Eaton Canyon Falls 2023: Choose From 3 Trailheads

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Are you interested in hiking to Eaton Canyon Falls, but need a guide to make the best of your visit? You’ve come to the right place. I’ve probably hiked this trail more than any other. I know it like the back of my hand, and now I’m going to teach you how to make the best of it as well.

Eaton Canyon Falls is the most popular waterfall in the San Gabriel Mountains. The 4 mile hike requires crossing the creek multiple times as you weave your way 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.

Eaton Canyon Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in SoCal, and without a doubt the most popular in Los Angeles. Check out the other hikes which include abandoned ruins, huge waterfalls, and amazing views by clicking the links below:

Best Hikes In Los Angeles

Best Hikes In Pasadena

Best Waterfalls In Southern California

Eaton Canyon Trail Map

This hike has 3 trailheads.

Eaton Canyon Elevation Profile

Download Printable PDF Map 

Trailhead 1: The first and more popular trailhead extends the hike to 4.02 miles, and begins at the parking lot where the Nature Center is located. You can see the additional info for the first trailhead down below.

  • Distance: 4.02 miles roundtrip
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Best Season: Spring
  • Elevation Gain: 455 ft
  • Max Elevation: 1370 ft
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back
  • Dogs: Allowed On A leash
  • Restrooms: Available At The Parking Lot
  • Trail Popularity: Very High

You can get directions by clicking the link: 1750 N Altadena Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107.

Trailhead 2: The second trailhead begins further up the canyon off of Pinecrest Dr where the Mount Wilson/Pinecrest Gate is located.  Click here to get directions.

Keep in mind the hours for the Mt Wilson Toll Rd are 8am – 7:30pm Monday through Sunday.

This trailhead skips the Eaton Wash at the mouth of the canyon, and takes you across the Chuck Ballard Memorial Bridge via the Mount Wilson Toll Rd then down onto the canyon floor where the trail continues underneath the bridge.

This hike totals 1.9 miles with a 606 ft 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 that crossing the wash may be a difficult feat during very rainy seasons.

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, which is closest to the Nature Center and allows you to experience the full beauty of Eaton Canyon.

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.

Best Days of The Week to Visit: If you can do this hike on Monday-Thursday, please do so. You will avoid the majority of the crowds.

Best Time of The Day to Visit: The time doesn’t matter if you’re visiting Mon-Thur, but the earlier the better or anytime after 2pm. If you’re visiting on a weekend, be at the trailhead by 6am 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 good 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 the falls will have more water. If you want to catch a roaring waterfall in the off-seasons, 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.

Eaton Canyon Falls Trail

I started the hike via the most popular trailhead that begins at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, and on a dirt road.

If you have kids, do them a favor and visit the nature center. It’s such an awesome place.

They have live animals on display, info on the surrounding area, and more. They’re open every day from 8-5pm except Mondays. The nature center phone number is (626) 398-5420.

Eaton Canyon Nature Center

If you’re like me and eat like a horse after every hike, consider taking food to barbecue at the Eaton Wash. Why not make a full day out of your trip.

Want to add another short waterfall hike to Eaton Canyon? Check out Millard Falls, as it’s only 1.2 miles roundtrip and 15 minutes away from Eaton Canyon! Trust me, I just checked GPS.

Eaton Canyon Cooking Grill

Below is the first creek crossing, which also happens to be the biggest.

I’ve noticed from many years of visiting Eaton Canyon that water at the first creek crossing usually signifies a flowing waterfall. Thankfully, I was right again on this visit.

First Creek Crossing At Eaton Canyon

If you have family or friends that can’t make it to the falls, they’ll still be able to appreciate the beauty of the wash.

Multiple trails lead from the dirt road down into the wash, where the brush and water make it an enticing area for kids to play in.

The wash is safe the majority of the year, just make sure it’s not raining and the water level is low before giving your kids permission to explore.

Eaton Canyon Wash

Once I reached the Chuck Ballard Bridge shown in the image below, I hopped off the dirt road and onto the trail that begins at the mouth of the canyon.

It’s at this point the hike gets much more scenic, with Western Sycamore trees and White Alders lining the creek bank for the majority of the hike.

The bridge can be used to access the dirt road known as the Mt Wilson Rd, the oldest American road in the San Gabriel Mountains that leads up to Henninger Flats, or Mt Wilson if you hike to the peak.

Henninger Flats is a mountain nursery founded by Theodore Parker Lukens (I read his biography that you can find here), a former mayor of Pasadena and friend of John Muir.

Check out the link, Henninger Flats to view the guide I wrote for that specific hike, but I digress.

My intention was to visit the falls, so I made my way into the canyon as I followed the creek.

chuck ballard memorial bridge eaton canyon

After searching both online and offline, I finally found the true purpose of the structure shown below.

Initially, I believed it was some sort of water pump, but according to John Robinson’s book The San Gabriels 2, it’s actually a stream gauging station used to measure water levels, and it’s not the only one.

More can be found in the San Dimas Experimental Forest which is unfortunately, closed to the public, but for a good reason. They’re doing marvelous work for our mountains in San Dimas.

If you love our mountain history, check out Robinson’s amazing book, The San Gabriels 2. Robinson’s work is invaluable in preserving our history, which is why his books are my most prized possessions.

Plus, if you decide to purchase the book I’ll receive a small commission that helps me keep this website going.

Tool For Measuring Water Level At Eaton Canyon

The creek is rarely more than 1-2 feet deep, but since it had just rained the day prior to my visit, some areas were 3-4 feet deep.

Hence, watch your step and really consider my advice regarding trekking poles and hiking boots.

I don’t know about you, but when I can hear a waterfall before I’m able to see it, it gets my heart pumping.

Below is the second to last creek crossing before I reached the falls. It’s about the same length as the first creek crossing, but there are less rocks and dry surfaces to cross on. Fortunately, it’s not deep (less than one foot).

There she is, beautiful Eaton Canyon Falls.

Keep in mind the only reason the falls was flowing really well during my visit was due to the rain from the previous days.

However, if SoCal had a snow-packed winter, the falls may look just as full in the late spring.

eaton canyon falls

Fun fact: The rock wedged at the top of the falls has been there since at least the late 1800’s.

eaton canyon falls

I flew my drone to get a bird’s eye view of the falls when I remembered something very important.

Most people don’t know that there is a second falls above Eaton Canyon Falls, with a rockslide and swimming hole. However, it is no longer accessible.

eaton canyon falls drone shot

Visitors used to be able to access the second falls by venturing into one of the water tunnels in the area, but unfortunately, the tunnel has been closed.

Now, the only way to get to the falls is to climb up the super dangerous Razorback Ridge, which I do NOT recommend, as multiple people have been seriously injured and died attempting to do so.

eaton canyon falls drone shot

The image below is a shot I took of Eaton Canyon Falls in the spring of 2016-17ish, after a not too snow-packed winter. I wanted to include it to show you how the falls will more than likely be flowing during your visit.

Also, the falls tends to dry up pretty badly around midsummer, and won’t flow again until the following spring. Therefore, plan accordingly.

eaton canyon falls

Want to visit an even more impressive waterfall? Head over to San Antonio Falls, an easy 1.4 mile hike in the Mt Baldy area which is known to get snow.

Eaton Canyon History

eaton canyon falls history

The image above is a vintage photograph I purchased depicting Eaton Canyon Falls at the beginning of the 20th century. Notice the rock which is currently lodged at the top of the falls is missing.

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! 

John Muir

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.

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 

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Hello, There!

I’m Phillip, and just like you, I feel very passionate about California and the outdoors. After many years of exploring amazing and hidden places, I thought I’d share them with you. Life goes by fast so get out there and enjoy it.  

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