Are you interested in visitng Eaton Canyon, but need a guide to make the best of your visit? You’ve come to the right place.
Eaton Canyon Falls is the most popular waterfall in the San Gabriel Mountains. The 4.4 mile hike requires multiple creek crossings as it weaves through the canyon floor before reaching the beautiful 40 ft falls. Parking lot and restrooms can be found at the trailhead. Dogs must be on a leash.
This guide shows you everthing you need to know about visiting Eaton Canyon Falls including:
- Various trailheads
- What gear to take
- Best season to visit
- How to catch a roaring waterfall in the offseason
- Best time of the day and week to visit
- Nature center info
Alright, lets get started!
Quick Eaton Canyon Reference Guide
Checkout these few tips before we continue:
No fee or permit is currently required to visit or park. You can double check here as conditions may change. ecnca.org/
Best Days of The Week to Visit: If you can make a trip to Eaton Canyon Mon- Thur please do so. Trust me, you will avoid the majority of the crowds.
Best Time of The Day to Visit: If you’re visiting Mon-Thurs the time doesn’t really matter, but obviously the earlier the better or anytime after 2pm. If you’re going on a weekend be at the trailhead at 7am the latest, otherwise expect A LOT of people.
Recommended Gear: Unless you have exceptional balance, take poles to help you with the creek crossings. A pair of hiking shoes or boots with traction will also make your visit more enjoyable. I use Trailbuddy Poles and Merrel boots.
Best Season to Visit: Definitely Spring as this is when the falls will have more water. If you want to catch a roaring waterfall in the off-seasons, pay a visit the day it rains or the following day, which is what we did for this post. We visited on 12/29/21, it rained the previous day.
Getting to Eaton Canyon
This hike has 3 trailheads.
Trailhead 1: The first and more popular trailhead extends the hike to 4.4 miles and begins at the parking lot where the Nature Center is located.
You can get directions by clicking here.
Trailhead 2: The second trailhead begins further up the canyon off Pinecrest Dr where the Mount Wilson/Pinecrest Gate is located. Click here to get directons.
The hike from the gate skips the Eaton Wash at the mouth of the canyon and takes you accross the Chuck Ballard Memorial Bridge via the Mount Wilson Toll Rd and down onto the canyon floor where the trail continues underneath the bridge.
This hike totals 1.9 miles with a 606ft elevation gain.
Trailhead 3: The third and least known route is the Henninger Trailhead off of N Altadena, which cuts halfway through the Eaton Wash. Keep in mind it may be difficult to cross the wash in times of high water flow.
You can get to the trailhead by clicking here. The hike from the Henninger Trailhead is about 3.3 miles.
I highly suggest starting on the 1st trailhead so you can pay a visit to the Nature Center and enjoy the full beauty of Eaton Canyon.
Eaton Canyon Nature Center
The hike begins at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center. Definitely check that out especially if you have kids.
They have various LIVE animals on display, wildlife exhibitions, children’s activities, and a miniature model of Eaton Canyon.
They’re open 11 am to 5 pm from Wednesday through Sunday. You can find more info here.
Eaton Canyon Trail
The trail begins on a dirt road that takes you through a rest area with picnic tables and stone grills.
Almost immediately you’ll reach the first and largest creek crossing.
If there’s a lot of water in this section of the creek you can rest assure there’s plenty of water at the falls.
To the left of the road, you have the Eaton Wash containing the beautiful running creek.
To the right lies Henniger Flats and the precipitous Walnut and Coyote Canyons. The picture below shows a little path carved out by visitors who wanted to explore the wash.
The dirt road ends at the Chuck Ballard Bridge and converts into a single track that continues into the canyon.
The water-loving trees, White Alders and Western Sycamores, decorate the canyon with vibrant green, orange, and yellow leaves.
After passing the bridge and across the creek you’ll notice a unique stone building.
I couldn’t find much info on it, but it’s believed to be an old pump house.
As you can see below, Eaton Canyon is without a doubt one of the canyons with the most water, assuming you choose the right day to visit.
Some of the creek crossings will make you feel like you’re in an obstacle course.
It’s a ton of fun, but this is why I recommend trekking poles for those who struggle to balance on rocks and logs. Certain sections of the creek can get up to 3 ft deep.
The last section of the hike consists of some rock scrambling and a large creek crossing with a view of the falls enticing you from afar.
Alas, you reached your destination and have been appropriately rewarded with a majestic 40 foot roaring waterfall.
The mist permeates the surrounding canyon, and all you can hear is the sound of gushing water.
We may have come to a conclusion today, but the adventure doesn’t end here.
A little further up the creek and over Eaton Falls a second secret waterfall awaits us. One with a rockslide and a deep pool, but that my friends, I will save for another day.
Eaton Canyon History
Eaton Canyon has a long and rich history beginning with the Tongva people, the Spanish, Mexicans, and last but not least the Americans.
Much of the Tongva history has been lost, but we do know the Spanish called Eaton Canyon, Canon Precipicio, which means the “Precipice Canyon” due its steep canyon walls.
In 1877 legendary conservationist (and hero in my book), John Muir, shown below, visited Eaton Canyon Falls and dubbed it the Yosemite of the San Gabriels. What an honor!
Eaton Canyon had multiple uses including hunting, water for irrigation, and even gold prospecting.
Once CA became US territory, a man by the name of Judge Benjamin Eaton, for which the canyon is now named after, purchased Fair Oaks Ranch and the surrounding land in 1865.
The street cutting through Old Town Pasadena, Fair Oaks Ave, bears the name of this long forgotten ranch.
Judge Eaton, a patriarch of the San Gabriel Valley, was a pioneer in tapping water from the creek and used it to irrigate his ranch.
He built a water system consisting of miles of pipeline running through the canyon, which is still there!
Here’s a picture of one of those 157 year old pipes. Give or take a few years.
Many of the surrounding canyons in the San Gabriels contain these pipes, as they were also used for irrigation.
Water tunnels were constructed for irrigation purposes, with the longest measuring 600-700 ft according to the author of secretmines.com.
Unfortunately, this tunnel was blasted in the 1980’s to block the entrance, but part of the rock wall still remains.
You can see the entrance of a different tunnel on your way to the falls.
It was one of these types of tunnels which allowed you to bypass the fatal Razorback Ridge, and safely access the second hidden waterfall in the Canyon.
Although hard rock mining never took place in Eaton Canyon, placer mining (panning for gold in the creek) wasn’t rare.
In 1853-1854, gold was found in Santa Anita Ranch (owned by Lucky Balwdin who now has a Belgian pub with my favorite beer named after him) and in the surrounding canyons including Eaton, Rubio, and Arroyo Seco.
Deep sand pits at the Eaton Wash which were used to look for gold still remain to this day.
Over the span of 18 years, a total of 2 million dollars worth of gold dust was sold from San Gabriel, Santa Anita, and Eaton Canyon.
-Thompson and West’s History of LA County