Best Waterfall Hikes in Southern California
Mar 23, 2021||California , Travel

Hiking is fun all by itself. Especially during times like these. But when the trail is leading you to something awesome, it makes the journey that much better. Southern California has a bunch of natural waterfalls that are easily accessible to hikers. And many of the falls have refreshing pools that are perfect for a swim after a long hike. So check the conditions, pack some trail mix and a swim suit and hike to a waterfall near you.

Here are the some of the most spectacular waterfall hikes in SoCal:

Escondido Falls

Escondido Falls is actually three separate waterfalls and is located in Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains. From the Escondido Canyon trailhead, it is about a mile-and-a-half hike to the first waterfall. The hike is a relatively easy one (as long as there hasn’t been too much rain and bad weather recently) but it still has plenty of beautiful nature to see along the way. The first waterfall is usually more of a trickle (and reported to be kinda stinky) but it’s still worth it if that’s as far as you want to go. If you have the time and energy, you should definitely continue on to the second and third waterfalls. The climbing and hiking becomes a bit more precarious after the first falls, so watch your feet and be aware of your surroundings. There are some ledges that are so steep and narrow that you’ll need to use a rope to pull yourself safely up and around (it is my understanding that the rope is permanently there for this purpose–if you don’t see a rope and continuing on does not appear safe, you should probably go home and not die). Keep going just a bit farther and you will find the second waterfall. It is more impressive than the first and less, um, fragrant, but it’s nothing compared to the third. Continue your hike by scrambling up the rocks and you will finally reach the third waterfall. It really is one of the most spectacular falls in Southern California. It’s over 150 feet high and is surrounded by beautiful foliage.You’re probably going to want to spend the rest of the day there enjoying the view, but be sure to head back down well before dark so you have a clear view of the trail.

Sapphire Falls

Sapphire Falls in Rancho Cucamonga is the perfect summertime hiking destination. Depending on recent weather conditions and the fire-hazard level, certain trails to the falls may be closed. Be sure to check that the hiking trail you choose is currently open to the public so you can avoid getting a ticket. (And if I’ve learned anything from Yogi Bear, you don’t mess with park rangers…and wearing nothing but a hat and a tie is perfectly acceptable attire for a pic-a-nic). This waterfall is particularly awesome during the summer months because the hike there is pretty easy and only takes about an hour. The hike up has some neat things to see like a  man-made waterfall, an abandoned mine and some run-down structures covered in graffiti. Unfortunately, some visitors have not cleaned up after themselves, so the trail can have quite a bit of trash strewn about (Ranger Smith would have never stood for this shit). The trail has a lot of water crossings, but if you do this hike in the summer, you’ll find the water a refreshing relief, as long as you’re not wearing fancy new shoes. Once you reach the falls, you can climb up a rope and slide back down the waterfall into the pool below. The pool is ideal for swimming and is the best way to cool down after an hour of hiking.

Tenaja Falls

This waterfall is located in Murrieta in the Cleveland National Forest. While I’m sure the hiking Ohio is lovely, thankfully this forest in is SoCal near Orange County. Reaching the trailhead is probably the hardest part of the journey to the waterfall. To get there, you are going to have to drive about five miles down a poorly maintained road right after you exit the freeway. Most cars should be able to make it, but an SUV or truck is recommended. Once you do reach the trailhead, keep driving (unless you want your two-mile round trip hike to become seven miles each way). Continue for about four more miles to the dirt lot, which is about one mile past the Fish Camp trailhead. Now you can start your hike. Stay on path be on the lookout for poison oak and mountain lions (also poison for all intents and purposes). You will have a water crossing and tons of nature to appreciate on your hike to the falls. The trail will take you up to the top of the waterfall, but with some fancy footwork (and a can-do attitude!) you can safely (ish) make your way down the rocks to the pool below. It’s nice and deep, so you can take a dip before you head on the one-mile hike back.

Heart Rock Falls

Here’s a waterfall for all you lovers out there. The waterfall is located in the San Bernardino Mountains in Crestline. It’s also known as Seeley Creek Falls, but that’s not nearly as #totes-adorbs. A quick one-mile hike leads you to the 25 foot waterfall that happens to have a near-perfect cutout of a heart right next to it. (Isn’t it just extra romantic when nature creates little heart-shaped things? Like the universe believes in true love. And puppies. And rainbows. And…barf.) The trailhead is pretty hard to find if you don’t know where you are going, but it is to the left of the big Camp Seeley sign. The trail is covered with huge trees and foliage, so you’ll be walking in the shade most of the time. All you have to do is follow the river until the trail splits. Head to the right and you will end up just above the waterfall and you’ll have a perfect view of the heart (awwww). Walk down to the base of the falls for a different view and to wade in the water before you start your hike back down.