Rubio Canyon Waterfalls hike San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest Pasadena trail Ribbon Rock Falls Moss Grotto Falls Altadena

This short hike travels up a narrow history-filled canyon to a charming double waterfall.  At the turn of the previous century, the canyon was home to Rubio Pavilion, at the base of the Mount Lowe Incline Tramway, which escorted visitors to an immensely popular resort atop the ridge to the west.  A hundred years later, only the foundation remains and nature has rebounded to provide a rustic hiking alley.  It is 1.3 miles round trip with 350 feet of elevation gain to reach a duo of stacked cascades within a narrow section of the canyon. 

Rubio Canyon Trailhead
Looking up Rubio Canyon from Rubio Vista Road

Beginning from the trailhead along Rubio Vista Road in Altadena, hike north up the west side of the canyon.  Because this trail starts outside Angeles National Forest, an Adventure Pass is not required.

The single track traces the west side of the canyon along the route of the long-removed trolly line into the canyon. The unmaintained trail is in great shape, offering brisk hiking over the first half mile to the Rubio Pavilion site.  The pavilion was operational from 1893 to 1936 as the starting station for the steep tram ride up to Mount Lowe.  The pavilion was crushed by a storm-driven boulder, but sections of the foundation are still visible from the trail.

Just past the foundation, the trail turns left, climbing out of the canyon and up the ridge to Mount Lowe along the path of the old tram line.  When this happens, continue straight up the creek on a rapidly diminishing trail.

A tenth of a mile of off-trail rock hopping brings you up the creek to a double waterfall.  The bottom half is named Ribbon Rock Falls and the top is Moss Grotto Falls. The pair is well suited for each other.

Moss Grotto Falls and Ribbon Rock Falls
Moss Grotto Falls and Ribbon Rock Falls

When you are finished, hike south back to the trailhead or consider a few extensions. From the base of Ribbon Rock Falls, a narrow track continues to the east farther up Rubio Canyon toward Grand Chasm Falls. This trail is covered well on Dan’s Hiking Page. Another way to explore more of this area is to venture up Incline Trail on the west side of the canyon. This steep track following the old tram route up to Echo Mountain, climbing 1,100 feet over approximately 1.5 miles. Given the pitch of the trail, it is a better descent route. Hike up Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain, then hike down Incline Trail to Rubio Canyon. From the bottom of Rubio Canyon Trail, continue down Rubio Canyon Drive and across a section of Altadena Crest Trail to return to the Echo Mountain trailhead for a six-mile hike. This loop is shown in the map below.

Rubio Canyon
Looking out toward downtown Los Angeles from the mouth of Rubio Canyon

The short hike to Moss Grotto Falls and Ribbon Rock Falls is a pleasant excursion in rustic Rubio Canyon. Dogs are permitted, but the trail is not suitable for mountain bikes. No fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy.

To get to the trailhead: From the 210 Freeway in Pasadena, take exit 26 and head north on Lake Ave. Drive three miles to Dolores Drive and turn right. Make the fourth right (after 0.4 miles) on Rubio Canyon Road. After 1/4 mile, turn left to stay on Rubio Canyon Road, and then make a quick right on Rubio Vista Drive. Less than a quarter mile up, find the trailhead on the right side of the road between houses numbered 1351 and 1342.

Trailhead address: 1351 Pleasantridge Drive, Altadena, CA 91001
Trailhead coordinates: 34.203025, -118.122883 (34° 12′ 10.88″N 118° 07′ 22.37″W)

Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.
Trail Map

(Rubio Canyon Trail is in blue, Sam Merrill Trail is in red, Incline Trail is in teal, and Altadena Crest Trail is in gray)
View Rubio Canyon in a larger map
Or view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.

Photos

Rubio Canyon Waterfall HikeRubio Canyon Waterfall HikeRubio Canyon Waterfall HikeRubio Canyon Waterfall HikeRubio Canyon Waterfall Hike

These photos were taken in April of 2011. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
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This 5.8-mile hike visits a historic railway and ruins from a century old resort overlooking Pasadena.
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12 Comments on Rubio Canyon Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains

  1. I had no idea there was a waterfall there! I know of the one at Eaton Canyon and a few others on the really popular trails. I’ll have to check this one out next time I’m in the area.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Christian Alarcon says:

    The Incline Trail to Rubio Canyon is a bit rough! I have explored a lot of this area!

  3. Went there today and had a great hike. The trail was great for as long as there was an obvious trail. once we got off the trail and started up the creekbed, it was a beautiful climb. Parking seemed to be reasonable not many people due to weather conditions today. Not much water in the falls due to the season, still was a nice walk. didnt get to the top trail due to rain, but plan to soon. Photos can be seen on http://www.facebook.com/BBRStudioServices. didnt get the correct gps coordinates for trail head, but its easy to find.

  4. AlexCameron says:

    Not the best hike I’ve had out here. Trail is not well maintained and I found myself questioning the paths legitimacy at times. It’s pretty dry right now so there was no waterfall but it was enjoyable. I wouldn’t go back unless there is decent rain recently.

  5. Jay says:

    Trail is difficult to discern, I went off in the wrong direction, saw no falls. It’s a very dry winter though so there may be no falls to see.

    • David Cole says:

      I first hiked in Rubio in the mid 70s’. At that time I went up to the first falls shortly after a rain and there was a lot of water. Then I found out about the Mt. Lowe Railway. My next trip I hiked up the Great Incline. Many rears later, I have seen the first falls covered by a man made rock slide. I have movie footage of the fall covered, couldn’t tell there were falls there at all. More years had passed and mother nature flushed away the rock slide, pushing it down the canyon. Now the falls are back. Quite a difference. I have footage of the falls, before and after the rock slide. Sure there are times when it is dry but during and after any major rain, it is an awesome place to go to. There are other falls to be seen in Rubio as well. Enjoy them while you can.

  6. chris L says:

    Just hiked the incline trail from Echo Mt. down to Loma Alta (we went up via the unnamed shortcut trail from rubio highlands to the Sam Merrill Trail).

    The incline trail is pretty sketchy right now and needs some maintenance. There’s one good washout a few feet long in what’s already a very narrow sandy section that can be harder for shorter people (~5′) to bridge, and a rocky chute that’s probably fine to go up but a little tricky to downclimb if you’re not used to doing that. There were a couple spots where the correct route is indicated only by a few branches laid across the incorrect route. It’s probably easier to find the right route on the way up rather than down. The “chute” is one of the unclear spots, and has what looks like a good trail going around it at the top and a scary chute to a dropoff, but branches are laid across the false trail, and the correct route (the chute) is marked by small white ribbons tied to brush near the top and bottom. This stretch looks from the top like the bottom is sketchy and exposed, but it’s not that bad once you’re there. The washed out section up higher is very exposed. We ended up exiting via the Canyon, rather than taking the higher exit trail to Rubio Highlands. The canyon is a very nice hike, but there’s very little water in it, and no waterfalls right now. I wouldn’t recommend this hike for beginners or intermediates until some maintenance has been done.

    The route we took up starts in the Rubio Highlands at the same head as the incline trail, but you get to a fork where you can go right and cross a bridge to the incline trail or left on a much better maintained trail that intersects the Sam Merrill trail to Echo Mt.

  7. Helene says:

    Is it ok to hike in Rubio canyon now or too hot ?

  8. C.pedersen says:

    Used to go up there a lot in my 20s Rubio headlands is what we called it would go hang out in the pool below the falls the guys used to jump off the top of the falls was fun

  9. elizabeth9713 says:

    It says this trail is easy and for beginners but i have to call major bs. First of all, it is a rapidly diminishing trail. At about .3-.5 miles in you start having to jump up/ climb rocks. At about .4 miles in there’s no trail, your climbing up the old dried up creek bed. It is all rocks, there is no trail. Tip, follow the pipes. You can’t hear the falls until you are right next to them, so we were discouraged until we were almost there. For us beginners, it took us an hour and a half to get to the falls, the .7 miles in. I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and let me tell you, this hike was not easy on the knees, and the falls were very small. Great for an adventure though. It wasn’t very popular, and was quite an adventure, but the site that says that its easy enough to take your grandma is sadly mistaken. Im 20, and my brothers 22 and it was not very easy. The water was nice though. Finding it wasn’t easy either, its in someones backyard. We had to ask locals where to go. The house has a flag in their yard. We were there in march 2017, and the falls were small even after the recent downfall we had- basically was a stream and turned into a creek for about .1 mile. Maybe at the top there’s a lot more water, but unless you have a bunch of energy, good luck getting the motivation to get up there!! Personal rating:3/10

    • Ric says:

      I was there several times this year, and it was running strong through February. Now the water is completely underground shortly after Ribbon Rock falls, as you say. I agree, once you pass the pavillion ruins it is totally rock hopping till Ribbon Rock falls, but it’s not too steep. If you go past that, up the incline trail, then you’ll think everything that came before was easy :) Go again! There are a couple of waterfalls further up the canyon that are over 100′ high and totally breathtaking.

  10. Colin W. says:

    This is NOT an easy hike. My wife and I are both 68 years old, and we turned back at about the .5 mile point.

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