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Six Thrilling Wet Hikes to Try Now (and Two to Save for Later)

The waterfall at Fish Creek in Angeles National Forest. At the bottom left corner of the photograph are two hikers resting by the creek.
The waterfall at Fish Creek in Angeles National Forest. All access points to the trail are currently closed indefinitely as a result of the 2016 San Gabriel Complex Fire. Check back with the City of Duarte for updates. | Sandi Hemmerlein
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In dry Southern California, finding a water source on a hike can be thrilling — but hikes that are "wet" with creeks, streams, rivers or waterfalls are often elusive.

Especially in the midst of summertime, and especially in drought years.

But cooling off on a waterlogged trail in SoCal isn't impossible — if you know where to look. In fact, if you want to, you can get downright soaked!

While all natural water sources depend on some kind of precipitation, there are some reliable water features along SoCal hiking trails that you can visit without having to schedule your hike right after rainfall.

And in our mountains and canyons, even the subtlest trickle of water can be a welcome and stunning surprise.

So, here are six wet hikes that are open now and perfect for tackling in the springtime — and two more to save for later, when they open back up for public access.

1. Bridge to Nowhere, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument/Angeles National Forest

One of the payoffs for the Bridge to Nowhere hike in the San Gabriels' Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area may be a bridge that connects nothing to nothing — literally no roads lead to or from it. This behemoth used to bridge a chasm for roads that were being built in the 1930s through Angeles National Forest to connect the San Gabriel Valley to Wrightwood — until major storms washed everything out completely, except the bridge.

For some, the real draw is the swimming hole right below the bridge, which is deep enough to jump into when the water levels are high enough. In fact, the entire trail can be pretty wet — with several crossings that lead you wading in the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, sometimes in water that can be up to waist-deep. Avoid river crossings right after rainfall, when the current can be strong and could literally sweep you away.

The abandoned bridge at the end of the Bridge to Nowhere  hike in the San Gabriels' Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. The bridge is a jumping point for bungee jumpers while a refreshing creek is available for hikers to cool off below.
1/3 The abandoned bridge at the end of the Bridge to Nowhere  hike in San Gabriels' Sheep Mountain Wilderness Area. The bridge is a jumping point for bungee jumpers while a refreshing creek for hikers to cool off lies below. | Sandi Hemmerlein
 Hikers wade through the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
2/3 Hikers wade through the East Fork of the San Gabriel River on the Bridge to Nowhere hike. | Sandi Hemmerlein
 Hikers navigate the wet and rocky terrain at the Bridge to Nowhere hike in the Angeles National Forest.
3/3 Hikers navigate the wet and rocky terrain at the Bridge to Nowhere hike in the Angeles National Forest. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Be kind to your feet and wear very sturdy shoes — but unless you're wearing hip-waders, your boots are going to take in water and give you a squishy, sloshy gait. You can try wearing water shoes (a.k.a. "river shoes), but they can feel a little slippy on the rocky riverbed underfoot. Keep valuables in a watertight bag (a Ziploc will do) — and bring a change of clothes, socks, shoes and a towel to stay dry on the drive home.

From the trailhead, the round-trip hike along the East Fork Trail is about nine miles — but when the official parking area is full, finding a spot down the road can add as much as three miles to the journey. This is a popular trail with hikers and bungee-jumpers alike, so you won't be able to avoid other people altogether. Get there before 8 a.m. to try to beat the crowds. You'll need to display an Adventure Pass in your car to park at or near the East Fork Day Use Parking Trailhead — but if you can't get one ahead of time, you'll receive a parking ticket equivalent to the cost of the daily pass.

2. Solstice Canyon, Malibu, Santa Monica Mountains

In Malibu's Solstice Canyon, you'll find a rare year-round waterfall — though it may only be trickling, depending on the time of year and how deep into a drought season we are. That means that you're not very likely to get wet on this hike unless you really try — so no special precautions are necessary.

A stream at the Solstice Canyon hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.
1/2 A stream at the Solstice Canyon hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A close-up of red wldflowers found along the Solstice Canyon trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
2/2 Wildflowers found along the Solstice Canyon trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. | Sandi Hemmerlein

The most direct route to the waterfall is the Solstice Canyon Trail along a creek — where you'll pass the ruins of the early 20th-century Keller homestead (burned in 2007) and of the Paul R. Williams-designed "Tropical Terrace" (built 1952, burned in 1982). Thanks to its creation as a public park in 1988, you can now visit Solstice Canyon to see where the Roberts Ranch House kitchen and chimney once were — and walk along its ghostly footprint as you gaze at the surrounding statues and fountains.

A dog swims at a water hole at the Solstice Canyon hike.
A water hole at the Solstice Canyon hike. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Park in the paved lot or on a neighboring street, but read signs very carefully to avoid the wrath of Malibu parking enforcement. Dogs on leash are allowed on the trail but not at the waterfall site.

3. Grotto Trail, Circle X Ranch, Malibu, Santa Monica Mountains

The hike to the Circle X Ranch grotto starts innocently enough, first through the lower parking lot and then down a driveway, which turns into a jeep trail that takes you down this reverse (or "upside down") hike, during which you lose elevation first and then have to climb back up at the end. After a shady grove, with a few easy ups and downs, you'll emerge into the dry prairie of a former Boy Scout camp, with sandstone formations looming in the distance.

 The upper grotto cave at the Grotto Trail hike in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The upper grotto cave at the Grotto Trail hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. | Sandi Hemmerlein

The abundance of water in the area attracted not only to the Chumash people but also Spanish rancheros — and the closer you get to the grotto, you can see the landscape getting wetter (and the plant life transitioning from coastal scrub to ferns). Expect some rock-hopping across streams, which are more than manageable in hiking boots. Once you hit a cluster of boulders, climb across the unimproved streambed and down to the upper grotto — shimmying down a tree, maybe with the help of a friend or some minor rappelling gear. The upper grotto cave was formed 8,000 years ago when a boulder fell on top of a waterfall — and, in a wet season, water pools there and cascades down to the lower grotto.

Stay on the trail to avoid the burn areas from the 2018 Woolsey Fire — which also prompted the closure of the group campground. Park in the unpaved lot off Yerba Buena Road — and leave your bike and horse at home. Keep your dog leashed and away from the grottos. Although this round-trip hike only clocks in at 3.5 miles, the boulder scrambling can be a bit strenuous.

4. Escondido Canyon Park and Falls, Malibu

The tallest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains can be found at Escondido Canyon Park — with three tiers of limestone and 150 feet in height. The uppermost waterfalls are located on private property, so the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority asks that hikers not attempt to climb up there (especially because of the risk of serious fall injuries). But the lower falls, where the public parkland ends, are worth the four-mile round-trip hike through oak woodland, riparian woodland and coastal sage scrub habitats.

 The waterfall at the end of the Escondido Canyon Park and Falls hike in Malibu.
1/2 The waterfall at the end of the Escondido Canyon Park and Falls hike in Malibu. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The lower falls at the end Escondido Canyon Park and Falls accessed via the four-mile round-trip hike through oak woodland, riparian woodland and coastal sage scrub habitats.
2/2 The lower falls at the end Escondido Canyon Park and Falls accessed via the four-mile round-trip hike through oak woodland, riparian woodland and coastal sage scrub habitats. | Sandi Hemmerlein

The falls aren't the only thing that makes this Escondido Canyon hike wet — because there's also the seasonal Escondido Creek that the trail crosses multiple times. If there is any water in it, it's usually not very deep — so good hiking boots with sturdy soles should suffice.

Park in the pay lot at Winding Way or for free along the Pacific Coast Highway, checking carefully for "No Parking" signs. The trail is mostly shaded, but it can still get hot and sticky with rising temperatures. Wear swim gear if you dare to stand under the falls.

5. Temescal Canyon Falls, Temescal Gateway Park, Pacific Palisades

There are many different ways to explore Temescal Gateway Park — and not all of them are wet. But if you take the Temescal Canyon Trail from the fee parking area at Temescal Canyon Road off Sunset Boulevard, you'll follow alongside and even cross a trickling creek before arriving at the Temescal waterfall, 1.3 miles into your hike. Sneakers or regular hiking shoes or sandals (with a protected toe) should suffice.

A waterfall located 1.3 miles into the Temescal Canyon Trail in Temescal Gateway Park.
1/3 A waterfall located 1.3 miles into the Temescal Canyon Trail in Temescal Gateway Park. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A footbridge found along the Temescal Canyon Trail in Temescal Gateway Park.
2/3 A footbridge found along the Temescal Canyon Trail in Temescal Gateway Park.
A trickling creek before along the trail before arriving at the Temescal waterfall.
3/3 A trickling creek before along the trail before arriving at the Temescal waterfall. | Sandi Hemmerlein

This seasonal waterfall is actually located within the boundaries of Topanga State Park — one of the parks that Temescal serves as a "gateway" to, all within Los Angeles City limits. You can view it from an iconic footbridge along the trail.

Make a counter-clockwise loop out of your hike by turning left and climbing down through Topanga State Park on the Temescal Ridge Trail, which offers a view of gorgeous coastline scenery (which, on a clear day, might even include Catalina Island). This is the "dry" (and sunny) part of the hike — and it can get pretty hot despite the ocean breeze. Bring plenty of water and sun protection. If you want to hike all the way to the falls, you'll need to do it without your dog — because man's best friend isn't welcome on the trail in Topanga (not even on a leash).

6. Eaton Canyon Natural Area, Pasadena

Eaton Canyon is really popular, especially on weekends and holidays. And for most, the waterfall is the pièce de résistance of visiting Eaton Canyon.

At just under four miles round-trip, it's not a very long out-and-back hike — but traversing its rugged terrain is challenging enough to not be suitable for young children or beginner hikers. It involves some scrambling up cliffs, tiptoeing on boulders across Eaton Canyon Stream, and trudging along the sandy Eaton Wash. And that's just for starters. Follow the well-marked trail's signs to the waterfall.

The waterfall at Eaton Canyon empties into a pool of water at the foot of the falls where hikers will frequently swim.
1/3 The waterfall at Eaton Canyon empties into a pool of water at the foot of the falls where hikers will frequently swim. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Boulders are dotted across the Eaton Canyon Stream where hikers must traverse through to reach the falls.
2/3 Boulders are dotted across the Eaton Canyon Stream that hikers must traverse to reach the falls. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The Eaton Canyon Stream found along the trail to the falls.
3/3 The Eaton Canyon Stream runs along the trail to the falls. | Sandi Hemmerlein

The big payoff is a pool of water at the foot of the falls that's big enough to swim in — and people do swim in it, sometimes fully clothed, sometimes prepared with a swimsuit. Be careful getting to it, which requires walking across the smooth, eroded, sand-covered rocks that can pose a major slip-and-trip hazard. Make sure you're wearing shoes with a good grip — ones you won't mind getting wet on the stream crossings on the way there and on the return trip back. For your safety, stay only on official trails — and don't try to climb the waterfall.

The following two "wet hikes" are temporarily closed to the public for fire recovery — but they're so good, they're worth noting now and saving for later.

7. Fish Creek, Angeles National Forest

The waterfall at Fish Creek in the Angeles National Forest.  To the bottom left corner are two hikers resting by the creek.
1/3 The waterfall at Fish Creek in Angeles National Forest. All access points to the trail are currently closed indefinitely as a result of the 2016 San Gabriel Complex Fire. Check back with the City of Duarte to see when you'll be able to once again access Fish Canyon. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A trickling creek found along the Fish Creek hike in the Angeles National Forest.
2/3 A trickling creek found along the Fish Creek hike in Angeles National Forest. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A close-up on a cluster of pink wildflowers found along the Fish Creek hike in the Angeles National Forest.
3/3 A cluster of wildflowers found along the Fish Creek hike in Angeles National Forest. | Sandi Hemmerlein

Fish Creek is known as one of the most beautiful trails in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains — but unfortunately, 95% of it was within the burn area of the 2016 San Gabriel Complex Fire. As a result, all access points to the single-track trail are closed indefinitely for fire recovery and trail repair.

The City of Duarte is working with Angeles National Forest to restore public access to the historic trail — which was once lush with wildflowers and dotted with remains from 18th-century cabins. Check back with the city to see when you'll be able to once again access Fish Canyon — which leads to one of the biggest waterfalls in the area, a three-tiered beauty for sure.

8. Sturtevant Falls, Chantry Flat, Angeles National Forest

Hikers enjoy a swim in the pool of water from the Sturtevant Falls in Big Santa Anita Canyon.
1/3 Hikers swim in the pool of water at the foot of Sturtevant Falls in Big Santa Anita Canyon. | Sandi Hemmerlein
 Trees reflect off the surface of a body of water at the Sturtevant Falls hike in the Chantry Flat area of the Angeles National Forest.
2/3 Trees reflect off the surface of a body of water at the Sturtevant Falls hike in the Chantry Flat area of Angeles National Forest. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A close up of a cluster of yellow wildflowers found along the Sturtevant Falls hike.