Kids may not find hiking that fun (say what!?) but if you promise them a waterfall at the end, we guarantee there will fewer complaints about tired legs. From beginners to veteran trailblazers, check out these family-friendly, splashtastic hikes.
Escondido Falls: Malibu
This 150-foot, multi-tiered waterfall, holds the honor as the highest waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains. An easy, flat trail (that begins on the road so stay on the clearly marked path for safety) allows hikers of all abilities to enjoy dipping their toes in the cool, refreshing water. Along the way, expect to hop over some creek beds, maybe scuttle over a boulder or two and climb some low hanging branches — there’s just enough along the trail to keep it interesting for the little ones. Bonus: there’s even a swing at the falls!
If you have older kids that are looking for a more challenging hike, after you’ve had a rest at the lower falls, climb up to the upper falls where you’ll use ropes to help guide you over the huge rocks and boulders. Warning: The upper section is not for the faint of heart. Length of trail: 3.8 miles in and back.
Parking: Park at the lot on Winding Way East a Pacific Coast Hwy. The trailhead starts down the road, just follow the clearly marked path.
Insider Tip: The parking lot is small and the trail is popular so it’s a good idea to get there early.
27200 Winding Way
photo: Meghan Rose
Monrovia Canyon Park Waterfall Trail
Tucked away in the San Gabriel Mountains, just ten minutes off the 210 Freeway, Monrovia Canyon Park has 80 acres worth of nature to explore and is one of the least known (translation: least crowded) of our local cascade destinations. There are three options for hikers: The shortest route to the 30-foot falls is via the Nature Center (just .75 miles from the waterfall) with ample parking. If you think your kids can handle a longer hike (but not the longest) stop at the middle lot for a one-mile trek. And if you really want to experience the full monty (and know your kids can handle it) park at The Bill Cull trailhead at the park entrance that will take you along a shady 1.7-mile path to the falls.
A total 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.)
Insider Tip: The park is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. with a $6 entry fee, except Tues., when it is closed. Hiking is still permitted, but you’ll have 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.
1200 N Canyon Blvd.
photo: Jeremy Miles via Creative Commons
Solstice Canyon: Malibu
Located in the Santa Monica Mountains off the Pacific Coast Hwy, Solstice Canyon offers stunning vistas, architectural relics, the “Darth Vader” House (you’ll know it when you see it) and, oh yeah, a 30-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 then connects with the shady and mostly paved Solstice Canyon trail for a 3.2 mile loop.
From the Rising Sun Trail, you can 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. From there, follow the narrow rock step to a small waterfall just north of the mansion.
Parking: The free parking here fills up FAST (read: by 9:30 a.m.) but you can drive about 1/4 mile up Corral Canyon Rd. to a dirt turnout where parking is permitted.
Insider Tip: 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.
3455 Solstice Canyon Rd.
photo: Sassie H. via Yelp
Sturtevant Falls: Arcadia
Ranked 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 family-friendly with a mostly flat and shady trail. Along the way, you’ll pass a string of quaint cabins built in the 1900s, some that are available to rent. (Visit the website for more information). There are three modest water crossings, perfect for rock-hoppers of all ages.
This stunning 50-foot waterfall plunges into a shallow pool that the kiddos can actually wade around in if they can stand the freezing temperature.
Parking: Thanks to the area’s popularity, it be a bit of a bear no matter what time you arrive. Stop in the parking lot anyway to pick up the $5 adventure pass at the pack station — it’s required to park anywhere — and head back down Santa Anita Canyon Rd. 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.
Insider Tip: 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 seen plenty of bjorns, backpacks, and slings ambling through these parts.
Chantry Flats Rd. & Angeles National Forest
photo: Sean S. via Yelp
Eaton Canyon Falls: Altadena
This 3-mile easy hike with lots of shade was seemingly made for families. A 40-foot waterfall with wading area beckons at the end of the trail but there are loads of highlights along the way, including a nature center with interesting exhibits.
Parking: Free but the lots fill up quickly.
Insider Tip: You need to go under the bridge to access the waterfall so make sure to bring water shoes so you (and the little ones) can enjoy the water. The biggest complaint about this hike is how crowded it can be. If you want to avoid the crowds, get there earlier than 9 a.m. or go on a weekday.
1750 North Altadena Dr.
Do you have a favorite waterfall hike? Let us know in the comments below!
—Jennifer Wolfe & Andie Huber