Eaton Canyon: Pasadena’s Infamous Waterfall Hike

I’ve been pretty into waterfall hikes lately, especially since its been warming up in LA (I’m so sick of that 65° weather, way too cold).

I decided to cross off yet another waterfall hike off my “hiking bucket list,” so here we are again folks. This time with none other then…you guessed it.

Eaton Canyon in Pasadena.

Located about 16 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Eaton Canyon is probably the more popular waterfall hike in the LA county.

And it’s no surprise either since the area is surrounded by death-defying cliffs you can rock climb, a plethora of large and sharp rocks scattered over the trails and muddy creeks to cross.

Even though I’m only slightly exaggerating, Eaton Canyon holds a prize that’s worthy of its (slightly long) trek: an actual waterfall (and not a dinky one either)!

Part 1: Going Off-Trail

The trail starts off beneath a host of mountains, hills and the plethora of tourists you see in the photo below.

After a few minutes, you’ll reach a fork in the road with an interesting looking sign.

I didn’t take the left-most passage because I’m here to see a waterfall dammit and I knew going straight ahead would lead me directly to it (or so I thought…).

About a quarter of a mile through a relatively narrow trail, you’ll reach yet another fork in the road.

I was pretty curious what was to the right, and I made a mental note to explore it next time I venture to Eaton Canyon.

For now, my waterfall-senses told me to go left, and I trust my sense of direction more than my parents, so yeah.

The trail widens, then quickly narrows through a creepy forest before leading back out to the world.

Now here’s where Nino (remember him from Escondido Falls) and I went off-trail.

Notice how the trail narrows…a lot.

We had no idea where it would lead, but I had a feeling it was a shortcut around the main trailhead.

The trail winds up a hill for a brief period before descending back down.

A wild bunch of cacti appears, ready to harm civilians who get in their way.

We continue along this narrow off-trail which seems never-ending by this point.

And guess where it leads to?

Nowhere.

That’s right folks, you get a nice open field at the very end that spells “we’re lost.”

I turn to my left and felt my waterfall-senses tingling again; I had a feeling the main trailhead continued toward the mountain range in the photo below, so we headed that way (Nino doesn’t have a say in this matter).

Since there was no more “off-trail” anymore, we had to trek through bushes and dangerous (not really) wildlife within the greenery of Pasadena.

Finally, we (or should I say, “I”) found the trail that leads back to civilization.

Part 2: To the Waterfall!

We fork right and head down toward a peculiar sign, “Coyote Canyon.”

Yup, that’s the place we just came from. A coyote-infested habitat (too bad we didn’t see any).

We continue straight ahead towards the waterfall.

How do I know we’re headed the right way?

People. Tourists. Human-infested trails. You get the idea.

The trail forks once again, but we decide to keep going on the Eaton Canyon Trail.

The really cool thing about this trail is the dried up river to your left, which is now full of stones and tiny creeks that are barely hanging on for dear life.

The never-ending trail in full bloom, with the mountain range remaining in the exact same distance as the beginning of the trail (or so it appears).

Nino and I decided to go off-trail again because we’re not boring, so enter a super quick detour into a semi-giant creek!

Nino demonstrating how to effectively cross a creek.

The creek was actually quite peaceful, especially since nobody was around to bother me.

But of course, detours into creeks are rather short-lived, and I wanted to hurry up and see a waterfall!

Forever and a half later, we end up at this sign: Mile 1.25. Oh, joy!

We approach the mountain range (about time) as we ascend up a brief hill.

A half of a mile to go!

The trail now leads us to an enclosed forest, which is always exciting.

Part 3: The Eaton Canyon Forest

So here’s one of the cool parts: a mini waterfall with a secret alcove waiting to be explored.

A pretty nice view of Eaton Canyon thus far.

To get to the secret alcove:

  • Be prepared to get wet as you cross the muddy river
  • Climb up this steep (but short) hill
  • Maneuver yourself around the cemented planks (they’re pretty short with not a whole lot of foot room, so be careful)
  • Voila! Success!

View from the secret alcove.

A window directly in front of me, surrounded by a wonderful array of graffiti.

The drop below; A ladder leads down to unknown parts.

View from the ladder.

Below the alcove is basically a tiny little room full of graffiti and another window that leads back toward civilization.

There’s a bar directly in the middle of this window (why? I have no idea).

Getting down this way is a bit tricky. You’ll have to slide down below the bar and hop over a large creek. One slip and you’ll end up drenched for the duration of the hike.

Thankfully, I made it across safely so yay!

View from the other side; The creek is directly below the window with the bar so have fun jumping over it.

We continue through Eaton Canyon as I notice a change of terrain.

The trail widens significantly as a bunch of rocks appear out of nowhere.

I wholeheartedly agree.

Another mini waterfall.

Nino and I decided to steer off momentarily once more to go rock climbing (because we have short attention spans).

This was by far the most difficult part of the trail, and if you’re going to attempt this than say a prayer now.

I manage to climb up the rather tricky hill and treat myself to the view below.

But wait…there’s more!

I take it upon myself to taunt Nino into climbing even higher.

View of one of the rocky hills we climbed (how we did it, I don’t even know…)

The view from even higher up.

We eventually reach a particular part of the rock climbing adventure that made me put the brakes on the whole thing.

There’s a super steep hill that is not meant to be scaled by a human, to which I attempted anyway.

I actually almost got to the top, but then my instincts flew off the radar, telling me to get down asap.

Why?

Because it required jumping over a 12-foot long drop toward another rock.

Yeah, no thanks.

Getting down was even harder, as I had to really watch my footing. Seriously, one wrong slip and I would have been rewarded with some pretty fatal injuries.

But I’m alive and well, so we’re good.

Here’s the view from (almost) the top of the super steep hill I climbed.

We make our way down to safety and continue our journey towards the waterfall!

A secret corridor below the hill we just got down from.

It’s essentially a giant, dark room filled with spiders, stones, and wooden planks.

We continue through the forest, climbing (and sometimes running) over more rocks.

This would make for a pretty cool filming location (but imagine trekking here with all that camera equipment).

We cross a couple of creeks as we near the end of the trail.

Or so we thought.

This is one of those trails where you constantly think it’s about to end, then you turn a corner to realize that you still have another 10,000 miles to go.

This was a fun part.

A giant creek to cross over using sheer luck and proper footing on slippery rocks.

How I didn’t slip is beyond me.

One more creek to cross and then…

Behold! The Eaton Canyon waterfall in all of its fame and glory.

About time. The waterfall was pretty glorious (fitting phrase) to witness firsthand, and it made the trek worth it.

The surrounding waters were only a few inches deep and streamed off into the creeks that we passed through to get to this point.

They were also icy cold, so have fun swimming in them!

There’s me (I assure you I’m all too real).

(image credit: Nino Gonzalez)

We gawk at the waterfall for a whopping 10 minutes (I also didn’t feel like hanging around a bunch of tourists).

Part 4: Back to the Beginning

So we make our way back. All the way back.

But it went by faster this time since we were literally running through the forest.

We eventually make our back to the main trail head that ventures back out into the open field before we notice a bridge.

And if you know me, you know I don’t leave a bridge all alone.

So we walked across the bridge…and walked back.

How anti-climatic.

But those views below.

Apparently, the bridge leads to the Altadena Crest Trail. Yeah no thanks, I’m good. I was starving and cranky and dying to get back to my car.

So we trek all the way back to my car with one final look at Eaton Canyon, tired, but happy to have crossed yet another hike off my list.

Overall Thoughts

  • Total time spent hiking: 3.5 hours
  • Total miles covered: almost 4 miles
  • Total elevation gain: about 600 feet (but if you want to include the rock climbing we did, probably around 1000 feet)

All in all, I was fairly pleased with how the hike turned out.

It started off rather tame with some fun off-trail exploring before quickly turning into a death-defying rock climbing trek within a rock-filled forest.

But I’m not complaining since there was a pretty sweet waterfall at the very end.

Now to find another waterfall hike that can top this one…

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