A weekend hike with the kids that doesn’t include whining, complaining, and eventually tears? Impossible, you say. Nonsense, we say.
The recipe for hiking with kids includes a healthy measure of rock-hopping and a touch of tree-climbing. Top it off with an exotic waterfall picnic and you’ve got a hike that will satisfy your craving to get back to nature, and put a smile on the faces of even the most anti-trekker tots. They might even ask for seconds….
So slap on the sunscreen, yank off the socks, and splash those happy toes: you have arrived at our three favorite kid-friendly waterfall hikes in Los Angeles. (By the way, all of these hikes have public restrooms, and dogs on leashes are welcome. We knew you’d ask.)
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.)
Scamper across rocks and small streams, and park it at the thirty-foot waterfall for a picnic and toe-dipping fun.
Know before you go: The park is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with a $5 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.
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 specular 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.
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 too.
The kids can make like Indiana Jones and explore the numerous fireplaces and crumbling rooms …
…or search for the stone temple and Virgin Mary statue hidden on the east bank of the stream.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have a favorite local waterfall? Tell us about it here.
photos courtesy of Analise Dubner, modernhiker.com, and Jennifer Wolfe