8 Amazing Waterfall Hikes in Southern California
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Southern California (colloquially known as SoCal) is home to some of the beautiful waterfalls in the country with impressive volumes of water. Its mild climate encourages year-round outdoor activities. No matter what you’re hiking skill is a scenic waterfall isn’t too far away. Most of these waterfall hikes are suitable for all skill levels.

Here are some of the best waterfall hikes in Southern California. All of these falls require a hike, so plan accordingly. Bring lots of water, a good pair of shoes, and a healthy dose of sunscreen.

1. San Antonio Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 75 feet
  • Distance: 1.3 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 272 feet
  • Location: Angeles National Forest

San Antonio Falls

San Antonio is an impressive 75 feet tall waterfall carrying water off Mount Baldy. It is one of the SoCal’s tallest and easily accessible year-round waterfalls. San Antonio Falls swells in early spring and late winter when snowmelt increases the flow.

This is an easy hike and those sensitive to altitude shouldn’t have a problem. While there may be snow during the winter, most of the route is on a paved service road, so the weather is not likely to present a hazard. Although, getting to San Antonio Falls is easy but the long drive to the base of Mount Baldy is very tough. You hike on a paved road most of the way. The pavement isn’t the best surface to hike on, but Falls Road offers some nice views up San Antonio Canyon toward towering Mount Baldy.

If you want a strenuous hike after visiting the waterfall, you will find San Antonio Creek to be the perfect place to relax and rinse off. The cold clear water below the waterfall is perfect for soaking sore feet. There is also an overlook with some great views and it makes a nice photo opportunity. There is some scrambling over boulders and narrow parts to the trail just before reaching the falls, but it’s not too difficult. Since it is a short hike and not ideal for workout, but a pleasant place to play in the water and have a picnic.

2. Cedar Creek Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 100 feet
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 1000 feet
  • Location: Cleveland National Forest

Cedar Creek Falls - San Diego

Cedar Creek Falls is one of the beautiful waterfalls in San Diego County. The bare rocks enclosing the rocky oasis-like grotto into which the waterfall drops which makes it so appealing. Adding to the scenic appeal, some impressive mountain scenery backing the San Diego River basin. The waterfall has gained much popularity in recent years that you now need a permit to do this hike. The waterfall is around 100 feet tall and it has a large pool that it falls into. This makes it so attractive for people who want to swim and spend time on hot summer days.

There are two ways to get to the falls – the west entrance at the San Diego Country Estates accessed from Ramona and the east entrance at the Saddleback Hill accessed from Julian. Both of these routes are of the same hiking distances of around 5-mile out and back. They’re both upsides down hikes. You go downhill to the falls then uphill back. Despite the two obvious trails and lack of off-trail scrambling, this hike can be deceptively strenuous.

Bring a lot of water or water filtration system because the hike itself is not too strenuous at only 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but the exposure and heat can make it tough if you go unprepared. Also, there’s an optional spur which adds three miles and takes you to the top of the falls. Save some water and energy for that last section as you will be doing a lot of uphills as you head out of the canyon.

3. Escondido Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 150 feet
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation Gain: 626 feet
  • Location: Escondido Canyon Park

Escondido Falls

Escondido Falls is located in Escondido Canyon Park near Malibu, California. The trail offers several recreational activities and it is accessible year-round. You can bring dogs to use this trail but they must be kept on leash. When the Falls is flowing strong, it is flat out one of the finest waterfalls in Malibu. Escondido Falls has a hard-to-reach upper tier that’s 150 feet tall and an easy-to-reach lower tier that is 50 feet tall.

It is a 3.8-mile round trip hike and it begins just off Pacific Coast Highway and goes uphill for 0.75 miles along Winding Way. You hike mostly on a paved road that passes extravagant Malibu residences. The waterfall is well worth the hike’s unconventional start.

The Lower Escondido Falls is a fitting destination for many hikers that can be reached with ease. For those who want a bit more and willing to work for it, Upper Escondido Falls is three times as tall and ten times as beautiful. You can use the roots for support to make your way upward. A rope may be available to help with one portion of this steep section of the hike.

The Upper Escondido Falls is just amazing. The water pours over a wall of lush green moss and falls some 150 feet before landing in a calm pool. If Escondido Falls has a good flow of water, it is one of the best around. If you are prepared to get wet, this precarious venture adds even more fun to the hike.

4. Tangerine Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 100 feet
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Elevation Gain: 971 feet
  • Location: Los Padres National Forest

Tangerine Falls - Santa Barbara

Tangerine Falls is located near Santa Barbara, California. The hike to Tangerine Falls is a 2.2-mile out and back trail that features a waterfall and is rated as difficult. The hike offers several activity options and is best used from March until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

It is a seasonal waterfall and dries out for much of the year. But after a good amount of rain, the Falls blooms into the most beautiful waterfall in Santa Barbara. The 2.2-mile hike to Tangerine Falls has everything a hiker could want — an exceptional waterfall, plenty of shade, a soothing creek, ocean views, a bit of off-trail rock hopping, and scrambling.

The hike starts as a relatively easy uphill climb, then the trail forks and splits off. The way to Tangerine Falls starts to the right. This part of the trail is a little difficult. It is somewhat rocky and some scrambling is required. Watch out for poison oak! Most of the trail is shady and the creek running through the length of the trail is nice.

The silky waters slide down a steep face of pink and brown sandstone. If it isn’t enough, Tangerine Falls also offers a great view down the canyon toward the Pacific or more formally, West Fork Cold Springs Falls, before returning the way you came. Hike to Tangerine Falls does not require any fee and permit. So get out and enjoy it!

Note: As of March 2019, the trail has been reported open. It may have been re-routed following damage. Please see the signs at the trailhead for information. Visit this website for the most up-to-date information.

5. Sturtevant Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 60 feet
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 646 feet
  • Location: Angeles National Forest

Sturtevant Falls

At only 45 minutes from Los Angeles, Santa Anita Canyon is a very busy spot that is home to dozens of miles of trails and a couple of great waterfalls. Sturtevant Falls Trail is a 3-mile out and back round-trip through a beautiful canyon with lush forests and historic cabins. The trail is located near Sierra Madre, Southern California. It is Los Angeles County’s most popular waterfall. At the end of the trip, you’re greeted by a 60-foot waterfall that is impressive when it’s flowing.

Well, some of the other waterfalls on this list are seasonal, Sturtevant Falls is generally flowing year-round but it’s most impressive in spring. You can also extend this hike by heading down to Hermit Falls which is an equally impressive waterfall on the south part of the canyon. If you’re heading to Hermit Falls first, don’t miss the short spur that goes off the main trail only about five minutes. Adding Hermit Fall onto your hike adds about two miles to your trip. You just went to Sturtevant Falls about 3 miles and then adding Hermit makes about five miles round-trip. The trail to Hermit Falls is like mild switchbacks in some beautiful shaded areas.

6. Trail Canyon Falls

  • Waterfall Height: 30 feet
  • Distance: 4.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 1053 feet
  • Location: Angeles National Forest

Trail Canyon Falls

Trail Canyon Falls is a 4.8-mile round trip hike located near Sunland-Tujunga, California. This hike deserves a spot on the list due to how awesome the approach to the waterfall is. After 2 miles walking along a stream, you’ll start to gain elevation as you go up into the hills. When you round one of the hills, you’ll immediately see Trail Canyon Falls right out in the front of you in the middle of the canyon and it’s pretty magical.

If you make it down the steep climb to the base of the waterfall, you’ll be greeted by a cascading flow that goes over the granite. This hike is somewhat difficult than some of the others on the list but still easily accessible for most of the family. Most of the hike is a casual walk, the way in is nicely shaded until nearing the falls. You’ll experience most of the elevation fain near the falls.

Dogs are welcome to Trail Canyon Falls use but must be kept on leash. The parking at the trailhead is free and the trail does not require any permit (a National Forest Adventure Pass is no longer required) so get out and enjoy!

7. Three Sisters Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 150 feet
  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 997 feet
  • Location: Cleveland National Forest

Three Sisters Falls

Three Sisters Falls in San Diego County’s most impressive waterfall. Many people will say that they like Cedar Creek Falls better but if you see the Three Sisters when it is flowing, it’s hard to think of a better waterfall in all of Southern California. This 4.2-mile is intense though which is why it is one of the last waterfalls in this list.

The canyon that you climb into is very steep and you must take it slowly if you decide to go. It’s equally as hard to climbing back out as it steeps going up on the way back. The Three Sisters is a collection of three waterfalls each with its unique flows. The top one is a more standard waterfall with the water flowing directly into the pool below. The second and third waterfalls are cascading over a long piece of land which makes them impressive but different than the top one. Also, it’s incredibly popular on the weekends so try to get there on a weekday if you’re able to.

8. Black Star Canyon Falls Trail

  • Waterfall Height: 45 feet
  • Distance: 6.8 miles
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 941 feet
  • Location: Cleveland National Forest

Black Star Canyon Falls

The final waterfall for this list is Black Star Canyon Falls in Orange County. This is easily the most difficult hike on this list clocking in at around 7 miles round-trip. A couple of those miles are really slow going as you’re crossing the stream over boulders and trying to dodge poison oak. There are lots of poison oaks so bring your long sleeves and long pants.

When you make it to the 45-foot waterfall, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. The water flows through a man-made cave which gives it that impressive look that you’ve no doubt seen before. It’s also a pretty seasonal waterfall so don’t go if there hasn’t been any rain.

The first half of this hike is pretty easy then the second half goes up along the stream bed of Black Star Canyon Creek which is a rock and boulder scramble up to the falls. It’s doable and challenging you’re going to get dirty, you might slip and slide a little bit so be prepared for that.