7 Must-Do Waterfalls in Southern California: 2022 Update

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Looking for breathtaking waterfalls in Southern California? After 12 years of exploring our local mountains, I’d be more than happy to share with you what I think are the 7 most awe inspiring cascades, many of which are also the largest in Socal.

Here are a few things you can expect from this waterfall guide:

  • Hike info including distance, directions, elevation gain, pet friendly, & more.
  • Waterfalls with swimming holes and cliff jumping
  • Bonus secret fun facts
  • Best time of the year to visit
  • Recommended gear if necessary
  • Which waterfalls tend to flow until late summer time

Best Waterfalls in Southern California

All of the following are extremely popular natural waterfalls. If you visit on a weekend make sure to arrive extremely early (7am the latest). Otherwise expect very large crowds.

Generally speaking, the best time to visit any waterfall is from mid spring to early summer. However, each waterfall will slightly vary depending on the amount of water produced by its springs.

Don’t forget to display your adventure pass when you visit these places, and as always, pack out whatever you pack in!

Alright, let’s begin the adventure!

7) Eaton Canyon Falls: The Yosemite of The San Gabriels

eaton canyon

Distance: 4.4 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 521 feet

Time: 3 hours

Directions: 1750 N Altadena Dr, Pasadena, CA 91107

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash

Restrooms: Yes, at the parking lot

Download Printable PDF Map

Eaton Canyon Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the Angeles National Forest, second only to Etiwanda Falls. It was dubbed the Yosemite of the San Gabriels by John Muir.

This trail actually has 3 trailheads, which you can see on the map. The 1st trailhead is the most popular. It begins at the Nature Center, and requires hiking through most of the Eaton Wash.

The trail follows the creek for the entire hike, which means visitors will have to cross the creek via precariously laid out rocks and logs about 7ish times. Hence, if you don’t have good balance, I highly recommend a good pair of trekking poles. I use these right here.

Although the trail totals over 4 miles, the low elevation gain and partial shade inside the canyon make this a very enjoyable hike.

The trail ends when you arrive at the 40 foot cascade. Unfortunately, the pool is not deep enough to allow for swimming, but getting drenched underneath the falls is highly recommended.

eaton canyon falls

 

Bonus secret fun fact: Just over the falls and about a 1/4 mile further up the canyon lays a secret waterfall with a big slide and a swimming hole. Reaching it requires rappelling gear.

Read Full Post:  Eaton Canyon Falls

6) San Antonio Falls: Fun Family Hike

San Antonio Falls

Distance: 1.4 miles

Difficulty: Very easy

Elevation Gain: 285 feet

Time: 45 minutes

Directions: 993 Falls Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash

Restrooms: No restrooms

Download Printable PDF Map

The 75 foot San Antonio Falls is one of the largest in the San Gabriels. Hence, you think this would be a difficult hike, but it’s actually one of the easiest!

The majority of the hike consists of a paved road with amazing views of the luscious green canyon below and the San Gabriel Valley. Towards the end of the hike, the paved road connects to a dirt trail which leads down to the base of the falls.

The elevation at the falls is a whopping 6400 feet, which means, yup you guessed it, winter snow!

San Antonio Falls

There is no shade on this trail, but I highly recommend visiting around 10am-12pm on any given day because that’s when the sunlight illuminates the waterfall and makes San Antonio Falls glisten in all its beauty.

San Antonio Falls is one of the few waterfalls that boasts a decent water flow year round. 

Bonus secret fun fact: San Antonio Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall. What most people don’t know is that you can make your way up to the top tiers, one of which has a little pool perfect for cooling off and relaxing!

Full Post: San Antonio Falls

5) Big Falls: King of SoCal Waterfalls

Big Falls

Distance: 0.7 miles 

Difficulty: Very easy

Elevation Gain: 112 feet

Time: 30 minutes

Directions: Big Falls Trail, California 92339

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash

Restrooms: Yes, at the parking lot

Download Printable PDF Map

At a height of 500 feet, Big Falls has rightfully earned its name. It’s actually the tallest waterfall in Socal and one of the largest in the state.

This giant consists of five tiers, with the larger tiers making up the top of the falls. The waterfall is so enormous that you can see the top tier as you’re driving up to the parking lot.

Big Falls

The trail ends at the lowest tier, which is about 20 feet tall. You can see the next tier further up the creek from the base of the falls and all the way to the 2nd highest tier. It’s a truly amazing experience.

By the way, the Big Falls parking lot offers both free and paid parking. Free parking is located on the lefthand side of the lot. Otherwise, you can purchase a recreation day pass at the kiosk or Elk General Store.

The hike is mostly shaded and the creek is LITTERED with smaller waterfalls. I have never seen so much water and waterfalls in my life, but that explains why Big Falls has a decent amount of water year round.

Big Falls

Bonus secret fun fact: You can actually make your way up to the second highest tier, but I don’ t recommend it for the faint of heart.

Read Full Post: Big Falls

4) Bonita Falls: Giant Waterfall at Lytle Creek

Bonita Falls

Distance: 1.4 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Elevation Gain: 334 feet

Time: 1.5 hours

Directions: 900 S Fork Rd, Lytle Creek, CA 92358

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs much be on a leash

Restrooms: Yes, at Bonita Campground 

Download Printable PDF Map

100 foot Bonita Falls is easily one of the most stunning falls in SoCal, and has more water year round than most waterfalls. Unfortunately, it’s gotten the worst of trash and graffiti.

The trail begins at the Bonita Campground, which charges $10 for parking. If you pay the campground fee, an adventure pass is no longer needed.

Make your way across the canyon, known as South Fork Lytle Creek, and look for any signs of other people’s tracks. The majority of the hike requires trekking through a dry riverbed which consists of mostly rocks and boulders.

However, once you head into the tributary, the environment rapidly transitions into a green paradise. If you manage to arrive at the falls between the hours of 12 and 2pm, Bonita Falls will glisten more beautifully than any other waterfall in SoCal.

Bonus secret fun fact: There’s not one, but TWO secret waterfalls directly above Bonita Falls that most people don’t know about. When you include all three tiers, Bonita Falls measures a whopping 495 feet, making it the second largest falls in SoCal.

 

bonita falls mid-tiers

However, climbing up to the top two tiers is highly unadvised as many rescues have already taken place. One small mistake can cost you your life.

Read Full Post: Bonita Falls

3) Sturtevant Falls: Arcadia’s Beloved Gem

Sturtevant Falls

Distance: 3.3 miles

Difficulty: Easy – Moderate

Elevation Gain: 400 feet

Time: 1.5 hours

Directions: Chantry Flat Parking Lot, Arcadia, CA 91006

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash

Restrooms: Yes, at the parking lot

Due to the Bobcat Fire, Sturtevant Falls has been closed since September 2020. However, it may reopen around Christmas time this year (2022), which is great news because it’s easily one of the most scenic trails and waterfalls in SoCal.

At a height of 50 feet, Sturtevant Falls is the runt of the litter, but what it lacks in size it clearly makes up for in looks.

Sturtevant Falls

The trail begins at Chantry Flats and immediately descends via a steep cemented road with very little shade, which you’ll have to ascend on your way back. The road transitions into a dirt trail once you arrive at the canyon floor.

From this point onward the trail is mostly shaded and surrounded by an abundance of vegetation. Upon arriving at the falls, you’ll notice people taking a trail over the waterfall and continuing their journey into the canyon.

That trail is the Gabrielino trail, and it takes you to Sturtevant Camp then as high as Mount Wilson. However, our journey ends at the base of the falls, with one of the nicest looking cascades in SoCal.

Sturtevant Falls

Bonus secret fun fact: Once Sturtevant Falls reopens, so will Hermit Falls, which is located further down the canyon but is connected to Sturtevant Falls.

Hermit Falls is smaller, only 30 ft high, but is very popular with the locals because its swimming hole is deep enough for cliff jumping.

2) Cedar Creek Falls & Devil’s Punchbowl 

cedar creek falls

Distance: 5.6 miles

Difficulty: Moderate – Hard

Elevation Gain: 1049 feet

Time: 3 hours

Directions: 5519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash. 

Restrooms: Yes, at the parking lot

Download Printable PDF Map (Red Trail)

In order to hop on the trail, you must purchase a $6 parking permit in advance, which you can find here. Yes, they do check. They have a sign-in sheet at the trailhead, which explains why there’s no trash or graffiti on the trail.

Roughly 3/4 of the hike is completely exposed, so plan accordingly. Unlike most hikes, the trail begins by descending onto the canyon floor, then makes its way into a tributary where the giant awaits your presence.

As you get closer, you’ll see the top of the falls towering over everything in the canyon. Cedar Creek plunges over the side of an 80 foot cliff and into a massive swimming hole known as the Devil’s Punchbowl. Unfortunately, cliff jumping, even from smaller ledges, is prohibited.

While most waterfalls consist of a thin stream free falling off a cliff, Cedar Creek Falls is very wide when it’s flowing, and makes contact with the canyon wall a few times before reaching the pool, which is why it produces a louder roar.

I felt like I was in the presence of a giant, a skyscraper waterfall if you will. Although Bonita falls is an additional 20 ft higher, Cedar Creek Falls gave off a larger and much more powerful presence.

Bonus secret fun fact: There’s a smaller pool at the top of the falls which allows you to lean right on the edge of the cliff and look down at the Devil’s Punchbowl. It’s much less known and the perfect place to relax.

Read Full Post: Cedar Creek Falls

1) Three Sisters Falls: San Diego’s #1 Waterfall

Distance: 4.1 miles

Difficulty: Moderate – Hard

Elevation Gain: 980 feet

Time: 3.5 – 4 hours

Directions: Boulder Creek Rd, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070

Pets Allowed: Yes, dogs must be on a leash

Restrooms: No

Based off the number of All Trails reviews, Three Sisters Falls is the most popular waterfall in Southern California, but I’d argue Cedar Creek Falls is the most breathtaking.

Much like Cedar Creek, the trail to the 150 foot Three Sisters Falls also begins by descending, and is mostly exposed to the elements. Hence, pack plenty of water and a hat.

three sisters falls

Trash and graffiti is virtually nonexistent, adding to the setting’s beauty.

The waterfall’s name is derived from its three tiers. The top tier stands at about 25-30 feet high. The middle tier, which is the nicest of the three, is a decent 50 feet tall, and the bottom tier is roughly 20 feet high.

The top two tiers contain swimming holes deep enough for cliff jumping.

three sisters falls

I think what makes Three Sisters Falls so unique is its resemblance to a river with waterfalls, rather than a waterfall with tiers.

In other words, the waterfall follows a much more gradual descend down the canyon compared to most creeks which plunge off the side of a huge cliff.

Read Full Post:  Three Sisters Falls

Well, if you were looking for hiking trails with waterfalls in Southern California I hope I provided enough of them to keep you busy for a few weeks. Each one of these places has unique things to offer, wether that’s views, pools, or simply a good time.

All that’s left to do is to get out there and create your California adventure.

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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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