Cooper Canyon offers a relaxing summer waterfall for those staying overnight at Buckhorn Campground or venturing into San Gabriel Mountains National Monument for a get-away day hike. The three-mile round trip trek descends 745 feet into a mountain canyon through an enchanting old-growth forest to reach a small waterfall.
Those tenting at Buckhorn Campground should feel compelled to experience this trail. For other visitors, drive into the campground and follow signs for the day-use parking. Pick up Buckhart Trail and the north end of the lot and begins down the west side of Buckhorn Canyon. The single track passes through a mixed forest of pines, alders, and oaks. To the right, several footpaths lead down to a small creek. The last such sidetrack drops to an overlook that peers down on a tall slender waterfall. Be careful as you travel on and off the trail; your safety is your responsibility.
Stay on the main trail to reach Cooper Canyon Falls. The forest gives way to wide views of Cooper Canyon and Pleasant View Ridge as the trail curves left around a rock wall and descends a gravel slope. On the return, this will be the toughest part of the hike.
The trail turns east down Upper Little Rock Creek, passing through a pacifying glen of pines and ferns. If the falls weren’t so close ahead, this would be a great place to stop and relax, exploring the trees and creek.
Cross over the creek flowing down Buckhorn Canyon and continue to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. Turn right, away from the Cooper Canyon Trail Campground, and travel east a short distance farther. Pay attention to the left side of the trail to spot where Upper Little Rock Creek tumbles over the falls. A pair of paths break off down the steep slope to the creek. This is the way to the waterfall. Descend carefully. There is a rope tied to a tree near the bottom to help hikers lower themselves the final ten feet.
Below the falls there are rocks to relax on and a pool to wade in. Small trout swim in the calm knee-high water. Cooper Canyon Falls is little more than thirty feet tall so it will not impress you with its grandeur. Instead, it will seduce you with its serenity.
To return, follow the trail back up the 745 feet of elevation to Buckhorn Campground. The start of this trail is at 6.400 feet and should be free of snow by the end of March. This is a good area to visit in the summer months. When lower elevation waterfalls loose their muster, Cooper Canyon Falls still has a strong flow.
If you are staying at Buckhorn and would like to hike uphill to vast views instead of downhill to the waterfall, consider the trail to Mount Waterman, which starts across the Angeles Crest Highway from the campground.
To get to the trailhead: From the 210 Freeway in La Cañada Flintridge, head northeast on Angeles Crest Highway (CA 2) for 35 miles. Pass the Mount Waterman Ski Area and turn left into Buckhorn Campground. Drive through the campground for 0.4 miles following signs for the day-use area. Be sure to display an adventure pass before starting down the Buckhart Trail.
Trailhead address: Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Pearblossom, CA 93553
Trailhead coordinates: 34.34333, -117.921196 (34° 20′ 35.98″N 117° 55′ 16.30″W)
The 5.5 to 6 miler can be completed as an out and back hike or a loop, traveling through a pine forest to a round summit.
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