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Paradise Falls
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Alex Mladenovic

The 5 best hiking trails in L.A. with waterfalls

Looking for hiking trails in L.A.? Head outdoors and experience these five hikes with waterfalls.

Michael Juliano
Edited by
Michael Juliano
Written by
Jade Chang

While Angelenos are blessed with a gorgeous web of hikes with a view, we all too often find ourselves baked by the sun, with the ocean in sight and yet tantalizingly out of reach. So how do you get a little refresher while you’re in the middle of a mountainous trek or camping excursion? With some mist from a waterfall.

Here are five hiking trails in L.A. that’ll keep you cool by journey’s end with some of the area’s most impressive waterfalls. L.A. hikes with waterfalls? We can’t think of more perfect things to do to take advantage of the all-too-brief rainy season (they’re technically still visible in the summer, but you’ll find a considerably more meager flow).

Just a word of caution: Waterfalls are strongest when winter snow up in the mountains melts in the spring, or after it rains. That’s also when they’re at their most dangerous; we wouldn’t recommend tackling these trails immediately after it’s rained—wait just a couple of days to be safe, particularly if you’re a novice hiker.

Hit the trails for these five waterfall hikes

  • Things to do
  • Malibu

This is one of the biggest waterfalls in Southern California—a two-tiered, 150-foot cascade that pours down a series of limestone rocks covered in bright-green moss. You’ll start on Winding Way East, a private road in the Malibu hills that takes you uphill past ocean-view estates. After about half a mile the road will head downhill and there will be a clearly marked path to the left. This is the Escondido Canyon Trail, an adventurous path that crisscrosses streams—so be prepared for some serious rock-hopping.

About a mile in, you’ll reach the Lower Escondido Falls, which are lovely on their own—at 50 feet they rival any of the other waterfalls on this list. This is a good place for a breather, or for the less sure-of-foot it’s a lovely ending point. Everyone else should continue upwards via a clear route to the right of the falls (we suggest you opt for the official route—the other one is definitely dangerous!) for a steep climb that will take you to the Upper Escondido Falls. There’s a guide rope to help you pull yourself along, but be mindful of the slippery rocks. This path will take you under part of the lower waterfall and over more boulders until you reach the main event, a majestic tiered cascade that fans over moss-grown outcroppings.

On a hot day there’s no better reward than wading into the pool—there will probably be a couple of dogs already paddling around!—or just stand behind the waterfall letting the cool spray hit your skin.

Address: 27200 Winding Way
Trailhead: Park at the lot on Winding Way East a Pacific Coast Highway. The trailhead starts on Winding Way Road, take the clearly marked path.
Pets? Dogs allowed on leashes
Length: ~3.8 miles
Time: 2 hrs

  • Things to do
  • Pasadena

Don’t let the fact that the Eaton Canyon Natural Area is also home to the dubiously named Moist Canyon keep you from visiting this popular spot. The abundance of slow-moving families? It’s a legitimate deterrent, unless, of course, you are in possession of a few children yourself, in which case this is the perfect hike for you and your over-five-year-olds.

Make sure that everyone is wearing shoes that can stand getting a bit moist as there are several stream crossings on the easy, under-three-mile trek—we counted nine along the route, but it varies depending on the season.

Start your journey at the Nature Center parking lot and take the main Park Road Trail 1.5 miles through a wooded, rocky area that inclines gently. Once you reach the plunging 50-foot waterfall that drops into a beautiful punchbowl of rock, enjoy wading in the shallows, but avoid climbing up to the razorback trail above the falls—a number of people have died doing just that.

If you’re looking for a challenge, further ahead the trail links up with the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, an eight-mile hike to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Otherwise just turn back the way you came. If you do detour into Moist Canyon be sure to listen for gunshots—the Pasadena Police Department’s firing range borders the canyon, but they swear that it’s all perfectly safe!

Address: 1750 N Altadena Dr
Trailhead: Park at the Nature Center and cross the wash to the clearly marked trailhead.
Pets? Dogs allowed on leashes
Length: ~3 miles
Time: 1 hr 30 min

Looking for the fastest route to the waterfall? You can use the Pinecrest Gate (Pinecrest Dr; adjacent parking available on weekdays only) to start about a mile closer to the falls.

  • Things to do
  • Thousand Oaks

The trail system in Wildwood Park is almost an embarrassment of riches, with four different paths diverging out from the Avenida de los Arboles entrance. Choose the Moonridge Trail for a sunny walk through scrub plains that might look familiar if you were a fan of Disney Westerns (like the classic Davy Crockett) from the ’50s and ’60s.

After close to a mile, Moonridge Trail intersects with the Tepee Trail; turn left there and a few steps will bring you to a recreated tepee and a view of the Arroyo Conejo canyon. From there, it’s just a quarter mile to Paradise Falls, a dramatic 40-foot cascade that’s impressive even in the dry season. Resist the urge to swim here—the water’s not too clean—instead, have lunch and catch the Wildwood Canyon Trail to head back to the entrance. You’ll be able to satisfy your yen to explore when you hit the Indian Cave Trail in half a mile. At the end of this very brief detour is a cave—a tunnel through the rocks that’s large enough to walk through. Park officials believe it was used by Chumash Indians. The last stretch of your journey follows Indian Creek Trail, an excellent path for bird-spotting, especially during migration season.

Address: 928 W Avenida de los Arboles
Trailhead: Clearly marked, just west of the parking lot on Avenida de los Arboles. Trail maps are available here.
Pets? Dogs allowed on leashes
Length: ~2.2 miles
Time: 1 hr

Paradise Falls temporarily closed in the spring of 2020 due to unprecedented crowds and waste (including, erm, human waste) so please be considerate when visiting.

  • Things to do
  • Malibu

It’s easy to imagine yourself in a post-apocalyptic paradise while on this lovely Malibu hike that wends through the ruins of two properties on the way to a 30-foot waterfall that makes up for its modesty with a series of natural pools that invite exploration.

From the park entrance off Corral Canyon Road, take the gentle, shaded Solstice Canyon Trail. First up is the Keller House, a hunting cabin made of stone and built by the original owners of the canyon lands. About half a mile up the trail, you’ll reach the remains of the Roberts Ranch House, built by famed architect Paul Williams (he designed the Theme Building at LAX) as a retirement retreat for grocery store magnate Fred Roberts and his wife Florence. The Polynesian-style home—once featured in Architectural Digest—was destroyed by fire in 1982. What’s left is essentially a 3-D blueprint of the property: There’s a disintegrating stove, a rusty bathtub and the remains of several walls. If not for the happy splashing of your fellow hikers, the whole scene would feel eerie. Instead, it’s a perfect spot for a picnic; add a patterned cloth, serve something out of a Mason jar and boom—Instagram magic. To make a loop, take the Rising Sun Trail back. It’s a bit of a climb, but you’ll be rewarded with a view of the Pacific through the canyon.

Address: 3998 Solstice Canyon Rd
Trailhead: Turn onto Solstice Canyon Road from Corral Canyon Road. The trailhead is clearly marked from the main parking lot.
Pets? Dogs allowed on leashes
Length: ~2.5 miles
Time: 1 hr

  • Things to do
  • Angeles National Forest

The trail is still closed due to 2020’s Bobcat Fire. In the meantime, consider trying Millard Falls, a similarly-tall but slightly less dramatic waterfall accessible via a two-and-half-mile round-trip trek from the northern edge of Altadena (turn off of W Loma Alta Dr and onto Chaney Trail to reach the trailhead).

This is the California that pioneers and prospectors first saw: A lush canyon bisected by waterways and shaded by a canopy of trees. With a scattering of remote cabins and a thriving pack-mule service, the Angeles National Forest still retains some of the flavor of those early days. After parking at the Chantry Flat lot, start off on the Gabrielino Trail.

You’ll descend into Big Santa Anita Canyon, which was a prime destination in the storied Great Hiking Era (1890s-1930s), when John Muir was a popular hero and the National Park Service was established. Roberts’ Camp, where the trail will veer towards Sturtevant Falls, was a trail resort in that period and the small cabins that you see were all built prior to WWII. They remain privately owned, linked by a six-mile-long crank-phone system and accessible only by pack mule or foot.

You’ll know that you’re getting close to the falls when the stream crossings begin—soon after is the magnificent, 50-foot Sturtevant Falls, which cascades into a circular pool ringed by giant rocks. This is an in-and-out hike, so keep in mind that you’ll have to do a fairly steep, unshaded climb out of the canyon and back to the parking lot.

Address: Santa Anita Ave to Chantry Flat Rd
Trailhead: Enter the lower Chantry Flat parking lot at the end of the road, the trailhead is clearly marked from the lower lot.
Pets? Dogs allowed on leashes
Length: ~3.7 miles
Time: 2 hrs

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