Hiking - Destination

Best Waterfall Hikes in South California: Start Exploring!

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A hike is a long, sometimes strenuous walk through steep trails and dense forest to a place that offers spectacular views, making the risk and the labor all worthwhile. And nothing could be more rewarding and refreshing than the sight of a cascading waterfall. Speaking of waterfalls, South California, with its steep mountain ranges, is blessed with a handful of magnificent waterfalls that great waterfall hikes. If you happen to be somewhere around Los Angles then here are some beautiful waterfall hikes in Southern California to do.

Hiking in California: Waterfall Hikes in Southern California

Map of California
Hiking Spots in Southern California

The wonderful “all-time summer” climate of Southern California fosters year-round outdoor activity such as surfing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and hiking. Mountain ranges like the San Gabriel, the Santa Anas, and the San Bernardino provide ample hiking opportunities to the residents of Southern California. If not hiking, these are also top places to visit in Southern California.

Keep reading to know the best waterfall hikes in Southern California.

Eaton Canyon Falls

Eaton Falls
Eaton Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Approximate Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Location: San Gabriels - Altadena Area
  • Livingit Rank: Beginners

One of the most popular waterfalls in Southern California, the Eaton is a year-round flowing 40 feet waterfall with a rock right at its brink. Enjoy an easy hike up that tumbles into a wide pool. Cool off the trek heat with a refreshing dip in the pool at the end of the Eaton Canyon trail. The trail starts off as an easy one and then suddenly turns into a rocky, rugged terrain which is trickier but admittedly fun!

Along with the stream crossings, there are a few minor issues which involve a mini-climb at places in addition to unforeseen detours. After a hike of about a half-mile into the canyon, the hiking trail finishes right at the Eaton Canyon Falls. The trail to the waterfall is about 3 miles (1.5 miles each way!). 

Sturtevant Falls

Sturtevant Falls
Sturtevant Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Approximate Duration: 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Location: San Gabriels - Santa Anita Canyon
  • Livingit Rank: Beginners, Enthusiasts

One of the best waterfall hikes in Southern California, the Sturtevant waterfall has an easy to moderate level trail above the Pasadena foothills that takes you to the 50-feet Sturtevant Waterfall. The picturesque and mostly shaded hike starts from the Angeles National Forest and the entire trail is paved with rich foliage, occasional wildlife, and a handful of privately owned rustic cabins. You will also come across a few obstacles like shallow stream crossings and a hilly incline toward the end.

Livingit Tip:
Reach early as the parking area is limited.

Paradise Falls (Wildwood Falls)

Paradise falls
Paradise Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderately difficult
  • Approximate Duration: 1 to 1.5 hours
  • Location: Thousand Oaks, Big Sycamore Canyon Falls
  • Livingit Rank: Enthusiasts, Advanced

Another best hikes in Southern California, Paradise Falls is a 40-feet stunning rapid in Wildwood Regional Park. Though the waterfall is impressive to look at, avoid splashing into it as the water is not very clean. It is a short 2.4-mile return hike from the official car parks to the falls and back. You may also encounter an occasional rattlesnake basking in the sun at the top of the falls. Also, it has added attractions like a picnic spot beneath a teepee, a Native American cave, and some interesting rock formations!

Did you know?
Paradise Falls is also known as Wildwood Falls

Fish Canyon Falls

fish canyon falls
Fish Canyon Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderately strenuous
  • Approximate Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Location: San Gabriel Mountains, Azusa
  • Livingit Rank: Enthusiasts, Advanced

The trail begins on active rock quarries note and unless that kind of things interests you, the start of this almost five-mile hike is boring. But the landscape improves dramatically once you cross a metal bridge over Fish Canyon Creek and get on to the lush main pathway. The final destination is a three-tiered waterfall that drops over 80ft into a clear punch bowl at its base. The sight is definitely worth all the pain.

Livingit Tip
Be careful with the trail as it becomes quite narrow in parts and is abundant with poison oak ( so wear long pants!).

Holy Jim Falls

Holy Jim Falls
Holy Jim Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate
  • Approximate Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Location: Santa Anas - Trabuco Creek Area
  • Livingit Rank: Beginners; Enthusiasts

A fairly interesting 2.9-mile hike from a rough road to the trailhead leads to the lovely 18 feet, Holy Jim Falls. It is a hike that can be enjoyed by beginners as well as enthusiasts. An extremely enthralling place with a mesmerizing and peaceful nature scene.  You will get to see many cascades and cross the streams a number of times before you reach the trail that leads you to the waterfall. In the last quarter of the mile, watch your steps for poison oak!

Did you know?
The Holy Jim Falls is apparently named after a beekeeper who lived in the area in the early 20th century.

Monrovia Canyon Falls

Monrovia Falls
Monrovia Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Approximate Duration: 45 minutes
  • Location: Monrovia Canyon, CA
  • Livingit Rank: Beginners

The San Gabriel Mountains are graced by several enchanting canyons with sylvan streams flanked by bays and alders. Monrovia Canyon is no exception, complete with a splendid 30-foot waterfall that tops off the experience. Monrovia Falls can be reached from a few different starting points in Monrovia Canyon Park. Falls Trail presents a gradual 1.6-mile round trip hike with 350 feet of elevation gain. Connect that to Bill Cull Trail for a slightly less gradual 3-mile round trip hike with 600 feet of elevation gain to explore more of Monrovia Canyon Park.

Also, read - Best National Parks in USA to Visit in Summer - Check them Out!

Tangerine Falls

Tangerine Falls
Tangerine Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Strenuous
  • Approximate Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Location: Montecito, CA
  • Livingit Rank: Advanced, Elite

After a spring drizzle, the 100-foot Tangerine Falls turns out to the breathtaking waterfall in Santa Barbara. The seasonal waterfall dries out for much of the year but is spectacular at the peak of the rainy season. The 2.5-mile excursion to Tangerine Falls has 875 feet of elevation gain and everything a hiker could want — a soothing creek, plenty of shade, ocean views, and even a bit of off-trail rock hopping and scrambling (not to mention an exceptional waterfall).

Livingit Tip
No permit or fee is needed to hike to the Tangerine Falls in Los Padres National Forest!

Etiwanda Falls

Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Approximate Duration: 2 hours
  • Location: San Gabriels - Rancho Cucamonga Area
  • Livingit Rank: Beginners, Enthusiasts

Well graded though shadeless trail to lovely tree-lined stream with multi-tiered waterfall 100' total height. It is a 5-mile hike with an elevation of 800 feet. On the way to the falls, you will come across and cross North Etiwanda Preserve, which is a private property and not a designated part of the Preserve. Also, it is a favorite for people who love trekking with kids!

Black Star Canyon Falls

Black Star Canyon falls
Black Star Canyon Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderately Difficult
  • Approximate Duration: 5 hours
  • Location: Santa Anas - Silverado Canyon Area
  • Livingit Rank: Advanced, Elite

Hike to a wonderful 65' tall waterfall in a beautiful wooded canyon. Easy fire road for first 2.5 miles or so, but then off trail boulder hopping up the stream bed .8 mile to reach Black Star Canyon Falls. The Black Star Canyon Falls got its name from the Black Star Coal Mining Company which was in the canyon in the 1800s. 

Livingit Tip
Proceed with caution, as there is heavy poison oak in the area.

Escondido Falls

Escondido falls
Escondido Falls (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderately Difficult
  • Approximate Duration: 1.45 hours
  • Location: Malibu, CA
  • Livingit Rank: Enthusiasts, Advanced

Malibu has more to offer than sand and beaches. This stunning waterfall is tucked away from the Winding Way Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. The 3.8-mile round trip hike to Escondido Falls begins just off Pacific Coast Highway and goes uphill for 0.75 miles along Winding Way, a paved road that passes extravagant Malibu residences. Do not let the blacktop deter you. The waterfall is well worth the hike’s unconventional start. After gaining almost 200 feet, the road heads downhill and arrives at Escondido Canyon Park, a wooded park that is open for everyone to enjoy. No permit or fee is needed for the hike. 

Livingit Tip:
Dogs and mountain bikes are permitted!

Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set

Middle Fork Lytle Creek
Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderately Difficult
  • Approximate Duration: 5 hours
  • Location: San Gabriels - Lytle Creek Area
  • Livingit Rank: Advanced, Elite

Magnificent alpine canyon featuring perennial stream, old growth pines and cedars, and spectacular waterfalls - but a rough ride to the trailhead. This hike will take you from the trailhead on a steep climb over a ridge, then drops into the lovely alpine canyon, passing through some enchanting forest, before going off the trail after 3 miles to boulder hopping for 5 mile up a deep dramatic gorge to a fabulous triple tier waterfall over 200′ in total height.

Did you know?
The Lytle Creek has three separate forks, and it drains a large area of the tallest mountains in the San Gabriel range.

Solstice Canyon Hike

Solstice Canyon
Solstice Canyon (source)
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Approximate Duration: 3 hours
  • Location: Santa Monicas - Malibu Area
  • Livingit Rank: Beginners, Enthusiasts

Hike into a wonderful seaside canyon that features great ocean views, old oak trees, interesting historical ruins, and a lovely seasonal waterfall. The Solstice Canyon Hike is located in Malibu off Corral Canyon Road at Pacific Coast Highway. It is a part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. This is a delightful coastal canyon with something to offer for everyone. Pets are also allowed on the trails, but they must be kept on a leash. Despite being located within one of Southern California’s most bustling and glamorous areas, Solstice Canyon manages to defy the cacophonies that come with modern-day city living. One of the ways that the site accomplishes this is by preserving its historical attributes, which stretch back to the 19th century.

Summing up

These are typically waterfall hikes in Southern California that are accessible by a maintained trail. Many of those are accessible by a maintained trail which is also close to a parking area and thus requires little effort to reach.

One of the facts to keep in mind about Southern California Waterfalls, and the mountain streams in general, is that many of them are seasonal. Hence, the flow can vary greatly depending on the season and the amount of precipitation received in a given year.

Some of these waterfalls hikes in Southern California are tricky and very adventurous indeed.

So, please make sure your pick of waterfall hikes matches your current level of hiking ability and conditioning!

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