Yay for rainy winters! The biggest benefit (OK, drought over is pretty great, too) is that the waterfalls are roaring. So slap on the sunscreen, yank off the socks, and splash those happy toes: it’s time to seek out one of our four favorite kid-friendly waterfall hikes in or near Los Angeles. The chance to get wet is a sure fire way to turn even the most hike-adverse tot into a trail runner.

waterfall-kidphoto: Analise Dubner

Monrovia Canyon Park Waterfall Trail
Tucked away in the San Gabriel Mountains, just ten minutes off the 210 Freeway, Monrovia Canyon Park is one of the least known (translation: least crowded) of our local cascade destinations, and offers three options for hikers.  The Bill Cull trailhead at the park entrance takes you along a shady 1.7 mile path to the falls, or keep driving to the middle lot for a one-mile trek. You can also park at the Nature Center, located just 3/4 mile from the waterfall.

What’s special about it: Hiking under a fairyland canopy of oak trees, big leaf maple and sycamores makes this a good hike for any time of day.  Best of all, your little nymphs and monkeys will have so much fun swinging from the low-hanging  branches that wind along the trail they’ll forget they’re on an h-i-k-e.  (Shhh: we won’t tell if you don’t.)

hiking-kidsphoto: Analise Dubner

Scamper across rocks and small streams, and park it at the thirty-foot waterfall for a picnic and toe-dipping fun.

photo: Meghan Rose

Know before you go:  The park is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. with a $6 entry fee, except Tuesdays, when it is closed. Hiking is still permitted, but you’ll need to park in the residential neighborhood near the park entrance (beware of parking restrictions in certain areas) adding at least a sunny half-mile to your hike.  Also, there are a few minor stream crossings and narrow passes making strollers unwelcome.

Online: cityofmonrovia.org/recreation/page/monrovia-parks-0

photo: Meghan Rose

Solstice Canyon
Located in the Santa Monica mountains off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Solstice Canyon offers stunning vistas, architectural relics, the “Darth Vader” House (you’ll know it when you see it) and, oh yeah, a thirty foot waterfall. If you’re feeling ambitious and brought plenty of sunscreen, we recommend heading up the small staircase near the park entrance to the Rising Sun Trail which meanders along the mountain crest with spectacular views of the vast blue ocean below. This trail connects with the shady and mostly paved Solstice Canyon trail for a 3.2 mile loop.

photo: Juan Bendana via Creative Commons

What’s special about it:  From Rising Sun Trail you’ll descend down a steep-ish hill to Tropical Terrace,  a once famously hip Malibu mansion that burned down in a fire in 1982, leaving, well, actual ruins in a very Malibu style. No, you won’t find Mayan stone calendars predicting the end of the world, but the less ancient Tropical Terrace is pretty cool.

photo: Jeremy Miles via Creative Commons

The kids can make like Indiana Jones and explore the numerous fireplaces and crumbling rooms …

photo: Jeremy Miles via Creative Commons

…or search for the stone temple and Virgin Mary statue hidden on the east bank of the stream.

photo: Jeremy Miles via Creative Commons

From there, follow the narrow rock step to small waterfall just north of the mansion.

Know before you go:  The Solstice Canyon trail is also a great out-n-back option for toddling hikers and babies on wheels, making it the only stroller-friendly waterfall hike we’ve met.

No spot in the lot?   The free parking here fills up fast but you can drive about 1/4 mile up Corral Canyon Road to a dirt turnout where parking is permitted.

Online: nps.gov/solsticecanyon.htm

waterfall-kid 2

photo: Analise Dubner

Sturtevant Falls
Ranking as the most challenging of our cascade escapades at 3.7 miles, the out-n-back Sturtevant Falls trail in the San Gabriel Mountains is still super family friendly with a mostly flat and shady trail. Along the way, you’ll pass string of quaint cabins built in the 1900s, some that are available to rent. (Visit the website for more info.) There are three modest water crossings, perfect for rock-hoppers of all ages.

slippery-rocksphoto: Jennifer Wolfe

What’s special about it:  This stunning fifty-foot waterfall plunges into a shallow pool that the kiddos can actually wade around in, if they can stand the freezing temperature.  Call us crazy but we prefer to hang on the sandy shore snacking.

sturtevant-falls 2photo: Jennifer Wolfe

Know before you go:   The trail starts at Chantry Flats and descends down a .6 mile paved road that you’ll have to trudge back up on the way out. Also, strollers won’t be happy crossing streams, but we’ve see plenty of bjorns, backpacks and slings ambling through these parts.

No spot in the lot?  Parking here can be a bit of a bear here no matter what time you arrive. Stop in the parking lot anyway to pick up a $5 adventure pass at the pack station—it’s required to park anywhere—and head back down Santa Anita Canyon Road to find a spot.  There is also limited overflow parking available at the pack station for an additional $5 on weekdays, or $10 on weekends and holidays.

Online: santaanitacanyon.com/trails/falls-trail

Tahquitz Canyon
Head to the desert to find water? Sounds a little crazy. But it’s true; one of the most beautiful and serene waterfalls in southern California is smack dab in the middle of Palm Springs. Cruise along South Palm Canyon Drive, turn up E. Mesquite Avenue and you’ll soon find yourself up in the hills. Park at the Agua Caliente Tahquitz Visitor Center and pay your admission fee: yep, this one comes with free parking but a fee to enter the park to hike. Adults are $12.50, kids 12 & under are $6. But it’s worth it; with this hike comes beautifully kept trails suitable for the youngest walkers (but they must be able to walk or you can carry them—the trail isn’t suitable for strollers), a Ranger center with spotless bathrooms and free ranger led hikes that depart every 2 hours. The hike itself is a 2-mile loop with breathtaking desert views from every vantage point. And the waterfall itself, which is at the highest point of your hike feels like a mirage, a 50-foot cascade of water tumbling into a deep pool.

What’s special about it: Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians settled in the Tahquitz, Chino and Indian Canyons centuries ago. When you pay your admission fee at the visitor center (you can park in the lot and visit the center for free, but to hit the trails you must pay the entrance fee), you’ll be given a trail guide that has 9 points of interest on it. Each is marked on the map and along the trail with a symbol that the kids (even non-readers) can easily find. Then you can read a little about the Legend of the Fox’s Dress or the Place of Wasted Mescal. You can even search for the rock art at the Sacred Rock.

photo: USFWS Pacific SW via Creative Commons

You won’t be on the trail alone! Look (and listen) carefully and you may find the beautiful big horn sheep grazing as they go on their own nimble footed hikes. You can also search for the other local flora and fauna, like the desert apricot, beavertail cactus and Costa hummingbird.

photo: Meghan Rose

Know before you go: You may be heading to a waterfall, but this is still the desert, baby! They won’t let you up on the trails without showing proof that you have a bottle of water (you can also buy one there). While the trails are open daily October-June, in the hottest months, the hours are limited, so check before you go.

Online: tahquitzcanyon.com/guide.html

Do you have a favorite local waterfall? Tell us about it here.


—Jennifer Wolfe