I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do the Escondido Falls Hike. I lived less than 10 minutes away from the trailhead for 4 years, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally hiked to the falls. This hike has just about everything you could want: ocean views, gorgeous scenery, and a waterfall. And by a waterfall I mean a trickle, but still there is a small amount of water that is falling. The desert landscape is definitely a stark contrast to the lush forested hike to Drift Creek Falls we did last month, but it’s just a different kind of beauty.
Getting to the trailhead: Take PCH about 5 miles north of Malibu Canyon Road. Turn right onto Winding Way, and the parking lot is on your left. This lot fills up quickly, so you can also park along PCH.
Click here to see the trailhead on Google Maps.
The Hike: One of the main downsides to this hike is that the first half mile or so is right along a road. Don’t let this stop you though, because the rest of the hike is really fun and feels like you’ve left civilization behind.
After about a half-mile or so, you’ll see a sign that reads “Edward Albert Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfalls.” Turn left onto the dirt path next to this sign to begin the real hike.
The trail quickly descends through brush and fennel to a small creek. You’ll need to cross the creek and turn left to head upstream into Escondido Canyon. Continuing up the canyon, you’ll pass through talk oak groves and fields. It had just sprinkled when we went, so everything was looking fairly green by Southern California standards. I’ve heard that there are beautiful wildflowers in the Spring, so we may have to hike this again soon.
There are a couple creek crossings along the way, but they’re really easy in this drought. Even if the creek had more water, there are plenty of boulders to help you rock-hop across.
After roughly a mile of hiking, you’ll gradually ascend about 150 feet to the base of lower Escondido Falls. When we were there, the waterfall was nothing more than a slight trickle, but we were happy to see any water in this drought. When it’s gushing, lower Escondido Falls cascades about 50 feet before landing in a pool at the base of a mossy rock face. It’s a very beautiful setting, and the only thing to detract from this serenity is the slightly sulphuric smell.
Many hikers stop here, but the adventurous can continue to the upper falls. There’s a route to the right of the lower falls that climbs around 200 feet in less than a quarter mile. You have to work for it, but it’s worth it as I’ve heard that upper falls drops more than 150 feet before coming to rest in a pristine pool. If there is enough water, this is one of the best waterfalls around. That’s a big “IF” though because the California water situation is a struggle to say the least.
On the way back, make sure to take a picture underneath the Lord of the Rings tree and do your best Gollum impersonation. If you’ve got any favorite Southern California waterfall hikes, we’d love to hear about them in the comment section below, and please check out some of our other adventures here.