A short hike to 50-foot high Switzer Falls, one of the most popular and easily-accessible waterfalls in the Angeles National Forest. This route also includes a trip further down the canyon to Bear Canyon Campground, an easy way to get away from the crowds at Switzer to find some swimming holes you can keep to yourself.

Switzer Falls is one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Los Angeles County, and maybe in all of Southern California. It’s easily accessible from the picturesque Switzer’s Picnic Area – which means this trail can get pretty crowded on the weekends. If you find yourself circling the lower parking area, there are two overflow lots above it on the canyon road – it just means you’d have to add some elevation to your exit hike.

Parking Lot

The first section of the trail is on paved asphalt and travels past several additional picnic areas. A few more small cookouts were getting started up, and a large stream of people were coming up out of the canyon – many of them with dogs in tow.

The pavement doesn’t last for long and soon you’re hopping across boulders and getting up close and personal with the Arroyo Seco, which is easily passable in all but the highest floods. The recent warm weather we’d been having looked like it was starting to wake up some of the plant life from its winter hibernation. Trees were starting to bud, grass was sprouting, and some flowers bloomed along the riverbank. The trail hugs the river side for most of the way in on this first mile.

This area was badly burned during the 2009 Station Fire, but although the damage is quite visible – the region is recovering nicely.

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At the 1.1 mile mark, you reach a small junction at a stream crossing. The trail to the left takes you through the ruins of Switzer’s Camp, part of one of the early wilderness resorts in the mountains called Switzer-Land. There’s not a whole lot left, and you wouldn’t even know you were walking through ruins unless you read about it ahead of time. You can walk up to the spot where a small chapel once stood overlooking a waterfall. The Forest Service tore it down for safety’s sake, but you can still see some of the arched foundations scattered along the ridge.

If you take the right hand side, you’ll cross the stream. This is the one section of the trail that climbs out of the canyon’s shade and into the scrub of the higher elevations. If the sun’s beating down you’ll definitely feel it. But you’ll also get great vistas of the mountains surrounding you, which can go completely unnoticed when you’re by the riverside. Here’s another spot where you’ll be able to see the effects from the Station Fire for yourself. The first photo below is from before the fire – and the second is one taken after the trail was re-opened.

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At 1.3 miles, stay left to continue on the Bear Canyon Trail. This one of the most gorgeous parts of the hike, offering jaw-dropping views of both the surrounding peaks and deep into the canyon below. The scrub and chaparral were scorched by the Station Fire but look like they’ll bounce back in a few seasons.

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At the 1.7 mile mark, the trail switchbacks from the ridge down onto the floor of Bear Canyon itself. If you want to just hit up the falls, take a left here and Switzer Falls are just 0.1 mile away – but if you’re in the mood to explore Bear Canyon, turn right and continue on the trail along the floor of the canyon.

This canyon used to be lined with oaks and sycamores before the Station Fire. I haven’t hiked deep into the canyon since the fire but it at least looks like many of the trees close to the water survived. The following images are all pre-fire.

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At the 2 mile mark, there’s a deep, multilayered pool that’s a great swimming hole. There was at one point a rope swing hanging over the pool for the more adventurous swimmers, too.

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If this pool’s occupied, there’s another, smaller one about 5 minutes further down the canyon at the 2.1 mile mark. That one’s got the added bonus of having fish swimming around in it. There were actually a couple of anglers casting into the pool when I hiked by this time.

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Shortly after the second pool at the 2.3 mile mark, you’ll reach a junction where Bear Canyon Creek meets up with the Arroyo Seco before continuing south. The trail sticks to the canyon wall and keeps going up Bear Canyon to the east. This is about the place where I found a nice flat rock in the stream and sat in the sun for 90 minutes, reading and enjoying nature’s best white noise.

In sharp contrast to the earlier parts of the trail, only two other hikers passed by me while I was sitting out there. So it’s not the total solitude you can get elsewhere, but it’s still pretty nice. Beats the beach crowds any day, though.

After the relaxation I’d come out for, I picked up and continued on along the Bear Canyon Trail, which climbed up piles of fallen, smoothed boulders as the canyon walls closed in. Other than the occasional scramble up and down to the river, the trail kept a pretty level elevation, so it wasn’t too tough.

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After lots of meandering and boulder hopping, I eventually made it to the surprisingly remote, surprisingly large and well-maintained Bear Canyon Campground at the 3.4 mile mark.

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The campground had lots of cleared space, plenty of metal fire rings, picnic tables, and even some metal stoves. Although the camp felt pretty out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere it’s really only a bit more than three miles in from Switzer’s and just a little farther from the other side of the mountains in Altadena. I’m still going to mark it as a stop if I ever do the multi-day trip through the San Gabriels that I’m secretly, constantly planning in the back of my head.

A short hour later and I was back at the Switzer’s Falls junction. Take a short right hand turn at the trail junction to trek to the bottom of the falls. If it’s a weekend or summer day, expect some crowds.

Crowds at Switzer

If you’re careful, you can scramble up a use trail to the right of the falls, which will get you to a deep swimming hole just above the plunge. It’s also a nice natural jacuzzi, though much, much colder. If you keep climbing up a bit farther, you can make it to an even more secluded and larger canyon swimming hole, with more water streaming down the sides. The trail dead-ends there. I didn’t go up on this trip, but this is a picture of the pool from last August:

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When you’re done relaxing by the falls, just head back out the way you came in.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor at Modern Hiker
In addition to writing about the outdoors since 2006, Casey has also been producing and writing television since 2003.He was the Head Writer on G4's "Attack of the Show," co-writer and host of "The MMO Report," and the Series Producer / Head Writer of pivot's "TakePart Live."His work has received several honors, including Webby, Telly, and CableFAX awards.
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29 Comments

  • Jon B says:

    Just did this hike on Saturday, July 19th. The falls are a trickle right now. With the severe lack of winter precipitation the creek is barely running, and disappears completely in many places (including right below the falls). The trail is still lush and shaded and makes for a good hike on warm summer days.

    • I’m hoping (along with many, many others) that we get some actual precipitation this winter. There are too many great swimming hole / waterfall trails that just aren’t worth going to this summer!

  • Just did this hike with my family. I agree with everything written above – especially the crowds on the weekends. On a weekend or holiday you will find cub scout troops, large noisy groups, and lots of folks with their pets. We went on a Monday afternoon and only encountered 7 other people during our 5 hour visit. The trail is beautiful and well maintained to Switzer Falls which is probably why it is so popular. I had hiked the Bear Canyon trail two weeks before this trip, but today found it heavily damaged from the 3/1/14 storm. There are many trees down with the bushy/branchy top ends blocking the trail requiring bush whacking, bypassing, climbing and creativity. There are sections of dirt trail reduced to rocks and boulders and sections of previously precarious foot-wide rock trail completely washed out. Patience and persistence paid off and we made it to Bear Camp which was in great shape. Good info and great pictures above!

    • Robert says:

      Just got back from an overnight with my daughter to Bear Canyon campground (May 24, 2014). The trail up to the campground is terrible, just as Christpher describes. It is not for the faint of heart if you are carrying a pack of any weight. Felled trees obliterate the trail, lots of flotsam and jetsam make for intense scrambling and finger crossing to find the path. We had to take our packs off multiple times to get thru. All was fine once we reached the great campsite and we were the only ones there : for about an hour, after which the site filled up quickly. No bother, everyone was friendly and well behaved, and it was Memorial Day, so a crowd was to be expected. Any way the path back sucked again, but at least it was downhill.

      • Robert are you describing the trail between Switzer’s Camp and the Bear Canyon Campground or were you coming up the Canyon from the Gabrielino Trail?

        • Robert says:

          The trail from Switzer, sorry, wasn’t clear. As bad as it was and tough for us, we met some “real” hikers who had come up this same trail the night before in total darkness, no moon. I guess the challenge of the trail wasn’t enough by itself for them, they had to do it blind!

      • Dee says:

        I hiked this trail on Tuesday. Came across a rattlesnake, coiled up next to the water. Watch where you step, and keep your dogs close!

  • Christopher says:

    I hiked this trail this weekend. The first part of the hike from the picnic area down to the falls was pretty well traveled. The trail was in good condition for the most part. Be aware that this section is pretty popular. We were unlucky enough to be on the trail when some group outing came thundering through. It was 20+ people stomping through like a herd of bellowing elephants. That quickly ruined the sanctuary of the great outdoors. They could be heard screaming and yelling at the falls for the entire trail portion that lowers down into the canyon by the falls. The falls, this late in the season, had slowed to a trickle, so that was a bit anticlimactic. This portion of the trail is very scenic however and the section that opens up before descending toward the falls offers outstanding views looking down canyon.
    We (my son and I) were backpacking, intent on staying the night at the Bear Canyon Trail Camp. So, we continued down the canyon from the falls. We left the rabble of the crowd behind, only encountering a hand full of people in the first 1/2 mile or so and then not a soul for the final 1 1/2 miles. I feel compelled to warn anyone attempting this section of the trail that it has not been maintained. The further we went, the worse it got. Many, many trees had fallen across the trial requiring scrambling over and under. Sections of the trail are washed out, requiring very frequent stream hopping to get past impassable areas and back again to where the trail picks up, if you can find where it picks up again. Eroded areas make the trail very narrow with only loose scrabble that threatens to slide you down steep inclines. This makes for really arduous, dangerous, and slow progress, especially if you are weighed down with a loaded pack for camping. There are multiple trees down blocking the trail at the exact spot where the trail camp path splits off to the right, which helped keep us from missing it. No one else was at the camp and at this point in the season, the stream bed by the camp is dry, so the nearest water is a 10 min hike back to the main stream. With trail conditions as they are, I would not choose to do this trip again. With a light day hike pack, it might be more doable, but even then, I’d recommend against it unless you are looking for a hard workout and a very challenging day.

  • Marga Feeney says:

    I started hiking this summer and love it!, got a small group of friends and we go every Wednesday after work and on Sundays we take longer hikes, last weekend we did the bridge to nowhere, it was fantastic, we started driving down the mountain when the road got closed at the bottom because the fire and ended up going around, which was no big deal. tomorrow we’ll try something new, maybe the Malibu Creek or the Switzer falls. thank you so much for the information, it is great!

  • Seth says:

    Did this hike twice this month. Truly a great hike. Comparing your pics to mine, you can truly see the devastation the fire did in this area. Still beautiful nonetheless. Ive done this hike 3 times total in the last 6 weeks because I have enjoyed it so much. Bring a hammock back there and set up by the bear canyon pools. The slides are fantastic, and the water is just high enough to go down them. The 4th or 5th pool is deep enough to jump into. There seems to be much more traffic at the falls versus the bear canyon pools. Id love to make this trip part of the larger San Gabrelino trail trip.

  • So when will Bear Canyon be open again? This looks like a great place – I would really like to check it out.

  • Kenny says:

    Yes it is open and is great shape. The place is all new from the toilets to the grills.

  • Samuel says:

    Hi, I was thinking of trying this hike tomorrow, June 25, 2011, do ya’ll know if it is open again? I can’t quite tell from the closure map. Thanks, great site!

  • Kenny says:

    Thanks, that was very helpful.

  • Kenny says:

    This hike is open now, but since ACH is closed how do you get to the trail head?

    • Modern Hiker says:

      You’ll have to take a longer drive in through Big Tujunga Canyon, then hook up with the Angeles Forest Highway and take that down to Clear Creek.

      I’d still call the rangers before gearing up for this hike, though – it’s right on the closure boundary and I don’t think this entire route as I’ve described it is open to hikers just yet, although you may be able to get to the falls through Switzer’s.

  • LOIS W. WEETH says:

    Looking at your story and images of Switzer’s Trail brought back happy memories of a childhood visit to Switzer’s Camp.
    My Dad grew up in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and had hiked all over the area. His family had a cabin someplace near Mt. Wilson.
    In the 1920s we lived in Laurel Canyon, and one time we went up to Switzer’s Camp, hiking up from Arroyo Seco. I was the younger child, about 5, so Dad rented a burro for me to ride up the trail. Mother, Dad, and my brother hiked up. What an experience! I have clear memories of much of that weekend…

  • Manny says:

    Bear Canyon looks like it would be such a great overnight hike with the kids… can anyone tell me if it is still currently close…I’ve been just waiting and waiting… and I cant wait much longer…

  • SASHA says:

    Oh Switzer, how I miss this trail. Looking forward to the day I am able to hike it again.

  • Scott says:

    This Trail has been closed due to the station fire. I tried going out this weekend to no avail.

  • Modern Hiker says:

    Hey, Jim!

    From what I know, the Bear Canyon area was mostly developed much earlier, in L.A.’s so-called “Golden Age Of Hiking,” in the 1880′s. That’s when Bob and Elizabeth Waterman and Commodore Perry Switzer built the stone chapel, camp sites and cabins at Switzer’s Camp.

    Although the camp was on National Forest land, I think it remained privately owned until the 1950′s – but I bet they had a lot of maintenance help from the Forest Service.

    If your father was in the CCC, then he and his buddies left their beautiful fingerprints all over the San Gabriels. Beyond the amazing stonework on the bridges, roads, and tunnels, there are still many Forest Service booths and structures all over the Forest (hopefully they survived the fires). And if he had anything to do with cabin building, there are lots of fantastic examples left along Icehouse Canyon and Santa Anita Canyon, too.

    Anyone who enjoys the outdoors these days – especially in older state and national parks and lands – owes a great debt of thanks to the CCC and everyone who worked with them!

  • Jim says:

    Do you happen to know if this Bear Canyon was developed during the early thirties by the CCC’s? My father worked all over Angeles National Forest in 1932-1934 with CCC Company 551 out of a Bear Canyon camp. They built at least one large swimming hole at their Bear Camp Canyon. Anyway, with the CCC’s my daddy worked all over the area in and out of the Forest–Newhall, Saugus, etc–on roads, bridges, hiking trails, flood control, etc. At any rate I know there have been thousands of folks who have enjoyed my father’s and his buddies work in the area and wondered if there was any lingering evidence of them having passed through.

  • Anthony Hardwick says:

    Thank you for the great writeup on this hike! I did this hike with my wife and a good buddy of mine yesterday. We hiked to the Bear Cyn Campground, took the high scenic route, and also visited Switzer’s falls. We saw a few other hikers along the way, but it was not crowded by any means. One thing we loved about the hike at this time of year was the fact that it was almost entirely shaded by the canopy of trees and the steep canyon walls. We really appreciated the detailed info… thanks again!

    Anthony & Linda

  • Thanks Modern Hiker for maintaining such a great site. We took our girls, 9 & 10, out on Mother’s day for our first Backpacking trip of the year. We ususally head to Azusa and Bridge to NoWhere but after finding your site and reviewing all the good hikes we chose this one. I know you hike these in a day but we like to do overnights with the kids. You can check out our hike on our site if you like. Keep up the great work!

    Thanks
    Michael

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