When Escondido Falls is flowing strong, it is flat out one of the finest waterfalls around Los Angeles. The waterfall has an easy-to-reach lower tier that is 50 feet tall and a hard-to-reach upper tier that’s 150 feet tall and stunning in optimum conditions.
This 3.8-mile round trip hike begins with 0.75 miles uphill along Winding Way, a paved road that passes extravagant Malibu residences. Do not let the blacktop deter you. The waterfall is well worth the unconventional start. After gaining almost 200 feet, the road heads downhill and arrives at Escondido Canyon Park, a wooded park that is open for everyone to enjoy.
Take the dirt path to the left next to a sign that reads “Edward Albert Escondido Canyon Trail and Waterfall.” The trail descends through a field of fennel and mustard toward a thicket where a small creek flows. Cross it and make a left turn to head upstream into Escondido Canyon.
The trail widens and remains fairly level as it passes through forest and fields. In the spring, an abundance of wildflowers bloom along the trail. A few creek crossings interrupt your progress. When the water is high, they require a bit of fun rock hopping, but otherwise, they are easy to cross.
Over the course of one mile, the trail gradually ascends over 150 feet from a low spot below Winding Way to arive at Lower Escondido Falls. This fifty-foot cascade transports hikers instantly to the tropics. A mild sulfuric smell is the only detractor from this serene setting. Have a seat next to the fern-line falls. For many hikers, this is a fitting destination that can be reached with ease. For those yearning for more and willing to work for it, Upper Escondido Falls is three times as tall and ten times as beautiful.
A route to the right of the lower falls provides a way up the steep limestone wall. The path can be tricky to get up, and coming down is a slippery endeavor. Wear proper footwear and dig in for adventure en route to the upper falls.
Use the roots for support and make your way upward. A stretch of rope may be available to help with one portion of this steep section of the hike, which gains close to 200 feet of elevation over 0.15 miles to reach the base of Upper Escondido Falls.
Catch your breath as the path turns to the left and crosses the creek beneath a cascade above Lower Escondido Falls. Stay on the left bank of the creek from here, passing over roots and boulders to find the impressive upper falls.
Upper Escondido Falls is a true treasure. The water pours over a wall of lush green moss and falls some 150 feet before landing in a calm pool. If Escondido Falls has a good flow of water, it is one of the best around.
You might see a few hikers climbing up to a small landing behind the falls. If you are prepared to get wet, this precarious venture adds even more fun to the hike. The view from behind the falls is a treat and so is the fresh mint that grows there. Your safety is your responsibility. Attempt at your own risk.
Before returning back down the trail, relax beneath the falls, which feels worlds away from the city life below. Anyone who lives in LA and enjoys waterfalls should visit this two-tier 200-foot beauty. The early part of the year is the best time to visit, when the falls are at their fullest.
If you like Escondido Falls, check out other waterfalls around Los Angeles and explore additional trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. The hike to Upper Escondido Falls and back is 3.8 miles round trip with 400 feet of elevation change. Dogs and mountain bikes are welcome. No fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: Take PCH to Winding Way in Malibu. Winding Way is a minor street, 4.5 miles west of Malibu Canyon Road (by Pepperdine University) and 1.4 miles east of Kanan Dune Road on the north side of PCH. Turn up Winding Way and into a free parking lot for the trail on the left at the bottom of Winding Way. Overflow parking is along PCH.
Trailhead address: 27807 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265
Trailhead coordinates: 34.0261, -118.78 (34° 01′ 33.95″N 118° 46′ 48″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.
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