Posted by: GeekHiker | June 14, 2011

HIKE: Placerita Canyon/Los Pinetos Waterfall

I’m not quite sure what drew me back out to Placerita Canyon State Park in April.  Moreover, I’m not sure what prevented me from going out there in such a long time.

I’d first visited Placerita Canyon when I first moved to L.A., hiking the Canyon Trail on a brisk fall afternoon.  As I recall, the canyon was dry (not surprising in Southern California) and the trail was overgrown, requiring bushwacking most of the way.  Maybe it was that experience that led me not to put it on my regular hiking list, which is a shame.  Finally returning there last spring, I re-discovered what a great park Placerita Canyon actually is.

I’ll be posting these two hikes in reverse order of how I did them, just for reference.

Los Pinetos Waterfall sits up a shady canyon, with usually at least a trickle of water year-round.  Wet or dry, though, it’s a beautiful hike through riparian wilderness, just a short hop from major freeways (the I-5 and State Route 14).  It can be reached from either the main trailhead or the Walker Ranch trailhead, but the route I describe here is the longer one from the main trailhead.

After parking in the main parking lot for the park, you’ll first want to stop at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.  Here you’ll find some displays on the flora and fauna of the area, a small gift shop, and can pick up brochures and a trail map.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 09
Placerita Canyon Nature Center

Be sure to stop by outside and visit the resident owl and red-tailed hawk.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 08
The steely gaze of the resident red-tail

For those concerned about the hawk: he’s fully imprinted on humans, and even though they’ve tried to release him into the wild, he just flies right back.  And, yes, he’s fully flighted, and they take him flying every morning before the park opens.

Before or after the hike you may want to take the short trail west, crossing under the road, to view the Oak of the Golden Dream.  It was here in 1842 that Francisco Lopez discovered gold while digging for wild onions.  Although his discovery predated that of John Sutter by six years, no gold rush ensued at the time.

To start the hike, exit the Nature Center and turn left, descending to and crossing Placerita Creek to the large “Main Trailhead” sign.  Follow the arrows for the Canyon Trail, heading upstream to the east.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 01
Placerita Canyon in the morning sunshine

The trail works its way at an easy pace up the canyon under oaks and sycamores, green in the spring and with crunchy leaves underneath during the fall months.  The canyon walls will narrow at some points, where the layered rock tells the geologic story of the canyon.  Here and there you might see some of the effects of hydraulic mining in the search for gold decades ago.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 02
Climbing up the canyon

About a mile in, the trial will climb the canyon wall to the right, giving a view over the canyon and passing a small (and stinky) oil seep before descending back to the canyon floor. After about two miles, you’ll arrive at a wide area shaded by large oak trees.  Here and there you’ll find the remains of the old Walker ranch (mostly just the old fireplace) and the group campground.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 07
One of the group campsites at Walker Ranch

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 03
Handiwork of the local woodpecker population in an old post

From here you can cross the creek to the left and follow either a narrow trail or the wide road up to the Walker Ranch Trailhead.  This is an alternative out-and-back route to the waterfall, shortening the hike to a mere 1.6 miles with a 350′ elevation gain and loss.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - Pano
View of Placerita Canyon from the Walker Ranch trailhead

Pass through the campground to pick up the signed Waterfall Trail, turning north.

After a short time on the sandy canyon floor, the trail will start climbing upstream, hugging Lon Pinetos creek the whole way.  About .2 miles from Walker Ranch the canyon will split; follow the main stream to the right.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 04
Ascending the canyon along Los Pinetos Creek

Finally, about 2.5 miles from your start, you’ll arrive at the waterfall itself.  Stay a while and enjoy the cool canyon, which rarely sees full sunlight.  Be sure to climb up to the base of the falls, if they’re flowing, but I can’t recommend trying to climb above the falls: the soil is steep and loose and not good for climbing.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 05
Los Pinetos Waterfall

Return by the same route.

Placerita Canyon - Waterfall - 06
Descending the waterfall trail back to the Canyon Trail

Total Distance: 5.0 miles

Elevation Gain/Loss: 500’/500′


Directions: From Interstate 5, Merge on to State Route 14.  2.7 miles from the interchange, exit at Placerita Canyon Road (Exit 3).  Turn right and drive about 1.5 miles to the signed park entrance on the right.  Park hours are sunrise to sunset.  The Nature Center is open Tuesday-Sunday, 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Fee: None (as of this writing)

Hike Profile:
Placerita Canyon Waterfall Profile




  1. I want a regal creature like the red-tailed hawk to be “fully imprinted” on me!!!

    I am convinced that your true calling is writing hiking guidebooks. Truly. Seriously.

    • AGREED!

    • I’m going to “me three!” on this.

  2. That looks so gorgeous and fun! My brother lives out that way, I’m going to have to go check it out now.

  3. Glad to see you out at La Placerita Canyon Park! Have you ever tried the Los Pinetos Trail up to the ridge? (It leaves the main canyon trail to the right at the Walker campground before the waterfall trail, if you’re hiking up from the Nature Center). It is about 2 miles up to the ridge from there and much quieter than the main canyon trail. From the ridge you can follow the fire road about half a mile to get some nice views of the Valley. It is possible to make it a round trip (~8.5 miles total) by taking fire breaks back down to Manzanita Mtn and then the Nature Center if you want, but this involves some pretty unpleasant up-and-down along the firebreak section so I usually just return the way I came. It is one of my favourite spring/early summer hikes!

  4. SkyBlueStateOfMind – I dunno, they can bite pretty hard when they’re feisty…

    SkyBlue, Miss McCracken & Narami – Oh, there are much better guidebook writers than me. Bloggers too!

    Mel Heth – Should be an easy drive from your part of town…

    Socal Dendrite – Welcome to the blog. And, um, that’s actually the “other” hike I’ll be posting in the future! LOL

  5. […] I thought a lot about all the parks I’ve written about and encouraged my readers to go to, whether in the Angeles National Forest, or the Santa Monica Range. […]

  6. […] Los Pinetos Waterfall via Canyon Trail & Waterfall Trail on […]

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