and slightly dangerous so be careful) and continue following the water that drains into Switzer Falls until you reach a second waterfall. This one is more secluded but because it is also tucked away in a narrow canyon, keep in mind it can get a lot cooler even on a sunny warm summer day.
Switzer Falls is a “backwards hike”, meaning you descend to the destination and have to hike up and out on the way back, so make sure you conserve enough energy and water for the hike out. It is also a very exposed hike and can get very warm if you’re hiking out mid-day in the Spring/ Summer. Don’t forget your sun hat!
Trail Canyon Falls is another easy moderate-level waterfall hike located in Big Tujunga Canyon. You can hike to the bottom and top of the waterfall but hiking to the bottom is steep and can be slippery with loose dirt and rock so be careful! Read more about Trail Canyon Falls hiking trail here.
Best Waterfall Hikes in Malibu / Santa Monica Mountains
Paradise Falls near Thousand Oaks is an easy-moderate and short hike to a waterfall oasis and swimming hole. This one looks different than the rest and has one of the largest pools of water than all the other ones mentioned on this list. Paradise Falls gets crowded on the weekend and is very exposed to sun so go early and pack a sun hat! During wildflower season, there is a lot of black mustard (the beautiful and common yellow invasive wildflower seen all over SoCal).
Escondido Falls is probably one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Malibu when the rain falls. It’s a 3-tier waterfall and a short and easy walk to get to the bottom of the falls. Many people go beyond it to the middle falls which can be dangerous and slippery to climb up, and the upper falls is on private property and restricted from the public. Parking is $12 so go very early and look for street parking!
Other Waterfall Hikes Worth Mentioning
This one is further in Orange County but worth noting. On a good rain year, Black Star Canyon Falls is a unique waterfall with two falls flowing out of the canyon. It’s still an amazing hike to visit on its own without water and it is possible to climb up into the lower cave, but be careful and climb at your own risk.
The trail to Black Star Canyon Falls is not your standard dirt hiking trail – it is an adventurous path that follows the canyon and goes up and down a lot, offering a fun and different “trail” than your typical hike.
I have heard that the entire canyon is lined with poison oak or poison ivy but I did not have any issues with it when I visited; however, be mindful on the trails and maybe wear pants.
Fish Canyon Falls
If you’ve been here, you’ll know what a gem this waterfall was. This one has been closed since the Duarte Fire Complex in 2016 unfortunately, but it is worth noting in case it reopens in the future. It was one of the best hidden three-tier waterfall hikes near LA. Check here for updates: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/angeles/recarea/?recid=42072#:~:text=The%20Fish%20Canyon%20Trail%20is%20currently%20CLOSED%20until%20further%20notice
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