Waterfalls in Southern California are the awe-inspiring natural wonders of the Golden State. 

If you are a nature enthusiast, California will tempt you, especially during monsoons, as it turns into a wonderland with falls streaming with water.

From majestic cascading waterfalls in California to gentle, misty trickles, there is something for everyone here. 

From the rugged mountains of the Los Padres National Forest to the Lush canyons of Orange County, Southern California is a paradise for waterfall lovers.

In this post, I will take you on a journey of exploring the best waterfalls in Southern California you can swim in, information on trailheads and tips on how to best enjoy the sights and sounds of the gushing waters.

So, grab your hiking gear and join me on this exciting journey through the waterfalls of Southern California.

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If you are planning a trip to Southern California to experience these majestic falls, here are some tips to make your trip even more enjoyable.

1) Check the Weather: Before heading to any of the waterfalls, be sure to check the weather. 

Some areas might be closed after a heavy pour, whereas some might be prone to flash floods.

2) Get an adventure pass: Most falls are part of a preserve or a state park requiring an adventure pass to enter. 

If you are an avid hiker, buy the annual adventure pass, which might be cheaper.

3) Wear proper hiking gear: The hiking trails for waterfalls in Southern California might be slippery and have sharp rocks. 

Wearing sturdy hiking boots, layered clothes and carrying enough water is always recommended. 

4) Cell Service is not great everywhere – On some hikes to waterfalls in southern California, there is limited or no cell service, so it is best to plan accordingly.

5) Download maps for offline use – Due to limited cell service and inaccurate GPS on some trails, it may be difficult to navigate. It is best to carry offline or physical maps wherever possible.

6) Carry cash and snacks – Some places may not accept credit cards, especially in parking lots. So carry cash. 

The same goes for snacks and drinks. Carry sufficient snacks like protein bars, fruits and nuts for munching, as there are no amenities.

7)Check for road closures and forest fires – Due to forest fires; some trails get closed. It is best to check online for information about the current status of the hiking trails before you plan your trip. 

The same goes for roads if you are driving in the area.

8) Take the summer heat seriously – Many waterfalls lie within the dry interior, where summer temperatures may become extreme. 

Many do not consider how dangerous the heat can be as such, rescues due to dehydration and heat exhaustion during these times are common.

10) Avoid hikes in the afternoons – It is best to schedule your hike to the waterfalls in Southern California during the early morning hours(if you are still doing it during the summer), or avoid the hot months and go for the cooler days.

Please check these accessories which I use on my hiking excursions:




Here are some of the camping essentials you need:

Camping essentials for preparing food:

The best one I’d recommend is this Outdoor Master Cook Portable Folding Camp Kitchen along with this Light Weight Cook Ware and Backpacking Gas Stove Burner.


Even if you aren’t into photography, you may want to bring a camera with a good lens. 

I carry a Panasonic LUMIX DC-ZS70S  while camping since I prefer lightweight gear to my Nikon D850, which I use regularly.

4) Respect the Environment: It is important to remember that waterfalls are part of a delicate ecosystem. 

Be sure to stick to the trails, do not harm or feed any wildlife along the trails and try not to leave any trash behind. Carry a trash bag on priority.



One of the prettiest and second most famous waterfalls in Southern California is the Three Sisters Falls, located within an hour’s drive from the city.

The falls get their name from the three main drops, and they are best observed after a heavy rainy season.

A two-mile multi-tiered hike is required to see the tumbling three sisters.

The trail will be relatively hot during the summer, and this is one of those hikes where you will have to climb steeper sections on the way back. So bring lots of water with you and remain hydrated.

waterfalls in southern California

You may also encounter narrow trails with little to no tree cover canopies at specific track points, making it more difficult and ideal for experienced hikers. I wouldn’t encourage bringing children.

You can also try swimming at the Three Sisters; it is refreshing.

Pet parents, ensure your furry pals’ paws are protected from the heated trails.

I recommend starting your hike as early as possible during the day to beat the temperatures while on your way back, and try avoiding weekends.

To get to the park’s parking lot, you’ll have to drive around 8 miles on an unpaved road.


Within the Cleveland National Forest, you will come across one of the largest waterfalls in San Diego, the Cedar Creek Waterfalls.

Cedar Creek cascades 80 feet over a cliff into the glittering waters, creating “Devil’s Punchbowl,” a tiny pool of water.

The trailhead for Cedar Creek Falls is located just east of Ramona, about 45 minutes from downtown San Diego.

The trek is around 3 miles long and is regarded as moderately tricky. I recommend not doing it between June and October due to the scorching heat.

As the Three Sisters Falls trek, you’ll travel downwards to reach the foot of the falls and then strenuously climb your way up to the trailhead on an atypical hiking path.

waterfall captions for Instagram

Despite the hike to the falls being downhill, the first two miles may be taxing due to the lack of shade. The final mile offers shady towering trees and boulders, refuelling your energies.

Ensure you have enough energy bars, sunscreen, and water in your day pack.

Black oak trees, cottonwood trees, wildflowers, little water brooks, and rattlesnakes off the beaten path are among the things to behold on this trek.

After a delightful downhill hike, you can swim in Devil’s Punchbowl.

I suggest visiting this location after it rains in the spring or winter when the weather is moderate enough to trek without risking heat sickness.

If you are a bird lover, you might be able to glimpse some rare birds during the weekdays when the preserve is less crowded.


Hikers visiting Cedar Creek Falls are required to get a permit. The ticket costs $6 per group of five people and may be purchased here

There is no method for obtaining permissions on the spot.

I recommend double-checking permit availability and visiting hours beforehand since the district rangers may temporarily restrict the trail during extreme heat.


Among the less-visited waterfalls in Southern California is Ortega Falls, located right off the Ortega Highway.

It is a beautiful waterfall in the Santa Ana Mountains protected by the Cleveland National Forest.

The fading falls cascade from about 35 feet into a serene swimming pool. There is a rock amphitheatre on the premises, which adds to the beauty of the falls.

I recommend visiting the falls after heavy rainfall to relax in the pool at the base. Usually, the pool drys out in summer, making it a parched and stagnant place.

waterfalls in southern California

Start your hike from the trailhead, just off the highway, where you can partly see the falls at the beginning. Follow the route that leads up to the falls through the lengthy shrubs.

You can explore further downstream, leading you to a series of three pretty waterfalls.

Ortega Falls is also a rock-climbing location and a picnic spot during the offseason. Its accessibility and easy hiking characteristics make it one of the most famous waterfalls in San Diego.


Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve is spread across 4000 acres. It is home to Los Penasquitos Creek Falls, one of San Diego’s most well-known and oldest waterfalls, located about 30 minutes north of downtown.

It runs through a beautiful lush forest near the end of the loop trails on a volcanic spur in the heart of Penasquitos Canyon.

The waterfalls keep flowing throughout the year, and it is an excellent location to go if you’re seeking simple hikes to waterfalls in San Diego.

The trip to the Los Penasquitos Creek Falls is relatively straightforward and ideal for practically all types of hikers because the pathways are straight and well marked.

You may be able to witness a wide variety of vegetation and unusual bird species.

waterfalls in southern California

You’ll need to do a 6.8-mile loop hike in roughly 2-3 hours, including stops for lunch and a few more hours for a full-day adventure to reach Penasquitos falls.

Since the hike is popular, expect to see many hikers and mountain bikers on the path. Bicycles are permitted on specified trails with a ten mph speed restriction.

This preserve, thankfully, is pet-friendly (dogs to be leashed). Keep an eye out for your fluffy chum as the park, however, is home to rattlesnakes, coyotes, and mountain lions.

Because of the popularity of this waterfall and preserve, I would recommend going here early on weekdays to avoid crowds.

You will have to pay $3 if you use the parking lot on Black Mountain Road.


Located in the Santa Ana mountains, near Murrieta, Tenaja Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Southern California, surrounded by rocky granite outcroppings.

Tenaja Falls cascading from about 150 feet, is fed by the Tenaja Creek and is a stunning sight in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness.

You will notice that the falls tumble in several tiers, which form many gorgeous natural pools and an ideal spot for swimming and fishing.

Tenaja Falls is a popular destination for hikers, photographers and outdoor enthusiasts. If you visit during Spring, you will be greeted with vibrant wildflower blooms and lush vegetation.

The best way to experience Tenaja Falls is via hiking the 1.5-mile moderate trail. The trail is kid-friendly, easy to navigate and offers impressive views of the surrounding landscape.

waterfalls in southern California

But be sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes, as the terrain is rocky and uneven in certain places. Check out these Hiking Boots, which I mostly use on my hikes. 

You can take up the road as well to reach Tenaja Falls. It is a good 40 min drive if you are coming from either Wildomar OHV Main Divide or Tenaja entrance. 

The Tenaja entrance is better if you do not have a truck or SUV. The roads are bumpy and pothole-ridden, so be prepared for a rough ride.

The flow of water depends on the rainfall during the year. Also, the area can be warm during certain months. Thanks to the oak grove, which offers shade throughout the trail. 

Keep your bag filled with water, snacks and other beverages, and carry a hat and a pack of sunscreen. You can check out this Hydration Pack, which I use.


Located in Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, Escondido Falls is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Southern California, which can be easily accessed via a two-mile hike. 

Escondido Falls, cascading from a height of about 150 feet, is one of the best waterfall hikes in SoCal. 

Hike about 3.8 miles back and forth, and you will witness these gorgeous falls, which tumble into two segments.

The falls are fed by a stream that winds through the canyon, creating a spectacular setting for anyone who can admire it.

The trailhead to Escondido Falls begins at Escondido Beach. Check out the signage, which reads Escondido Canyon Trail. 

The rugged trail dotted with wildflowers takes you up a series of switchbacks through the beautiful Escondido Cayon Park.

Hike up to the lower falls and take a break. Soak in the views of the vibrant foliage of the surrounding trees. Check out the shelf-like area behind the lower falls. 

If you want more fun, try going up to the upper falls to take in the majestic views of the falls and the surrounding lush vegetation.

Enjoy the lovely views of the Pacific at the beginning of the trailhead. Many other small waterfalls near the lower falls if you want to soak amid nature after a strenuous hike.

Dogs are allowed on a leash on this trail. Escondido Falls is also the local’s favourite destination for mountain biking and bird-watching.


One of the gorgeous waterfalls in Southern California is Paradise Falls, located in Wildwood regional park in Thousand Oaks.

You must take a moderate 2.5-mile loop hike to reach Paradise Falls, which takes roughly 1.5 hours to reach the base. 

The rugged trail runs through open fields initially and eventually winds through the park, surrounded by intricate rock formations.

After several moderate downhill hikes, you will see Paradise Falls cascading from about 40 feet down a steep ravine into a natural pond-like area. 

You must cross a creek by the rocks to get a better frontal view of the falls. Dip your toe in the calming cold waters and take in the beauty of the surrounding scenery.

southern California waterfalls

Swimming and rock climbing around Paradise Falls are prohibited. Read the posted rules and regulations displayed on the placards along the trail.

Carry enough water, snacks and other beverages since the trail isn’t shaded and gets warmer during typically sunny days.

Check out the surrounding sites, including Indian Cave, Lizard Rock and Indian Creek. Visit the Gardens of The World, one of the local’s favourite botanical gardens in Thousand Oak.

While heading back from Paradise Falls, you must take an uphill journey, parts of which, in the end, will traverse along the banks of Indian Creek, a calming and relaxing experience after a strenuous hike.

The hiking path is mostly dirt and rock; some are dirt over partially paved roads. Wear sturdy shoes. Check out the drinking fountain near the waterfall. 

Restrooms are available near the falls, which are well-maintained. Dogs on leashes are allowed.

Fun Fact: Just a few meters away, before reaching Paradise Falls, you will witness a canyon-like area which resembles Arizona or Utah.


If you are in Los Angeles, and looking for weekend hikes with waterfalls in Southern California, check out Eaton Canyon Waterfalls, located in Altadena, an easy 25-minute drive from LA.

Eaton Canyon Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California that flows throughout the year and is also called the Yosemite of the San Gabriels by John Muir.

The hike to Eaton is moderate at only 4 miles round trip. You can access Eaton via three trailheads. 

The popular and the local’s top choice is the one which begins at the Nature Center and winds through most of the Eaton Wash.

You will get ample opportunities to rest by the creek, which flows adjacent to the trail. Ensure to wear proper hiking shoes to avoid pricky rocks.

Along the trail, you will get lovely vistas of colourful wildflowers and other small waterfalls behind the lush vegetation. 

At the trail’s end, you will be greeted with the gorgeous Eaton Falls cascading from about 40 feet.

Though swimming isn’t advisable in the pond below the falls, you can relax on the natural boulders spread across and take in the views of the San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains.

Since Eaton Falls is close to the cities like Los Angeles, Pasadena and Altadena, expect some crowds, especially on long weekends and holidays.

If you have spare time, explore Loma Alta Park, one of the kid-friendly parks in the area or check out the nearby Rose Bowl Football stadium. 

Visit the cosy cafes in Pasadena to grab your favourite snack or a drink after a beautiful hike day.

Recommended: 23 Best Beaches In Southern California You Should Visit


If you are looking for one of the challenging hikes with gorgeous waterfalls in Southern California, visit Trail Canyon Falls in Tujunga.

Located amidst the gorgeous San Gabriel mountains, Trail Canyon Falls is among the beautiful hikes in Southern California and an apt location for hikers looking for more fun. 

The 4.2-mile out-and-back trail starts smooth at the 19607 N. Trail Canyon Road.

The uphill trail winds through a sun-drenched canyon and several easy creek crossings dotted with sycamore trees. 

At halfway through the trail, the path gets narrow. Almost at the last bit of the trail, maybe about a mile, the path gets steep. 

Although you will get a glimpse of the falls at this point, I recommend you take the path off the trail and use the ropes, which are already there to assist you in reaching the bottom of the falls.

This part of the hike might look scary, but if you are a hiker with an average fitness level, you can easily crack this to the bottom of the falls.

The pink flower tree right next to the falls, the alpine mountains in the background and the sound of flowing waterfalls make it one of the best waterfalls in Socal.

Please note that you need to display the Adventure Pass before parking in the Angeles National Forest area. The pass can be picked up at local stores.

Dress in layers and wear proper hiking shoes since you ascend and descend several steps.


If you are looking for one of the adventurous hiking trails in Southern California with waterfalls, visit Black Star Canyon Fall in Santa Ana Mountains, Orange County.

Black Star Canyon Falls gets its name from a mining company operating in this area several years ago. 

Fun Fact: There is a bit of mystery to the Black Star Canyon Falls; it is believed that the falls were a hide-out area for a group of active bandits in the late 1800s. 

Though the truths behind the rumours are unclear, it adds to the area’s allure.

secret waterfalls in san Diego

Navigating Black Star Canyon Falls is not an easy task. The path along the trailhead is often filled with shrubs and other naturally overgrown vegetation making it hard to find.

Though the path is only a 7-miles loop hike, be prepared for an easy 4-5 hour hike with a lot of rock scrambling. 

Bring enough water, snacks and other essentials. Sturdy hiking boots are a must. Check out a few accessories below, which I regularly use for hiking.

Black Star Canyon Falls Trailhead is also one of the remote ravines in Southern California known for mountain biking apart from hiking.

Dogs are allowed on this trail. But be ready to carry them in certain places where the trail gets steep or high, and it might be difficult for the pups to manage it independently.



Bonita Falls is one of the secluded waterfalls in Southern California, located near Lytle Creek in San Bernardino County. 

You must take a short 2-mile hike to reach Bonita Falls. Though there isn’t an exact trail or a paved path, the hiker’s community and the locals have come up with little signages and arrow marks with spray paints that will lead you to this gorgeous waterfall.

You must cross a creek and do some boiler-hopping to reach the falls. The stream might sometimes overflow when it pours heavily.

The trail is shaded, with canopies of green throughout. So you can rest in between to take in the stunning views of the San Bernardino ranges.

Following all the signages will lead you to the beautiful Bonita Falls cascading from about 450 feet. You will notice many huge boulders around the falls with loads of graffiti.

If possible, take a trash bag. Kid-friendly areas are available by the creek side to enjoy a picnic lunch. You must buy an adventure pass for $5 before visiting the falls.


If you are looking for hiking trails with waterfalls in Southern California, visit Big Falls, located in a rural hamlet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Big falls, fed from Falls Creek, tumble from 200 feet and create a series of small waterfalls in layers in between, making the Big Falls look incredibly tall.

The falls can be accessed via a 30-minute short hike for about 1-2 miles. The trail is relatively easy but filled with craggy rocks. Wear sturdy hiking shoes.

Be prepared to get wet until your knee, at least, since you need to cross a small river stream to reach Big Falls.

Avoid climbing up the rocks at Big Falls since it is prohibited. You will notice the boulders with tons of graffiti.

You need to buy an adventure pass. Please check the weather before visiting the falls; the area is prone to flash floods.


Holy Jim Falls is one of the fantastic waterfalls in Southern California, located in the Cleveland National Forest, Orange County. 

Fun Fact: The waterfall’s name is thought to be associated with the area’s resident Cussin Jim, who had a reputation for being loud-mouthed. 

His friends and neighbours began referring to him as Holy Jim. 

The nickname was eventually used in jest when government workers asked about the landowner and have stuck ever since.

The Holy Jim Trail is about a 2.5-mile moderate loop of dirt that winds through the forest. 

best waterfalls in southern California

The path gets muddy in the winter and Spring, and sturdy hiking shoes are recommended.

Holy Jim Falls cascade from a rocky cliff and plunge into a pool below. There are several spots to relax along the way. 

If you have spare time, explore the near beautiful hamlet of Trabuco Canyon California.

Driving a car with a high ground clearance is better since the paved paths are a bit bumpier towards the trail’s end.

Check Discover Cars to book a rental car with a high-ground clearance. Buy a parking pass online to enter the Cleveland National Forest area.


One of the most famous waterfalls in Southern California is the Switzer Falls, located in Los Angeles County. 

The lush vegetation, beautiful scenery and fantastic wildlife surrounding Switzer Falls make it one of the best waterfall hikes in Southern California.

Switzer Falls can be accessed by the 4.5-mile loop Gabrieleno trail, also called Switzer Falls Trail, which is moderate and takes about 2 hours to reach the falls. The path is also suitable for mountain bikers.

At the trail’s end, you will hear gorgeous Switzer Falls tumbling from about 50 feet. 

There are many boulders and rest spots around the falls where you can comfortably unwind and take in the stunning beauty of the surroundings.

You might also see a couple of small waterfalls along the way. You must cross the Arroyo Seco Creek to get a full frontal view of Switzer Falls. 

I recommend taking an extra pair of socks. Don’t forget to buy the $5 adventure pass.


Etiwanda Falls is one of the natural and best waterfalls in Southern California, located in the San Bernardino Forest area, North of Rancho Cucamonga.

The falls can be accessed by an easy 3.4 miles hike, which takes about 2 hours. 

The trail winds through Etiwanda Canyon, dotted with vibrant fields of wildflowers and offers incredible vistas of the San Bernardino ranges.

You will notice a part of East Etiwanda Creek feeding the Etiwanda Falls, which tumbles from about 50 feet into a shallow pool of water.

The area is a part of North Etiwanada Preserve, and you may encounter various wildlife, including Rabbits, Foxes and Rattlesnakes. 

The main draw of this trail is that it extends past the falls and up the canyon. Take in the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, you can even get distant views of Mt.Baldy.

On the way to the falls, along the trail, you will notice different informational placards about the native wildlife and the area’s history.

You must buy a parking ticket—$ 3 for half a day and $5 for a day. The lot is small and gets filled up fast. So try to visit early.


One of the top Southern California waterfalls filled with an incredible outdoor adventure is the Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls.

The area is a hiker’s paradise, filled with many trails. The surrounding mountains, towering redwoods and dense green forests charm the scene making it one of the best waterfalls in Southern California.

Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls trail is a 6.2-mile hike. You can either start from the trailhead near Buckhorn Campground or take the Pacific Crest Natural Science trail if you base at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp. 

Both these routes are stunning and offer incredible mountain vistas and rugged scenery.

At the head of the Burkhart trail is a beautiful spot to set up a hammock or camp chair. At the trail’s end, you will see the gorgeous moss-covered waterfalls cascading from about 35 feet.

The terrain can vary along the hike and get muddy at certain places. You must cross several small creeks. Wear proper sturdy Hiking Boots.

As you traverse the canyon, watch for various desert wildlife, including mules, deer, coyotes and the occasional mountain lion.


If you want waterfall hikes in Southern California, visit Lewis Falls, right off the San Gabriel Canyon Road in Azusa.

The access to the falls is a small opening next to the road, hidden, but you will see the signage. You need to hike a 1.1-mile loop with an elevation gain of about 360 feet.

The hike takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Sturdy shoes are a must; try getting a hiking pole if needed. 

At the trail’s end, you will witness one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Southern California, the Lewis Falls tumbling down a steep rocky patch from about 50 feet. 

waterfalls near San Diego

There are boulders around the falls with graffiti. Parking is on the side of the road, just before the road starts to curve.

It is easy to miss the falls since it is hidden, and you won’t find this much crowded.

If you have spare time, drive a few miles North of the Falls on San Gabriel Canyon Road for a beautiful vantage point. 

On a clear day, you can see past Santa Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean and sweeping views of four southern California counties.


If you are looking for hiking trails in Southern California with waterfalls, check out Millard Falls, located in the Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Access Millard Falls via a short hike, less than two miles which starts from the Millard Campground Trailhead parking lot. 

Follow the signage. The trail runs along a creek, a relaxing experience throughout the hike.

There are several small cascades, beautiful rockpools and shaded spots in between if you want to rest.

Waterfalls in Twin Falls
Box Canyon State Park

You have to cross the creek a few times back and forth, but it’s only an inch or two deep. Thanks to the rocks and logs already laid, which helps you to gain balance.

Millard Falls cascades from about 50 feet, and you can enjoy the full frontal view sitting on a large boulder on the right of the falls.

You will need an adventure pass to park at the trailhead. I recommend you wear sturdy shoes and get a hiking pole.


Sturtevant Falls is one of the stunning waterfalls in Southern California, located in the Santa Anita Canyon in the Angeles National Forest amidst the San Gabriel Mountains.

Sturtevant Falls is a natural wonder fed by the Big Santa Anita Creek. The moss-covered algae-accented falls tumble as a single drop from 50 feet into a crystal clear pool.

The hike up to Sturtevant Falls is about 2 miles via the Gabrielino trail, which begins at the Chantry Flat.

Initially, you need to descend a few steps via a cemented road to Roberts Camp, which eventually changes into a dirt trail when you are almost near the canyon floor.

Be prepared for a bit of rock climbing and hoping. Get a hiking pole if necessary since you need to ascend while returning. 

The initial part of the trail isn’t shaded, so get a layer of sunscreen, a hat and sufficient water. You may want to use this Hydration Pack.

The trail continues past the falls until the canyon, a beautiful vantage point to take in the gorgeous mountains, forest and distant views of Mount Wilson on a clear day.

You will see various wildlife like deer, squirrels, vultures, hawks and snakes. The trail is also a popular spot for running among the locals, and you may bump into fellow athletes.

A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for vehicles parked at Chantry Flats Trailhead, which can be bought at the Pack Station. Yearly passes are also available if you are an avid hiker.

The parking fills up fast. So you most likely have to park in the cliff areas next to the road if you don’t find one at the trailhead. Dogs on leashes are allowed on this trail.



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