Ignore the elevation profile here — my GPS receiver got a little freaked out by the canyon walls, so the elevation readings are not very accurate

A relatively easy, under-4 mile hike up a canyon in the lower San Gabriels to a 40-foot waterfall. This popular trail can get crowded on the weekends, but is still worth a visit – especially in the spring when wildflowers take over the lower portions of the canyon floor. Suitable for adventurous beginners, this trail has several stream crossings, and optional, moderate trails on fire roads and single tracks through some of the eastern nature preserve outside the canyon. A must-see for waterfall lovers, even if you have to fight for a good view.

Eaton Canyon is one of those must-see hiking areas of L.A., both because the waterfall is actually impressive by San Gabriel standards, and that it’s so darn close to the city that you really don’t have any excuses not to go. The trail is easy to follow, and as long as you can hop across some boulders in a river (or have some hiking sandals to wade through), you’ll be just fine getting through the hike.

If you’re lucky enough to hike this area during the springtime, you may also get to see some great blooms near the trailhead.

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The lower stretches of this trail are pretty level, and wind through some brush and chaparral on the way to Eaton Canyon Creek.

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After that, it’s easy fire road hiking as the route follows just above the banks of the wide, rocky wash of the actual creek. Here, the trail gets a bit more verdant, and you may be able to spot a few more wildflower blooms along the way.

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At about 0.6 miles, veer left on the Eaton Canyon Trail, heading toward the sign marked WATERFALL. It’s pretty clear. At just about the 1.2 mile mark, you’ll reach another junction, in sight of a concrete bridge. Here, head left again and follow the trail as it descends from the wider track and dips beneath the bridge.

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From here on out, the trail is single-track, rocky, and prone to crossing the creek … a LOT. So get your balance ready, or make sure that extra pair of socks is secure in your pack, then continue on. At about the 1.8 mile mark, you’ll make a sharp bend in the canyon, turning west, and get your first view of the falls. From there, it’s just two more rocky crossings …

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… and then you’re there!

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Hopefully, you’ll be able to get a little bit of peace and quiet to yourself … but even if it’s crowded, you’ll be able to enjoy the sight and sounds of falling water and the feeling of cool mist. They’re naturally relaxing, and if it’s hot, you can even take a dip in a small pool at the base of the falls.

Return the way you came.

If you want to extend this trip, hang a left at the trail junction just past the bridge, and head up the steep incline of the old Mount Wilson Toll Road toward Henninger Flats. There will be a trail that leads back down Walnut Canyon to near the Eaton Canyon visitor’s center. For more information, check out the venerable Dan Simpson’s page on the canyon.

WARNING
There is a route beyond the first fall deeper into the canyon. This route is not an official trail and should only be attempted by those with extensive experience in climbing and canyoneering. Every year, hikers are injured and killed in the upper reaches of the canyon because they underestimate the difficulty. Don’t think just because a trail is within sight of a city that it’s not dangerous. I have not done this route, nor will I likely ever, and I do not recommend you attempt it. If you do, you are literally risking your life.

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Casey Schreiner

Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Modern Hiker
Since founding Modern Hiker in 2006, Casey's writing has appeared in Backpacker, the REI Blog, Adventure Journal, and Sierra Trading Post's Social Hub. He was in Columbia Sportswear's inaugural #OmniTen program and was featured prominently in their documentary "I Am #OmniTen."

His stories for Modern Hiker have brought regional and national attention, and have been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press.

Casey is also an award-winning television writer-producer, and was Series Producer of pivot's TakePart Live and Head Writer of G4's Attack of the Show.
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This post was written by Casey Schreiner on April 9, 2009

46 Comments

  • Hiker_Bob says:

    I am a Certified Docent/Naturalist at Eaton Canyon Nature Center and again I implore “Modern Hiker” to delete your reference to the “trail” to go up and around the main falls. Last year we had 4 hikers die and 60 rescues of people trying to do that trail and yesterday we had a young girl die from falling from the ridge and 3 of her friends had to be rescued.

    Do the right thing and drop the text/photo so as not to encourage people to try to do it. It is just not worth it.

    • OK, Hiker_Bob. Previously, you asked that I include a stronger warning – which I already did. Now I’ve removed the description of the scramble route and included a stronger warning.

      • Hiker_Bob says:

        @Casey: On behalf of all the Eaton Canyon Natural Area (ECNCA) Docents, we appreciate your revision. We want the visitors to Eaton Canyon to enjoy their visit and have a safe day.

  • Brant says:

    Did this hike a couple of days ago and had a great time. It was a Sunday so it was crowded as I expected, lots of families and lots of dogs and all the pollution (of all types) that come along with it, but everyone seemed happy to be in nature. I did make it up behind the falls via the “razorback” trail and that was by far the best part of the hike. Just getting from the bottom of the falls to the top is the sketchiest part. Don’t use the use-trail that goes vertically up the crumbly shale wall. Instead continue on towards the falls another 30 yards and climb up the rock wall. Solid hand and footholds are much easier. There’s a couple spots further up where climbers have secured rope to the rock wall to make the passage a little easier. There are warnings all around about people being injured or falling to their deaths around the razorback trail but it’s fine if you’re careful. The rocks near the edge of the falls are slick, so pay attention. Once you’re on the top of the falls you can rock hop upstream as far as you want to go. I made it to a second falls, as big as the first with a larger swimming hole. Very pretty spot but, unfortunately, packed with trash and graffiti. But at least I got away from the crowds. Another trail led me to the top of that waterfall and I continued upstream for maybe another half mile before I reached a spot where I was going to have to get wet to continue. Really beautiful up there, it’s definitely worth going to get away from the crowds and noise, just be careful.

  • sharko says:

    It is a beautiful trail, unfortunately the people ruin it. Kind of like a pool at some shady Best Western, dirty diapers, subways sandwich wrappers, retards. Looking forward the start of this school year, with peace and quite on weekdays.

    Great work on this site by the by.
    Thank you MH.
    Sharko

  • Seabass says:

    I hope its OK with Mr. Modern Hiker, but i would like to post another warning here to the people who decide to go for the extra credit route…..DON’T DO IT….unless you are very experience in hiking and climbing. People are dying here! Its not worth it.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-eaton-hikers-20110808,0,1471652.story?track=rss

  • Evie says:

    Way, way too many people on Saturday so if I ever hike here again it will be during the week. Waiting in line to cross the stream is ridiculous. Other than that it was a beautiful place and I loved the hike and all of the water crossings.

  • Marichelle says:

    I started hiking this trail Sept 2010 while my kids were at school. Initially, I went by myself using the map from the Nature Center. It was fun exploring the canyon; though in retrospect I wouldn’t go by myself in case I get injured (always go with a buddy). Nevertheless, I acquired a hiking partner and we go hiking 1-2 times a week as part of our workout routine. We both enjoy this hike to the EC waterfall! And we’ve learned much of the flora/fauna in the canyon that mandated us to wear long pants and shirts. The past winter storm we had here really made the vegetation in the canyon flourish…and thus, more poison oak/poison ivy. But that does not deter us from coming back. We know where they are and are very much aware of them.

    We usually go on the weekdays and often times have the whole canyon (and waterfall) to ourselves. I’ve gone once on a weekend with my kids….BAD IDEA as it was so crowded! Weekdays are definitely much better.

    Hats off to those who work at EC as I know the canyon and riverbed gets trashed by visitors who don’t know how to clean up after themselves…their children are the same way. I enjoy seeing a nice canyon during the weekdays. Thank you! And it is a shame that people feel they have to deface rocks with graffiti. I can never understand that.

    Overall, I would still continue to hike here. I’m not sure if I’ll be daring enough to climb above the falls…I’ll probably come with an expert trail hiker with proper equipment. I’ve seen people repel down the waterfall…always an amazing sight to see with my kids!

  • Kris says:

    In my opinion, just give in and walk through the creek/streams. Just know ahead of time you’ll be doing this and bring some flip-flops for when you finish the hike :D

  • Hiker Bob says:

    @Seabass: Eaton Canyon takes a real beating thanks to the “third world” mentality of so many of its visitors. Weekdays are not so crowded as the weekends.

    If you really want to see a beautiful canyon, drive north on Santa Anita Ave to Chantry Flats (Adventure Parking Pass req’d) and hike down into Big Santa Anita Canyon. Or come a little farther east to Monrovia Canyon Park, a city-run nature park ($5 parking fee) that is the same terrain as Santa Anita Canyon, just smaller. Both Santa Anita and Monrovia Canyon have waterfalls.

    Click on my name for my “Favorite Hikes” Website.

  • Seabass says:

    This was a nice hike, but was very crowded when we went. We walked from a friends house that lives nearby. Got there around 11 and the parking lot was completely full.

    The good: I am way out of shape, and this hike was a breeze. Creek crossings were fun and the water fall was nice. you get to be out in “nature” without driving too far out.

    The bad: It was way too crowded for my liking. If i do this again ill be sure to get up a lot earlier.

    The Ugly: Lots of graffiti and lots of trash. found a few parts of the Sunday newspaper up at the water fall. Who does that?

    If you have toddlers, get a babysitter! We saw a few people carrying small kids and one dude was even pushing a stroller down the trail. If your kid can’t walk 4 miles, dont bring him/her!

  • Seth says:

    Just did the hike again today. We were at one of the lower rock pools when a search and rescue chopper came in below the power lines. apparently someone by the falls got hit in the head with a rock that was dislodged from a rock face. Not sure of the circumstances surrounding the incident but we got to where she was and it was a harry scene with S.A.R. and the Fire dept. Its a safe hike, just watch for falling rocks!

  • Juan says:

    Just wanted to update you all on something that happened recently to a friend’s brother.

    Apparently they went out to hike to the second waterfalls. The 50 foot fall that people jump off of. And well, it seems they didn’t realized how shallow the water was, so when he jumped down, he pushed through the water so fast and hard, that he broke his ankle hitting the rocks at the bottom. And he broke it pretty bad. Bone sticking out and all. He had to stay at the hospital for a few days.
    He is fine now. No much but a badly broken bone.
    Still, to those interested on this waterfalls through Eaton Canyon, I say, be very careful. I my self have end up with a bloody nose after jumping off what I though was a very easy waterfall (it was one of the waterfalls much higher up river).

  • Seth says:

    Just did this hike yesterday, we got back to the fire road on the way out and decided to turn around and do it again because it was so much fun. The rock hopping through the river is top notch and really helps improving your balance! Going back today for good measure.

  • Juan says:

    It has been a while since I last did this hike. And the funny thing is, I hiked this place my first 3 times on the same week. Each time with different people. But by the end of the third try, I had learned a lot about this trail and the falls! But, I have never been to the first waterfall. I’ve been above it though.

    To Ed:
    What;s after the second waterfall? Well, more waterfalls.
    None as tall and impressive as the second one, but if you fallow the river, you will come across many different sizes of waterfalls. Some would be impossible to climb without the proper equipment, but it seems the Rangers have been kind enough to place tree trunks big enough to simply walk above them. Some other waterfalls you will have to get in the water and find your own way up. Beware, you will get wet NO MATTER WHAT. So I recommend going as light as possible. But be very careful, because there really isn’t a trail here. You are just following the river upstream. (It makes me angry that even miles in upriver, you will still find graffiti).

    And to Hiker Bob:
    I agree with him as well. Going to the less known trail is far more risky. Each time I’ve done it I was better equipped than the last time. I’ve seen some people up there, who were terrified, to the point that their friends couldn’t move them. I’ve also seen people who go up there to get drunk and seem t think it would be an easy hike back. And even worst, I’ve seen teenagers that go up there with nothing more than gym shorts and tennis shoes. Those I think are the most likely to get injured.

    Still, a great hike. Quite different than all the hikes on the San Gabriels’. The last time I did it, was a record breaking 113 degrees in LA (hottest in LA’s history). And me and my friend has no idea because the water was so cold and refreshing. Also because the trail is shaded for most of it. (we should have checked the weather report before going :b). If you love water, this trail will keep you wet for hours!

  • Dezm0n says:

    i have been up there, and it is worth the view if you are careful, i came down it with an alternate route, but i do not advise it, it was my 1st time like that and proved no impossible factor for most

  • Hiker Bob says:

    Warning to all: I am a Docent-Naturalist at Eaton Canyon Nature Center and over the couple of months the Altadena Mountain Rescue Team (AMRT) has been kept very busy rescuing hikers off the trail that goes up and around the main falls. Some hikers were simply stuck, others injured, some seriously.

    We at ECNC recommend you DO NOT try to hike up around the falls unless you are very experienced and properly equipped. We want you to enjoy our canyon and not put your life at risk.

  • Hiker_Bob says:

    @Modern Hiker: I am a Docent/Naturalist at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center Area (ECNCA) and yesterday we had a rescue of a group of unprepared hikers that tried to hike the trail up and around the falls.

    One hiker slipped off the mountain side and slighty injured himself and the rest got stuck and had to have LA County SAR team get them out.

    We at ECNCA would appreciate it if you would update this site with a stronger warning about attempting to hike the trail above and around the main EC Falls. No one should attempt to hike this upper trail, unless they are experienced and properly equipped. Last year a young man died trying to do this.

    Again, the trail to the first falls is easy and not what I’m talking about. It’s the trail to go above and around to the upper falls we would like a more strident warning – Thanks.

  • SkyHiker says:

    Unless you go after a heavy rain, the water should be low until after the snow melts in early spring.

    As the original post says, if you keep on the “main” trail, it’s pretty straightforward. The last half-mile often trails on both sides of the water. But you can’t get lost, since you’ve got tall cliffs on both sides of the river. Also, if you wait about ten minutes, someone will come walking by and you can always ask them. Just keep going upstream and you’ll run into the waterfall.

  • Lola says:

    Hey! A couple of my friends do this hike, but I have never done it and I really want to. A group of teenagers want to make it to the first waterfall. None of us have done it. We all love rock climbing and all run cross country so I dont think our physical abilities will affect us. Is the trail clear to see or no? Would it be safe to do or not? Is the water too strong to cross since its winter now?

  • Jen says:

    Hey, Casey. I got a chance last week to try this trail, and used your write-up as my guide. Thanks, it was perfect! And a really fun trail.

  • Ed says:

    Do yo guys know whats after the second waterfall?

  • Kali says:

    Just did the hike today with hubby and our little dog. Lots of fun, be prepared for your feet to get wet! It’s one of those hikes where it’s best to just accept early on that you’ll have squishy feet by the end, and go ahead and slosh through the water from the start. It just rained a couple of days ago so I’m sure that contributed to the high water level, and it really added to the spectacular flow at the fall! It was a lot heavier than I’ve seen in pictures.

    Wonderful hike, thank you for this and all your other articles!

  • Filip says:

    Did this hike today. It’s an incredibly docile hike (I even managed to run all the way back from the waterfall) and people bring their little kids. At the waterfall, there were a couple of guys sitting drinking beer (it’s probably illegal, right?)

    I also did the crazy side trail that brings you to the top of the waterfall. There’s actually a second waterfall that you can slide down and you can get to it by just following the stream on top, but I didn’t have time to do it (people said it’s like a 25 min. hike, and it was almost 6 pm and I didn’t want to get stuck there in the dark). But anyway, the path going up is pretty crazy. You definitely have to use your hands and feet a lot to scale rock walls (with a nice drop-off behind you) and then walk across little ledges with drops on both sides. If you’re afraid of heights or not very nimble, I wouldn’t attempt this. I even had to sit for a couple minutes to calm down a little bit at first haha. There’s actually even a spot where there’s a rope you hold on to to help you get across a small ledge. Exhilarating, for sure. Just keep going up the ridge and follow the red arrows to go in the right direction.

  • David says:

    Just did a quick trip up Eaton Canyon and the water level was low enough to make it an easy hike. With a little bit of nimbleness you can easily avoid wet shoes.

  • Zebra24601 says:

    Hiked the Altadena Crest Trail today, which starts just west of the bridge. Followed the route out to the “exit” on Zane Grey Terrace, then followed the signs ’til it joined the Sam Merrill Trail. Kind of an adventure to follow the path. Not very scenic or anything–just different.

    Meanwhnile, across the bridge, the old toll road was open to users again. I may be heading up that trail again soon.

  • Kevin McDonald says:

    My friends and I (including my friend’s 8 year old daughter) just went on this hike this past Sunday. It was very fun climbing over all the rocks. Eventually three out of the four us managed to get wet, though. The rocks can be slippery so beware…your shoes and, if you slip too much, butt may be get wet. All the recent rains provided quite a bit of water in the stream and the waterfall has some very nice flow.

    It was quite crowded, especially at the waterfall. People love to bring their kids and dogs. We started around 11am I think. I think the weather was perfect, though it was a bit warm at times in direct sun. It cooled off some once you got into the canyon part with all the rocks and shade.

    All in all, a VERY fun hike. There were even some people practicing rappelling off toll road bridge.

    -Kevin

  • Zebra24601 says:

    Danielle–
    Hard to say how far you went. My guess (0nly a guess–I don’t have GPS and I don’t know where my topos all went!) is that it’s only about 1.5 miles past Henninger Flats before you crest over to the east side and can see snowcovered peaks of the backrange, and clear over to Mt. San Antonio and surrounding peaks. If you went another 1.5 miles or so past that, you should have passed a trail junction sign for where the Winter Creeks/Mazanita Ridge trails out of Chantry Flats meet the Toll Road. There would have been some very worn out mileage distances on that sign.

    A bit further, and you might have heard some buzzing from the top of Mt. Harvard. A little further still, and you’d see another trail junction sign for where the Old Mount Wilson Trail, coming out of Sierra Madre, meets the Toll Road. That sign would also have mileages. A few yards further and you’d have the main toll road going up towards Mount Wilson, and a trail veering off to the right of the road, up the hill. My guess is, via the trail, it’s a bit less than a mile from there to the Pavilion atop Mt. Wilson.

  • Zebra24601 says:

    Toll Road was closed to all uses as of Feb 9.

    They closed it for a while after the Jan snow/rain, then reopened it within a day or so (or at least the sign was down and people were all over the mountain!). Then, erosion and mud/rock slides would have made it virtually impassable for a car, but no problem for bikes, people, or horses.

    Don’t know how long the current closure is. Hopefully, it is already open.

    Eaton Canyon Falls was REALLY roaring on the 9th. Deep and fast water right after the bridge. Easiest way across was over a large log. But it’s easy to get psyched out as you cross.

    Probably had to cross the river four or five more times to get to the falls. Most were pretty easy, but at least one required a pretty good leap and balance to stay dry (I don’t have either, so I splashed myself on one crossing). A walking stick helps. Waterproof boots would help even more.

  • Spacerockets says:

    I’m wondering if this trail has been affected by the rain recently. I know other roads and trails have been closed.

  • Danielle Hampton says:

    With a heavy heart I was dropped of at a trailhead off of Altadena dr. I walked down across Eaton Canyon and found a trail directly across and walked up. It connected to the Wilson Toll Rd., I walked on and before long was at Hinninger Flats. Still with so much on my mind I walked on and my spirits lifted when I came out of the wooded area and the trail opened up to an incredible view of tall mountains. I took a break and pushed on with no idea where I was headed. I walked through more woods and then caught a beautiful view of the other side. The terrain was rocky and I felt so close to something but not sure what. It’s now 4:30pm and the sun is now my enemy as I watched it sinking into what appeared the ocean. I headed back down and still walked in the dark off the trail but i caught an incredible sunset. My question is how far had I hiked, how much elevation had I gained and how close was I to what I now know must have been Mount Wilson? Thanks, Danielle

  • Andrew says:

    Did this trail this a.m. It was a lot of fun. A bit tricky in parts traversing the rocks over the running water. They are about 6 or places you have to cross before getting to the waterfall. I saw a few people carrying their very young children (<1 yr old) over the rocks. Best time to go is early morning during the week. Gets a bit touristy at the waterfall on weekends. Bring the dog and a camera.

  • Lauren says:

    Just FYI – make sure you bring some good walking/hiking shoes. To get to the waterfall, the trail actually ends, and you kind of have to “follow” others to find the waterfall. You have to climb some rocks and and hilly areas, but it’s worth it. The waterfall is nice…especially in the Spring time. However, it’s getting more popular these days. When I was in high school (i’m graduating college in a month) my friends and I used to hike there, and lounge all day in our inner tubes and eat lunch. Now it’s pretty crowded with random people from all over. Definitely not the same crowd that it used to be.

  • It looks like an excellent hike, not quite a designated wilderness but with some of the traits. Very interesting.

  • meatball says:

    I’ll be in SoCal next month, so I’ll make sure to check this trip out. Thanks for the detailed review. I’ve been reading your site for a while and never commented before now, but keep up the great work!

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