Regardless of where you live in Southern California, you can take advantage of the amazing weather, close proximity to thrilling attractions, and ample amounts of recreational activities. While this area of the state is known for its scenic beaches, residents can also enjoy the hundreds of hiking trails and parks in the vicinity.
The most visually stimulating and rewarding hikes in the state can be found in California. These trails range from easy to somewhat challenging in difficulty. For the more difficult hikes, it’s highly recommended that you have a considerable amount of water with you. Keep in mind that some of these trails are shaded and will help keep you cool when hiking on a warm summer day.
Hiking in the great outdoors offers many tangible benefits. For instance, the exercise you get while hiking will help you maintain or improve your health. Hiking outdoors and among nature is also an activity that has proven to bolster a person’s mental health.
Yet another benefit of hiking in Southern California is that you can use this activity as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with your friends and family. While there are plenty of spectacular trails to hike in Southern California, the following takes a closer look at nine of the most scenic waterfall trails throughout this area.
1. Escondido Falls 4.4/5 ⭐ [Easy]
Escondido Falls is a scenic trail near Malibu, CA that provides hikers with running creeks, ample wildlife, and the tallest waterfall that can be found in Santa Monica. At 3.7 miles, hiking this trail can take anywhere from 90-120 minutes to complete. The waterfall that hikers are presented with at the end of this trail is around 150 feet tall and boasts some of the most picturesque views in Southern California.
While dogs are welcome to visit, make sure that you keep your dog on a leash while hiking. Escondido Falls is also a popular destination for mountain biking and bird-watching. The trailhead is right across from Escondido Beach.
2. Ortega Falls 4.3/5 ⭐ [Moderate-Challenging]
Ortega Falls is a beautiful yet relatively short hiking trail in Southern California that features vast canyons, steep rock walls and formations, wildlife, and an open waterfall. The trail itself is only around 0.25 miles in length, which makes this the shortest hike on this list. The waterfall is around 200 feet high with a vast pool of water underneath. You can visit this waterfall at any time of the year.
If you decide to hike this trail, getting to the trailhead might seem difficult at first glance. Take Ortega Highway to a turnout that’s situated on the north end of the road. You can find this area around 1.5 miles to the north of the Ortega Oaks Candy Store as well as two miles to the south of the El Cariso Visitor Center. If you’re traveling from the 15 Freeway that’s located in Lake Elsinore, the trailhead is around 12 miles to the east.
3. Paradise Falls 4.7/5 ⭐ [Moderate]
Paradise Falls is a moderately challenging trail in Southern California that features open fields and trails, intricate rock formations, various climbing challenges, and a waterfall. At the base of the waterfall is a swimming pond that you can relax in. To reach the waterfall, you will need to hike a little more than 1.2 miles.
The entire hike is around 2.5 miles in length, which will take you upwards of 1.5 hours to hike. As with many other trails in this guide, dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash. While the trail has some shade, most of it comes with very little shade, which is why it’s recommended that you take an ample amount of water with you. Once you reach the end of the trail, you’ll be greeted by 40 foot falls amidst some sprawling rock formations.
4. Eaton Canyon Falls 4.7/5 ⭐ [Moderate]
Eaton Canyon Falls is a lengthy trail located near Pasadena California that spans 4.4 miles and can take more than two hours to hike. Even though the hike is only moderately difficult, the length of the trail means that you should make sure to have proper gear with you to get the most out of the hike.
Eaton Canyon Falls features large and open trails, which makes this the ideal trail for anyone who leads an equestrian lifestyle. At the end of the trail is a scenic, 40-foot waterfall and small pool that make the perfect backdrop for any photo. While you won’t get much shade during this hike, you’ll be provided with amazing views of colorful wildflowers that dot the landscape.
5. Bonita Falls 4.6/5 ⭐ [Moderate]
Bonita Falls is a highly popular destination that’s situated near Lytle Creek in San Bernardino County. The hike features short-distance open trails as well as sprawling fields. Keep in mind that the second half of the trail is somewhat rocky and can be challenging on a particularly hot day.
However, the trail is only 1.5 miles long, which makes it only moderately challenging. The falls that you’ll encounter towards the end of this trail are up to 450 feet tall with several drops and are canopied by ample amounts of trees, which makes this a shaded and comfortable spot for relaxation. During your hike, you’ll come across several family-friendly amenities.
6. Switzer Falls Trail 4.7/5 ⭐ [Moderate]
Switzer Falls Trail is likely the most popular waterfall hike in all of Los Angeles County. The trail is pet-friendly while also accommodating mountain bikers. One reason why the Switzer Falls Trail has become increasingly popular is because of the scenic wildlife and surrounding forest that every hiker will be able to view.
While all of the hikes in this guide provide visitors with beautiful waterfalls, only a small number are properly shaded, one of which is the Switzer Falls Trail. The waterfall towards the end of this trail is around 50 feet tall and is the perfect location to pause and enjoy the scenery before hiking the rest of the trail. Even though the Switzer Falls Trail is only moderately challenging, it’s around 4.5 miles in length, which can take upwards of two hours to hike.
7. Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls 4.7/5 ⭐ [Moderate-Challenging]
Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls is another moderately challenging trail that spans 6.2 miles in total and is considered to be an out-and-back trail. During your hike, you’ll be greeted by gorgeous mountain views and a lush, moss-covered waterfall. This waterfall is around 35 feet tall and is surrounded by a pool, expansive rock formations, and vast trees.
While the path that this trail takes is easy to keep track of, the terrain becomes slightly challenging at times, which is why a good pair of hiking boots is highly recommended. Because of how lengthy this trail is, you should plan on spending anywhere from 2-3 hours to complete the hike. However, the waterfall at the end of this trail is a great place to sit and relax while you prepare for the second half of your journey.
8. Etiwanda Falls Trailhead 4.6/5 ⭐ [Easy-Moderate]
Etiwanda Falls Trailhead is located in Rancho Cucamonga and is known to be a relatively easy trail to hike. At 3.4 miles in length, the trail takes around 1.5 hours to hike if you properly pace yourself. Parts of the trail are shaded, which helps to keep the temperature down if you decide to visit on a particularly hot day.
The Etiwanda Falls Trail features vibrant fields of wildflowers and scenic mountain views. Along the way, you’ll notice a creek with running water that extends to the falls. The waterfall itself is around 50 feet tall and flows into a shallow pool that you can dip your feet into. Unlike most trails on this list, dogs aren’t allowed. This is part of the North Etiwanda Preserve, which is why there are numerous informational markers throughout the hike that explain why the area is being protected.
9. Lewis Falls 4.8/5 ⭐ [Easy-Moderate]
Lewis Falls is a moderately challenging hike with an elevation gain of 360 feet. During this hike, you’ll be on relatively rocky terrain, which you should prepare for by taking some good hiking boots with you.
Throughout your journey, you’ll be able to view picturesque scenery and vibrant wildlife that are native to the high-altitude location. At the end of the 1.1-mile trail is a steep waterfall that tumbles around 50 feet down. Even though the terrain can be challenging to hike, the short nature of this trail means that you should be able to complete your hike in around 45 minutes to an hour.
Whether you live in Los Angeles County or San Bernardino County, spectacular hiking trails that feature gorgeous waterfalls are right around the corner. Each trail in this guide will provide you with a stimulating workout without tiring you out too much with uneven terrain or winding paths. Many of these hikes are also pet-friendly and available to mountain bikers. Now that the summer is here, this is the perfect time to put on your hiking boots and visit the trail you’re most interested in.