11 Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know

Wander to a local waterfall, with excited kids in tow.
Wander to a local waterfall, with excited kids in tow.

So far this winter has been light on rain, but there has been just enough to keep LA's waterfalls flowing. Some of these beautiful gems hide their light under a dry bushel in drought, but every one of the waterfalls below is worth a visit; with runoff from the mountains, the creek beds boast the burbling sounds of water and the trees are starting to bud and bloom. And if we get a rainy weekend, even better: head straight out on one of these hikes the next day! Southland waterfalls are the stuff that family memories (and Facebook posts) are made of.

Most of these hikes are easy to moderate, but if you need a beginner hike for toddlers, or one where strollers won't get stuck, we've got the perfect outings for your littlest weekend warrior, too.

Trails at all of these hikes remain open, and the National Park Service requests that all guests observe 6 feet of social distancing & wear a mask near others. Bathrooms at most facilities are open, but are not serviced as frequently as in past years, so bringing wipes and hand sanitizer is recommended. Many drinking fountains are turned off during the pandemic, so don't forget to bring a full water bottle!

Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Escondido Falls
Lower Escondido Falls is only part of the show on this Malibu trail. Photo by Mommy Poppins

1. Escondido Falls

Trailhead address: 27807 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
• Distance: 3.8 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Moderate
The trail is open, and the water is not quite gushing, but still running, at Escondido Falls, one of SoCal's most popular and dramatic waterfalls. The first .75 mile of this hike is along a paved road in front of expensive Malibu homes, but the trail turns more rustic once you join the dirt road marked Edward Albert Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfall. Be prepared to get your feet wet crossing streams along the way, and then take a plunge in the inviting lower falls. The dramatic upper falls are located on private property, and the The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority asks that hikers do not climb to them right now, to protect the fragile habitat (and not get hurt!).

To get to the trailhead: Take PCH to Winding Way in Malibu. Winding Way is a minor street 4.5 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road and 1.4 miles east of Kanan Dume Road, on the north side of PCH. Turn up Winding Way and into a parking lot for the trail on the left at the bottom of Winding Way. Parking in this lot is pay-and-display. Overflow parking along PCH is free, but read the signs carefully. Dogs on leash and horses are welcome.

Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Solstice Canyon

On the Solstice Canyon Trail Loop. Photo by Jeremy Miles via flickr

2. Solstice Canyon

Trailhead address: Corral Canyon Road & Solstice Canyon Road, Malibu, CA 90265
• Distance: 2.6 – 3.4 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

Winding its way past ruins of Malibu mansions, the Solstice Canyon trail reaches a waterfall that is not as dramatic as the one at Escondido, but is worth the delightful walk all the same. Views are good, with spots of shade along the way. The trail is a loop, and word is that the clockwise route is the easier way to do it.

To get to the trailhead: Take PCH to Malibu and turn inland on Corral Canyon Road (West of Malibu Canyon Road and Pepperdine University at the intersection with the 76 gas station). The park entrance is on the left, just around the first bend in the road. Expect a full (free) parking lot on weekends. Dogs on leash are welcome. No fee or permit is required. This canyon is occasionally shut down after heavy rains; check online for up-to-date info).

3. Santa Ynez Falls

Trailhead address: 2089 Entrada Road, Topanga, CA 90290
• Distance: 2.6 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

This beginner hike is on a shady trail that has lots of tree cover on the path to an 18-foot waterfall. Be prepared to get your feet wet, as the trail generally runs directly alongside the creek and crosses it a few points. Young or nervous hikers should know that near the waterfall, the canyon walls grow closer and the trail becomes more rocky. But otherwise, the hike stays pretty flat and manageable for the length of the trail, with a very slight incline towards the falls, so families can make this a quick, fun outing.

To get to the trailhead: From the PCH, turn inland on Sunset Boulevard (approximately one mile north of Will Rogers State Beach). Travel one-half mile on Sunset Boulevard and turn left on Palisades Drive. After 2.4 miles turn left onto Vereda De La Montura. The trailhead will be on the right side of Vereda De La Montura approximately 0.2 miles after the turn, before the gate. 

Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Waterfall hikes for kids
This secluded waterfall is a perfect place for calm reflection—or rock climbing! Photo courtesy of vgm8383 via flickr

4. Paradise Falls

Trailhead address: 928 West Avenida De Los Arboles, Wildwood Regional Park, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
• Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

Paradise Falls counts as one of LA's favorite hidden gems, with a lush waterfall on a hike so short and easy it can be done fairly spontaneously. Signs along the way make the waterfall easy to find. The water is flowing this year and lovely to behold, but note that this is not water clean enough to take a plunge in.

To get to the trailhead: Take the 101 Freeway to Thousand Oaks to exit 45 for Lynn Road. Drive north for 2.5 miles on Lynn Road, and turn left on Avenida de los Arboles. Drive to the end of the street and park in the lot on the left. Dogs on leashes and bikes are welcome. No fee or permit is required.

During the summer or 2020, this trail was so badly abused by crowds that it was closed again to protect the park and waterfall. The trails have reopened, and seem to be in better condition in 2021, however it's a popular trail, and as the trail narrows by the waterfall it can get crowded. Try to visit at an off time, if possible, and don't forget masks!


Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Eaton Canyon
Eaton Canyon's waterfall is a popular hike. Photo courtesy of Tim Wilson

5. Eaton Canyon Falls

Trailhead address: 1750 North Altadena Drive, Pasadena, CA 91107
• Distance: 3 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

The biggest change for a 2021 waterfall hike is at Eaton Canyon. Free, timed entry reservations are now required to access the Eaton Canyon trails. This actually makes for one of the most pleasant hiking experiences in town these days, as it's never an unexpectedly crowded trail. Eaton Canyon houses a powerful 40' waterfall that is not hard to find along a trail lined with blooms in springtime. When the water is flowing, expect to get your feet wet; a plentiful water supply will make the streams quite high.

To get to the trailhead: Take the Altadena exit off the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. Head north on Altadena Drive. The Eaton Canyon Nature Area is a couple miles up the road on the right past New York Drive. Pull into the park, leave your vehicle in the lot by the nature center and start hiking north. Proof of reservation and photo ID are required to enter the nature area. Dogs on leash are welcome.

Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Millard Falls
Millard Falls is an easy walk for little ones. Photo by Elika & Shannon via flickr

6. Millard Canyon Falls

Trailhead address: W Loma Alta Dr & Chaney Trail, Altadena, CA 91001
• Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

The Millard Campground is currently closed, due to the Bobcat Fire, so families must now park in the neighborhood and walk up to the trailhead. That turns this relatively short and gently family-friendly trail to a Y-shaped, 50-foot waterfall in the Angeles National Forest into a longer hike, adding a little over a mile in each direction. The hike runs alongside the creek that feeds the falls, making for a pleasant walk that can get wet and slippery, depending on recent rainfall. Dogs are allowed on leashes.

To get to the trailhead: The trailhead is in the Millard Picnic Area and Campground, from where the trail is well marked. Rangers warn that the trails may be closed due to high fire danger, so be sure to check before venturing out. A $5 National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle at the parking lot.

7. Switzer Falls

Trailhead address: Switzer Truck Trail, Angeles National Forest, Tujunga, CA 91042
• Distance: 5 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Moderate

Switzer Falls, or Switzerland as some like to call the area, is a great choice for a day hike, with swimming holes and a 50' waterfall as a payoff. The falls are flowing this season, though not very impressively, so here's hoping for more rain! Be prepared to get feet wet and spend a couple of hours on this trail (especially going at kids' pace). Also, teach little ones the old "Leaves of three, beware of me" rule, as there is quite a bit of poison oak in these woods.

To get to the trailhead: From the 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (CA 2) northwest for 10 miles to the Switzer Picnic Area. Descent to the parking lot, display your adventure pass and begin hiking. If the lot at the picnic area is full, there is additional parking at the top of the road. Dogs and bikes are welcome. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle at the Switzer Picnic Area and trailhead parking lot. It is possible to buy a $5 parking pass at the Shell station right off the 2 freeway.

Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Heart Rock Falls
So this is why they call it Heart Rock... Photo by Logan Brumm via flickr

8. Heart Rock Falls

Trailhead address: Route 138, San Bernardino National Forest, Crestline, CA 92325
• Distance: 1.7 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

This waterfall hike is not only easy, it has an added photo op: a heart-shaped natural hole in the rock next to the falls that is almost a bigger draw than the cascade itself. The trail is easy to find, but if in doubt, follow the hearts painted on rocks along the way. There are several ways down, though, all of which lead to the famous rock. The water and photo ops are plentiful, though the fall is sometimes more of a trickle. This hike is a bit of a drive from some parts of Los Angeles, but well worth it.

To get to the trailhead: From the 210 Freeway in San Bernardino, take exit 76 for Waterman Avenue (Highway 18). Drive north on Waterman Avenue, which leaves the city after 2 miles and becomes Rim of the World Highway. At 11.3 miles from the 210 Freeway, take the exit ramp onto Route 138 West. Drive 2.6 miles through Crestline and the Valley of Enchantment to the entrance of Camp Seeley. Turn left on Forest Service Road 2N03, pass the camp and follow the dirt road across Seeley Creek and over a rise to the trailhead, 0.4 miles from Route 138 where the dirt road becomes gated. The trail to Heart Rock begins next to a marker labeled 4W07. Dogs on leash are welcome. No fee or permit is required.

9. Temescal Canyon Falls

Trailhead address: 15601 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
• Distance: 2.4 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Temescal Canyon is a gorgeous hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. In fact it’s one of the best hikes around for kids of all ages. The only problem is, when rains have been light, this waterfall is more of a trickle. But if you can hit this hike soon after a rainstorm, you’ll be rewarded by a beautiful sight. From the parking lot, take the trail past the Cheadle Dining Hall, and a small grassy field will appear. This is a great spot to picnic and play before starting the real hike. While relatively short, just over a mile to the falls, the trail pretty much goes up all the way, so little legs get tired and may want to take a few breaks. But the upside of that, is once you reach the waterfall, it’s downhill all the way home.

To get to the trailhead: From Pacific Coast Hwy, turn inland on Temescal Canyon Rd. Cross Sunset Blvd. to enter the park. Parking is available in several lots for $12 per day. The hike starts at the parking lot at Temescal Gateway Park. The ranger station is currently closed, but bathrooms remain open.

Waterfall Hikes Every LA Family Should Know: Sturtevant Falls
Sturtevant Falls in all its glory after the rains. Photo by Jim Thoburn via flickr

10. Sturtevant Falls

Due to the Bobcat Fires, the trails at Sturtevant Falls remain closed as of February 4, 2021. The USDA Forest Service is currently projecting that these trails will be closed until April of 2022. We will update this information when the park reopens.

Trailhead address: Chantry Flats Road, Angeles National Forest, Arcadia, CA 91006
• Distance: 3.7 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy

The water is gushing at this San Gabriel Mountains spot this season; the waterfall is delightful, but dress for the wet, as the water must be crossed a few times to reach your goal. The trail is mostly shaded and can occasionally get chilly, though the uphill section on the way back might make you break a sweat. This is a popular trail on the weekends, so the earlier you can set out the better, as the parking lot fills up.

To get to the trailhead: Take the 210 east through Pasadena to Arcadia. Exit on Santa Anita Avenue and head north. Go up the mountain for 5 miles until the road ends at Chantry Flats. Dogs on leash are welcome. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle at the trailhead at Chantry Flats. Be sure to pay the $5 for parking, using an envelope if no one is there to collect.

11. Monrovia Falls

Due to the Bobcat Fires, the trails at Monrovia Canyon Park remain closed as of February 4, 2021. We will update this information when the park reopens.

Trailhead address: 1200 North Canyon Boulevard, Monrovia, CA 91016
• Distance: 1.6 miles round trip
• Level of difficulty: Easy/Moderate

This 30' waterfall in the San Gabriel Mountains has a classic wooded setting along a trail that sets off from the Monrovia Canyon Park Nature Center. The water generally flows year-round, but it is especially full after a wet winter, of course. The trail is mostly shaded and the incline is gradual, making this a fairly gentle way to see a gratifying waterfall. There are spots along the trail that may require some wading, depending on how much rain there has been.

To get to the trailhead: Take the 210 Freeway to Monrovia (east of Arcadia and Pasadena). Take exit 34 onto Myrtle Ave. and drive north for 1.1 miles to Foothill Boulevard. Turn right, drive four blocks to Canyon Boulevard and turn left. Drive north for 1.6 miles to the park entrance station, making a pair of right turns to stay on Canyon Boulevard. The lower lot for Bill Cull Trail is to the left of the entrance station. The nature center is another 0.6 miles up the road. Dogs on leash are welcome. The entrance fee is $5 per vehicle weekdays, $6 weekends.

Originally published in 2017, this article is updated annually.

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