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.
The lower stretches of this trail are pretty level, and wind through some brush and chaparral on the way to Eaton Canyon Creek.
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.
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.
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 …
… and then you’re there!
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. Stop by the excellent Nature Center either before or after your trip. The center has an impressive display of local flora and fauna, has frequent docent-led programs, and a beautiful native plant garden.
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.
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.
He has also been featured on Good Morning America, NPR, and the Associated Press, as well as in documentaries for Columbia Sportswear and the OTIS College of Art and Design.
Casey was one of eight people chosen by the National Parks Foundation to participate in the 2015 Find Your Park Expedition. His first book "Day Hiking Los Angeles," will be published by Mountaineers Books in 2016.
This post was written by Casey Schreiner on April 9, 2009