Looking for a trail that offers everything from epic views, ruins, a luscious green canyon, and a beautiful waterfall? Visit Swtizter Falls in the San Gabriel Mountains.
The trail, which begins at the Switzer Falls picnic area via the Gabrielino Trail in the Angeles National Forest features a two-tier cascade and a bonus waterfall further up the canyon. Climbing over the main falls is possible, and an additional secret 50ft waterfall can be found at the end of the trail.
- Out & Back Trail
- Restrooms are available in the parking lot area
- Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash
Switzer Falls Trail Map
There are two parking lots. The first is located at the top, right off the 2 hwy, and the second at the bottom of the Switzer Truck Trail. If you park at the top expect to add another mile or so to the hike (roundtrip).
Click the link to be redirected to Switzer Falls Picnic Area (trailhead)
If you don’t have one already, be sure to click the link to purchase and display your Adventure Pass, which is required when parking anywhere in our local mountains.
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Hiking To Switzer Falls
From the get-go, you’ll notice Bear Canyon is dense with vegetation, and, so as long as the trail is on the canyon floor, you can expect plenty of shade provided by the White Alders that line the creekside.
There’s also an abundance of wildlife. I’ve seen everything from deer, quail, and a California King Snake (shown below).
Getting to the falls requires crossing the creek multiple times. If your balance is not the best, consider using trekking poles.
I use the Trailbuddy poles, which I highly recommend. They’re cheap, reliable, and very worth it.
The first part of the trail parallels the Arroyo Seco, the famous creek that supplied much of Pasadena’s water supply in its early days. However, due to a large drop in the canyon, you’ll be required to ascend the hillside and come back down to the canyon floor.
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As you look back on your ascend, keep an eye out for lesser-known falls in the canyon. Yes, it is possible to get to this waterfall, but more on that later.
Notice the trail on the upper right-hand corner in the image below. Believe it or not, this trail used to lead to a chapel precariously located on the hillside.
Here’s a shot of the arch ruins which were once a part of the Switzer-Land Chapel, and a vintage shot of the chapel itself.
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Refocusing on our journey to the falls, the views from the top of the hillside are breathtaking.
You’ve officially reached the highest elevation on the trail shown below. Make sure to head down from here.
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Shortly thereafter, you’ll find yourself back on the canyon floor, completely protected by the verdant foliage of this beautiful gorge.
Within a few minutes, you’ll arrive at your destination, a breathtaking two-tier monolith roaring over the granite rock as it flows down the Arroyo Seco.
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Here’s a shot of the falls with more water. The pool can get up to four feet deep during the spring.
For those who want to continue the adventure, it is possible to climb via the right side of the falls.
Watch your step, as a fall may require a ride to the emergency room.
Below is a shot of the top tier.
Additionally, wandering past the top tier will lead you to the base of a 50ft secret waterfall, sometimes referred to as Upper Switzer Falls. It’s a straight vertical drop with a small pool at the bottom.
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Plants Along The Switzer Falls Trail
- White Alders
- Poison Oak
Switzer Falls History
According to Joh Robinson in his book, The San Gabriels, Switzer Falls’ recorded history begins in 1884 with a man named Commodore Perry Switzer shown below.
Switzer was an adventurous man who was fed up with his dull carpenter life.
With a help of his wealthy friend, Harvey Walker, he opened a hostelry in the San Gabriel Mountains right alongside the Arroyo Seco. He charged $1.50 per day for room and board and called it Switzer’s Camp.
It was a success from the start, with people from the valley flocking in droves to the perfect little getaway. In 1887, the legendary John Muir himself visited the camp and spoke highly of it.
One of the many fun activities visitors enjoyed was hiking to nearby attractions, such as Mt Disappointment, Strawberry Peak, or, you guessed it, Switzer Falls.
The camp was resold to multiple owners, with the most popular including the Christian couple Lloyd and Bertha Austin. They were the ones responsible for the chapel on the hillside.
Unfortunately for Switzer’s Camp, a series of unfortunate events spelled disaster, thus ending the halcyon days of square dancing, fishing, and horseback riding at the resort.
However, the famous Switzer Falls trail lives on, with plenty of hikers filling the parking lots every weekend in order to visit the beautiful cascade.
How long of a hike is Switzer Falls?
If you begin the hike at the Switzer Falls Picnic Area, expect a total of 4.6 miles roundtrip.
How hard is the Switzer Falls Trail?
The trail is about moderate in difficulty, with the most difficult section including the ascend up the hillside.
Do you need a pass for Switzer Falls?
The only permit or pass you need is the Adventure Pass required to park a vehicle anywhere in our mountains.
Is Switzer Falls open?
Yes, Switzer Falls is open at the time of writing (Aug 2022).