Posted by: GeekHiker | May 21, 2008

HIKE: Santa Ynez Waterfall

(First a bit of background; hike info further down)

I can’t be sure, but the Santa Ynez Waterfall hike, may very well have been the first hike I ever did after moving to the LA area. Or maybe the second.

I can say that it was the first hike I ever did with the Sierra Singles, and it was not a pleasant experience.

There were too many people (better than 70) traipsing up the canyon. Wildlife: none. And I don’t blame ‘em one bit.

It was a newbies hike, so the conversation was limited for the most part to everyone sharing hiking experiences, or being told (over and over and over) how wonderful the Sierra Club was. Given the size of the group, I rather readily shrunk into my shell, which was a whole lot thicker back then.

The worst of it, I suspect, was for the young women who were along for the hike. Any woman under 30 was kept company, the entire way up the trail, by at least three to four desperate balding men in their late 30’s and early 40’s. It was kinda sad, really, because nothing attracts a woman like stalking her for a three mile hike, right? Poor things.

Needless to say there weren’t many more hikes with the Sierra Singles for me…

* * *

My above experience notwithstanding, the out-and-back to the Santa Ynez waterfall is a nice little hike only a short journey from the city. Despite being a stones-throw from a large housing development, this section of Topanga State Park is a true slice of wildness in the Santa Monicas.

Santa Ynez Trail 01
Entrance to Topanga State Park/Santa Ynez Canyon

From the gated entrance off Verda De La Montura, proceed down the steps and past the concrete flood control channel.

In a few yards, you’ll pass over a concrete wash, funneling water from a stream to the right. Stepping stones provide a path. Be sure to use them: the damp areas almost always have slimy algae growing in them that makes the footing downright slippery.

Santa Ynez Trail 02
Crossing the concrete wash

Continue up the easy-to-find trail along the canyon floor, shaded by oaks, sycamores, and willow trees along the way. In spring, the area blooms with multitudes of wildflowers. The path will cross the stream a couple of times as it disappears and reappears along the sandy canyon floor.

Santa Ynez Trail 03
Late spring flower

Santa Ynez Trail Tree Photomerge
Large tree alongside the trail with new spring growth

Santa Ynez Trail 10
More spring flowers

At .5 miles you’ll reach a junction: the left path will take you out of the canyon and ascend to Trippet Ranch and, eventually, Eagle Rock (3.4 miles from the trailhead). Take the right path to lead to the waterfall itself, one mile further ahead.

Santa Ynez Trail 05
Along the trail

The trail continues up the wide canyon, mostly shaded with large trees arching overhead and songbirds singing everywhere.

Santa Ynez Trail Photomerge
Wide shady spot along the trail

Santa Ynez Trail 11
Songbird in the trees

After the junction, the path becomes less distinct. At times I found it easier to simply walk up the creekbed rather than trying to fight my way through the brushy path.

Eventually the canyon walls begin to pinch in, with large boulders starting to appear. Nearing your destination, you’ll be confronted by a 12-foot boulder blocking the canyon. Luckily, a length of climbing rope affixed to a tree above makes for a simple climb (be careful if the soles of your shoes are wet as it makes the rock a bit slippery). If you’re nervous, don’t worry: this is a fairly popular hike and someone will no doubt be willing to show you the way.

Santa Ynez Trail Narrows Photomerge
Santa Ynez Canyon Narrows

After ascending the boulder, a bit more boulder-hopping and scrambling brings you to the 18 foot waterfall itself. Another rope climb will take you above the falls to two smaller falls, after which the canyon is inaccessible.

Santa Ynez Trail 07
Butterfly near the waterfall

Santa Ynez Trail 08
(Vicky TGAW, this is for you!) California Maidenhair ferns growing from a seep along the canyon wall

The waterfall grotto, at a narrow point in the canyon, is always shady and cool, and the boulders in front of the falls make nice places to sit for lunch. Despite the nice spring rains earlier this year, the falls had already dried up quite a bit by the time I arrived last weekend.

Santa Ynez Trail 06
Late spring trickle at the waterfall

After heavy rains, though, little Santa Ynez falls can be quite impressive. During the el Nino year of 1997 I climbed up the canyon, wading through water waist-deep to do so. The three of us who eventually made to the falls all acknowledged we were nuts for having done it, but it sure was fun.

Total Distance: 3.0 Miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 250’/250′


Driving Directions: From Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1) turn north on Sunset Blvd and drive .5 miles to Palisades Drive and turn left. Proceed north on Palisades Drive 2.4 miles and turn left at Verde De La Montura. The park entrance is on the left side at the bottom of the hill. Park along the street.
From I-405, exit Sunset Blvd. heading west and drive 7.9 miles to Palisades Drive. Turn right on Palisades Drive and follow the directions above.



  1. Reeking of desperation is never the way to sell ones self.

    That butterfly looks like he’s had it.

  2. I always wonder if those guys think you are interested, or if they actually realize that you can’t escape.

    That hike sounds fun. I’ll have to get Melissa to go with me.

  3. OOoh nice recap! I LOVE the fern…and the nice hike summary box at the bottom!!! 😉

  4. Also I’m busted. The top of the Jones! post specifically instructed to read this post first, which I promptly ignored. 🙂

  5. Sounds like a great hike. Nice pictures, as usual. And the summary box – nice touch.

  6. Just a Girl – I’ll keep that in mind. As for the butterfly, I think he was just staying cool on a hot day!

    Aly – Having seen them in action, I’m guessing the former. It’s not a difficult hike, but it’s nice and right off Sunset.

    TGAW – Thanks! And I completely forgot to credit you! HEY EVERYBODY: Vicky was nice enough to give me the code for the way cool box at the bottom! She rocks!

    TGAW2 – LOL – I think it’ll be okay. I like that you have a rebellious streak!

    Homer-Dog – Thanks as always. I like the box too; now will I ever update the old posts? Hmmmmm

  7. is it bad that I look at the pictures first and then read? 🙂

  8. kb-
    I do the same thing! Hehehehe….

    Never disappoint geekh, despite the crappy time. I’m telling you you’re gonna like go face first into someone sliding into first or some crap…

    It’s disappointing, Sierra Club after all…boo.

    Great pictures though…

  9. Knowing a smart, interesting guy like you can stumble into one of the Sierra Club hikes gives me hope for them. I’m going to go, despite the fair warning, but now I’m nervous.

  10. […] Santa Ynez Falls on […]

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