[Top Secret] 15 Best Waterfall Hikes In Southern California Hideaways

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Are you craving a break from your daily life, a visit to waterfall hikes in Southern California with gorgeous trails can fill you with euphoria?

A beautiful waterfall is more than just a natural landmark; proximity to them can significantly uplift our mood. 

There is nothing more satisfying in the summers than being outdoors, enjoying the stunning scenery, and exploring this wonder of nature – waterfalls. 

As the water cascades down the rocks, a calm atmosphere prevails caused by the release of negative ions. 

A waterfall offers sights and sounds that aid you to de-stress in the hustle and bustle of life.

Top 15 Best waterfall hikes in southern California:

The Golden Gate Bridge, extensive beaches, and skyscrapers come to mind when we think of California, but the epic waterfalls often go unnoticed. 

A host of hidden gem waterfall hikes in Southern California deserve a spot on your hiking locations bucket list.

Due to the steeply sloping Southern California mountain ranges, there isn’t a shortage of finding impressive waterfalls in the surrounding areas. 

There are secret waterfalls in Southern California that only a seasoned explorer or California locals have hiked.

Here I made a list of 15 lesser-known waterfall hikes in Southern California to help you that are perfect for trekking on a breezy afternoon.

1. Paradise Falls

Paradise Falls - Waterfall Hikes In Southern California
  • Distance: 2.5-mile roundtrip hike from the main base camp
  • Elevation:
  • Time: 30-40 minutes each way
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

Situated in the Wildwood Regional Park in Thousand Oaks, California, the 40-foot Paradise Falls is highly close to the prime location of Los Angeles. 

Also, it is on the list of year-round hikes in southern California with waterfalls.

It is most famous for deep canyons, oak woodlands, creeks, and hills leading to the waterfall.

The Paradise Falls route is followed through The Mesa, Teepee, and Moonridge trails.

There are many rocks adjacent to the waterfall, and it ranks as the perfect destination for planning picnics with your family.

These falls are the perfect spots that will provide you with a perfect outing with fun elements.

However, San Francisco has other hiking gems like the best hot springs to quench your wanderlust.

There are a few additional attractions for the hikers if you don’t wish to return immediately. 

With a short stroll, you can discover the Indian Cave and Lizard Rock.

If you swim your mind, it’s best to avoid Paradise Falls as swimming and climbing are prohibited.

Dogs are allowed on this trail, but they should always be on a leash.

2. Bonita Falls

Bonita Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 2-miles round trip
  • Elevation: 350 feet
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult

Located in Lytle Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, Bonita Falls is one of the favorite waterfall hikes in Southern California.

As there is no describable trail, you will be more susceptible to losing your way during the hike. 

Once you are on track, follow the green arrows and graffiti till you hear the rushing of water. 

A physical map or compass can be a good aid.

Taking into consideration an average child’s ability to walk, this is a largely kid-friendly hike.

The hike kicks off with a tiny river crossing that you can get through without getting yourself wet.

Then, you are pushed into the field of rocks, which can be pretty tricky to traverse. 

The broken and uneven surface is a stark contrast from the usual So-Cal waterfall trails. 

You can notice multiple varieties of owls, pigeons, woodpeckers, and quails. Thus, if you are an avid bird-watcher, you will love this hike immensely. 

People gather from the various regions in these hiking trails with waterfalls in California.

With almost negligible availability of shade, the trail has intensive dry conditions and sun exposure.

The waterfall does not provide any opportunities for swimming since the water at the waterfall’s base is just a foot deep.

 3.Escondido Falls

Escondido Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 3.8-mile round trip
  • Elevation: 416 feet
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty level: The hike is easy to moderate in difficulty even on heavy-crowd days because of the even wideness of the trail. But you must be cautious while navigating the muddy areas.

Located near Malibu, Escondido Falls are all-year-round accessible waterfall hikes in Southern California.

The tallest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains begins at the Winding Way and Pacific Coast Highway intersection.

A stroll in the shade through colorful forest foliage and river crossings is all it takes to reach the lower falls. 

If you are an adventurous hiker up for an exciting challenge and willing to put in extra work, the Upper Crescendo Falls will be a treat for your eyes.

After a tricky climb, you will arrive at the 150 ft upper-tier pouring into a pristine water pool.

Make sure to wear high-traction hiking shoes for maximum speed.

4.Eaton Canyon Falls  

Eaton Canyon falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 3.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 592 feet
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate with a 0.6 mile
  • Time: 1.5 hours

The Eaton Canyon Trail is a part of the must-see waterfall hikes in Southern California.

Its proximity to Santa Monica, Pasadena, and Altadena has ensured a crowd puller on weekends.

The trail is simple to follow for most skill levels and is marked with an abundant bloom of wildflowers.

With recurrent terrains that demand boulder-hopping and rock-climbing, the journey turns bumpy close to the waterfall.

The waterfall tumbles into a vast water pool, in which you are likely to find hikers in their bathing suits taking a dip to refresh themselves.

Dogs are allowed on this trail, but they must be on a leash like most waterfall hikes in Southern California.

The resourceful Eaton Canyon Nature Centre is located close, featuring exciting exhibits and presentations on the region’s history.

5. Solstice Canyon Falls

Solstice Canyon Trail - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 2.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 300 feet
  • Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Easy

The Solstice Canyon Trail is a very well-maintained and popular path. 

This Canyon falls trail is filled with sycamores, alder, and oak trees to provide the necessary shade.

On your way, you will pass one of the best hikes in southern California by the architectural ruins of iconic mansions like the Tropic Terrace House and Keller House.

This is among the highly aesthetic yet secret waterfalls in Southern California. 

The exotic flora, fauna, and hidden statue of the Virgin Mary add to the scenery.

These trail canyon falls are home to a moderate-sized parking lot, scenic picnic areas, and a theater.

The waterfall Canyon trail offers diverse hiking options for every kind of hiker, be it a first-time traveler or a rough explorer. 

You will be presented with your choices at the north end of the parking lot.

If you are in the mood for a gentle hike, stroll down the paved Solstice Canyon trail. 

On the other hand, you can head up the stairs to discover the secluded Rising Sun Trail.

This is among the waterfall hikes in Southern California best suited for someone desiring to go on a strenuous climb.

6.Santa Ynez Falls

Santa Ynez Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip from the base camp
  • Elevation: 250 feet
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

Located in the corner of the Topanga State Park, near Pacific Palisades. 

Santa Ynez Falls is counted in the best waterfall hikes in Southern California.

The steady and shady incline follows the shaded creek to beautiful valley views and a short waterfall.

Being surrounded by awe-inspiring nature, with old-growth woodlands along the streams, makes for an enjoyable experience.

Even in summers, when there’s almost no water, this trail offers a fantastic hike for beginners at any time with plenty of shade. 

Mostly, it is a straightforward trail except for the rock-hopping and log crossing needed to get to the end through a narrow sandstone gorge. 

The slippery rocks tend to pose the most significant challenge in the last 100 yards.

Suppose the above descriptions sound like a piece of cake to you. 

You can turn up the adventure rating by scrambling onto the curvy sandstone formations on the Canyon above the Santa Ynez Canyon Falls.

It is recommended to wear long pants because of the looming threat of poison oak on this waterfall hike in Southern California.

No dogs and bikes are allowed on this trail.

7.Sturtevant Falls

Sturtevant Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 3.3 miles roundtrip from the base camp.
  • Elevation: 440 feet
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

The Sturtevant Falls is a trending waterfall hike in Southern California.

The trail vastly consists of a hike through the sprawling San Gabriel Mountains to reach the waterfall.

The paved road towards Roberts Camp is surrounded by century-old resort cabins, small waterfalls, and ivy-covered oaks.

A mandatory National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead.

A major attraction is ample space at the base of the waterfall. 

It creates a breathtaking viewing room for the water falling down a mossy green carpet.

At the end of this waterfall trail, you would find another excellent waterfall hike in Southern California on turning down the Canyon – Hermit Falls.

8.Trail Canyon Falls 

Train Canyon Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 4 miles roundtrip from the base camp
  • Elevation: 700 feet
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

Train Canyon Falls is among the well-known waterfall hikes in Southern California, found in the west part of the dense Angeles National Forest.

The region recovered very well after being burned by the 2009 station fire.

This waterfall Canyon Trail proceeds onto a single-track route after walking past old cabins.

Remember to use discretion as the trail path descends steeply into a bank of dirt through rock formations. 

It is better not to attempt the hike if you find yourself lacking the agility.

On completing your big falls trail along the well-established dirt road, you have to cross a few streams.

Following that, the uphill portion of your hike will begin; take your time when you gain elevation for maximum ease.

A large-sized granite landing situated just above the falls is the spot to enjoy a snack and take in the grandeur of the creek.

On making it down to the canyon floor, you will be met by a spectacular view of the Trail Canyon Falls. 

This waterfall hike in Southern California becomes quite impressive when rainwater fills up the creek in winters and people love to consider it as hiking trails with water.

The way back is much easier than the initial climb, and it mainly involves a comfortable stroll downhill.

Dogs are welcome on this trail when on a leash.

9.Tenaja Falls

Tenaja Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 1.5-mile roundtrip
  • Elevation: 400 feet
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

Tenaja Falls is a significant part of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, located near Murrieta, California.

A 150-foot, majestic waterfall gushes down three separate granite tiers before spilling into a mirror-like pool of water.

Spring is the perfect season to hike to the Tenaja Falls due to the blooming wildflowers and an active flock of rare birds lining the trail. 

This makes it a highly recommended waterfall hike in Southern California for bird watching.

The Tenaja Falls trail is reasonably narrow and filled with blind corners off the beaten path.

Since the trail is not subject to any additional maintenance, there have been frequent sightings of mountain lions and poison ivy on the one-way road.

Before continuing for the elevation gain, there is a nicely shaded grove to wind down and regain your energy.

After a pleasant hike, you reach the top of the falls, which is great to have a small picnic or enjoy the serenity if you are a solo traveler.

In the past, the area was wrecked by ranchers and gold miners, but today it is sufficiently protected to avoid any such incidents and is considered among the best hiking trails with waterfalls.

Motorized vehicles, including bicycles, are outlawed on this trail.

10.Ortega Falls

Ortega Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: It’s the hike of a third of a mile round trip to arrive at the Ortega Falls.
  • Elevation: 200 feet
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Hard.

Ortega Falls is stationed off Highway 74 between Lake Elsinore and San Juan Capistrano. 

Since it’s a seasonal waterfall, it tends to be free-flowing only after some heavy rain.

When the waterfall turns dry, it serves as a significant rock climbing territory for people from all around Orange County.

Even though the trail is short, the steep terrain requires you to caution through, under, over the bushes and boulders.

The unique part is seeing the waterfall at the very beginning of your obscure trail. 

This makes it count as one of the secret waterfalls in Southern California. 

Even if you are in that area by fate, you can get out of your vehicle and take a look at this impressive beauty.

A deep pool is formed at the base in the spring, which makes these waterfall hikes in Southern California appear refreshing and inviting to swimmers.

Unfortunately, the waterfall’s closeness to the road causes terrible vandalism attacks.

It is an advantage that no kind of permit is needed on these hikes in Southern California, and free parking is provided at the trailhead.

11.Switzer Falls via Gabrielino Trail

Switzer Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 4.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 690 feet
  • Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

The Switzer Falls is located in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest. It is one of the most famous waterfall hikes in Southern California.

Since this is a well-known trail, it is suggested to begin your hike early in the day to prevent dealing with heavy traffic.

The Gabrielino Trail meanders across a shaded creek and stream crossings. 

Also, there are markers at regular intervals on the paved asphalt road to guide you to the leading destination. 

This makes it one of the easily accessible waterfalls in Southern California.

The trek follows you from the busy Switzer Picnic Area, down the Bear Canyon road, as you travel past a spectacular gorge and ruins from the resort era.

There is a multilayered pool at the bottom of the fall for you to wade through, soak your feet, and even swim.

This is one of the best waterfalls in Southern California you can swim in.

After witnessing the waterfall, adventurous hikers can extend their hike and enjoy the Bear Canyon Trail Camp. 

They have to move downstream and scramble up the steep-walled Canyon for half a mile.

Dogs’ bikes are welcome on this trail.

A National Adventure Pass is required to park at the trailhead in these hiking trails in Southern California.

12.Etiwanda Falls

Etiwanda Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 3.5 miles (to and fro)
  • Elevation: 800 feet
  • Time: This 2-hour hike will act as a potential cardio workout.
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

Situated near Rancho Cucamonga, this is classified as one of the secret waterfalls in Southern California.

From the North Etiwanda Preserve, you receive the opportunity to hike through the San Bernardino Mountain foothills and other eye-catching peaks.

The trail is wide and straightforward, but exposed rock formations are found here and there.

Therefore, light hiking gear would be most recommended for it.

The sun exposure is too much in these places to hike with waterfalls with little shade.

The waterfall is named after a native tribe that used to reside in the Lake Michigan region.

The trail is notably lined with signboards to emphasize the importance of conserving the territory and the waterfall’s part in safekeeping ecosystem functions and sensitive species.

Strictly, no dogs are permitted on this trail.

13.Black Star Canyon Falls

Black Star Canyon Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 6.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 850 feet
  • Time: 4-5 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to Hard.

The Black Star Canyon trail presents a range of fun activity scenarios as you hike to the magnificent 65-foot tall waterfall.

Located near Silverado, California, the trail sends you on a thrill-seeking expedition to the Cleveland National Forest in the hills of Orange County.

With the formation of a wooded canyon of sycamores and willows, the waterfall hike in Southern California is guaranteed to be relatively comfortable.

This waterfall’s direction can appear elusive at times because the trail is not very well defined. 

Thus, this is one of the best hiking trails in southern California.

The first half of the trail along the dirt roads is a child’s play. 

However, the latter half turns up a notch in difficulty and is more apt for those looking to improve their technical climbing skills. 

The Black Star Creek bed there requires you to slow down and carefully navigate cliffs, muddy water, and heavy poison oak.

The Canyon derives its name from the Black Star Coal Mining Company that was found here in the 1800s.

14.Heart Rock Falls

Heart Rock Falls - waterfall hikes in Southern California
  • Distance: 1.5-mile roundtrip
  • Elevation: 200 feet
  • Time: 45 mins-1 hour
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate

Nestled in the town of Crestline, this waterfall hike in Southern California takes about an hour to reach, from Los Angeles and 30 minutes from the Inland Empire.

Also known as Seeley Creek Falls, the Heart Rock Waterfall is true to its name. 

There is a naturally carved and symmetrical heart-shaped hole a few feet deep in the granite wall beside. 

However, San Francisco is known for its best beaches, people also love to hike the waterfall trails for fun weekends.

This makes it one of the top waterfall hikes in Southern California.

The best view of the heart is visible from a diagonal ledge but always consider your safety first as the overlook can turn risky with a 40-foot drop.

These California hikes are wholly family-friendly and rewarding. 

The train is shaded with beautiful foliage of Jeffrey pines, and it gradually descends northwards to the rushing water.

In and around the trail, you can discover small waterfalls that act as natural water slides.

In an emergency, the hearts painted on the rocks can help you stay on track when you seem to lose your way, and the phone GPS is unresponsive.

15.Monrovia Canyon Falls

Monrovia Canyon Falls - waterfall hikes in southern California
  • Distance: 1.5-miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 400 feet
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Easy

The Monrovia Canyon Falls is a constant year-round waterfall due to the connection with an artesian spring. 

It is a coveted one of the best hiking places with waterfalls.

The isolated canyon park is often overlooked even after offering rare amenities like overnight camping and rental services for birthdays and weddings.

The trail path is pretty level and even, free of boulders, but it must be noted that the nearby embankment is steep. This hike is suited for parents with children.

As a wondrous phenomenon, there are three different but equally engaging trails to reach Monrovia Canyon Falls – Bill Cull Trail, Guided Nature Trail, and the Falls Trail.

The Falls Trail is the most used since it’s the easiest and quickest hike and is considered one of the best places to hike in Southern California.

The trail is not suggested for solo travelers since this region is known for wild animals such as black bears

It is safer to travel in a group and make adequate noise to keep the bears at bay. 

Also, look out for the falling rocks.

For a more extraordinary adventure, you must consider taking part in Monrovia’sMonrovia’s Fountain to the Falls Race, a seven-mile race from the downtown library to the waterfall and back.

Final Words:

Nothing can be more rewarding than embarking on these waterfall hikes in Southern California with your family and loved ones.

These will offer you the alluring beauty of waterfalls and surreal trails.

waterfall hikes in southern California

Since most of these waterfalls are seasonal, their flow greatly varies with every new season, and rainfall is received annually. 

If you wish to catch a glimpse of a strong water flow, it is best to wait through some sound storm systems before planning to go to any of these waterfall hikes in Southern California.

Even during the soaring summer afternoons, the mountain breeze keeps the weather pleasant and relaxed on these best waterfall hikes in California.

These best trails in Southern California allow for the opportunity to escape from the chaos of city life and truly indulge in the tranquillity and diversity of habitats on display.

So, what are you waiting for?

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