Santa Ynez Falls Trail follows a shaded creek to a gorge containing a short waterfall. This 2.5-mile hike is a popular family outing because it is fairly level (just 250 feet of elevation gain) and interesting enough to hold a child’s attention for the duration. The hike begins from a free trailhead into Topanga State Park in the Pacific Palisades.
Descend from the gate on Vereda de La Montura in the Pacific Palisades and begin along the single-track trail. Use the concrete stepping stones to cross the water flowing down a runoff channel, and leave the urban world behind. Cross through a dense forest to the first of many creek crossings. Rock hop the babbling waters and follow the trail to a junction 0.6 miles from the start. The trail to the left heads to Trippet Ranch and Eagle Rock, while the trail to the right continues toward Santa Ynez Waterfall. Take this single track, which drops down to the creek, crosses it, and turn left, heading upstream.
After a hundred yards, if you look to the opposite side of the creek, you’ll see a stone chimney left behind from an old cabin in the canyon. Stroll along the calming creek through a quiet forest of oaks, sycamores, and bays. Breathe deep and listen to the trickling water. That relaxing fragrance comes from the leaves of the California bays, that also provide a shady canopy along the cool canyon. In the spring, wildflowers like lupines and purple nightshade bloom in small meadows and pockets of sunlight.
The trail remains alongside the creek, crossing it at points. Staying on course can get a bit tricky as there are footpaths breaking off at several points, trying to lure you away from the trail. When in doubt, stay with the water. As long as you don’t stray too far from the creek, you will end up at the right place.
When the canyon walls close, you are nearing the waterfall. As the trail ascends the right bank of the canyon (leading to several dead ends), jump the trail and begin rock hoping up the creek. As long as the water is low, this should not be a problem. If the water level is high, head up the wall of the canyon and drop back down. The narrows present one obstacle that requires a bit of dexterous climbing. The water pours over a cluster of rocks in the center of the gorge and there is no easy way to continue upstream. Either cross the ledge to the right, passing below a low overhang that could be difficult for taller hikers, or hop across the creek and hoist yourself up the conglomerate rock on the left side of the creek. Both routes are feasible for agile hikers.
Above the obstacle, rock hop and climb a few hundred feet farther to Santa Ynez Falls. The 18-foot waterfall looks diminutive outside of the rainy season, but the enjoyable hike to the cascade makes up for it. Maidenhair ferns drape down the rock alongside the falls, which spills into a small shadowy grotto.
Most hikers turn around at the falls, but it is possible to continue up the canyon. A rope to the left of the falls may be used to climb above the waterfall and continue upstream. There is also a path a few hundred feet downstream, on the right as you face away from the falls, which can be used to climb out of the canyon and rejoin the creek above the falls. The trail (if you can still call it that) requires careful rock-hopping and log crossing to continue upstream through the narrow gorge. Make your way up to a short sloping cascade, the less impressive Upper Santa Ynez Falls, and climb to the left of the creek to a rope ladder that drops down from a crevice between a large boulder and the canyon wall. The short ladder takes a surprising amount of effort to climb, as the wooden steps swing underneath the rock, charging your upper body with the bulk of the lifting. Pull yourself out of the crevice and onto the boulder to keep charging upstream. Once above the ladder, the canyon widens again and the path fades. Most turn around here or follow a faint path to the left down a parallel canyon to rejoin the trail below, but this should be considered an off-trail adventure.
The most pleasant park of this hike is the shaded woodland leading up the Santa Ynez Falls. The common turnaround point at the waterfalls creates a very pleasant 2.5-mile hike. There is a good amount of poison oak along the trail, so long pants are recommended. Dogs are not allowed on this hike as it passes through Topanga State Park. No fee or permit is required, so get out and enjoy!
To get to the trailhead: From PCH, take Sunset Boulevard inland for half a mile. Turn left onto Palisades Drive and head north for 2.4 miles. Turn left onto Vereda de la Montura, and park on either side of the street in the permitted areas. The trail begins on the right side of the street at the bottom of the hill (before the private neighborhood gates).
Trailhead address: 17399 Vereda De La Montura, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
Trailhead coordinates: 34.0782, -118.56745 (34° 04′ 41.52″N 118° 34′ 02.81″W)
You may also view a regional map of surrounding Los Angeles trails and campgrounds.
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