Hermit Falls is that other waterfall in the Big Santa Anita Canyon area near Arcadia. While most of the attention and traffic are for the impressive Sturtevant Falls, this waterfall seems to be its opposite in so many ways.
Among the differences that we've noticed were that it was on a quieter single-track trail, it was more difficult to reach and even harder to see, it seemed to have more graffiti, there were fewer cabins, and it was a smaller and less popular waterfall.
Like the Sturtevant Falls trail, we had to start at the Chantry Flat fire road, which was actually paved as it descended from the Chantry Flat Pack Station area. When we visited this waterfall, we didn't get an early start so we had to find parking after buying a Forest Service Pass at the Pack Station. We ended up parking over a half-mile from the trailhead along the twisting Santa Anita Canyon Road. So we had to get back that distance on foot before even starting the hike.
Then, we descend the paved road (which I believe was Chantry Flat Fire Road) for a couple of switchbacks before reaching a signed trail junction right at the second switchback. This junction was just a few paces after a sign that said, "May Your Search Through Nature Lead You To Yourself."
From this point forward, we proceeded down a narrow footpath as it continued its descent while partially exposed to the sun. Since it was warm the day we did this hike, the sun was definitely a factor. Eventually, the trail flattened out at the bottom of the descent as it then follow the creek downstream in the presence of a few cabins and flood-control dams over which fake waterfalls flow. It was actually these man-induced waterfalls that tricked us into thinking that Hermit Falls was close to the starting point. What they did was create the familiar crashing water noise that then carried up the canyon very well.
After crossing the stream (which I can envision being a little tricky if the waterflow was high, especially in the Spring), we then continued further downstream past the First Water Junction sign. That sign let us know that we still had 3/4-mile to go from there. Eventually, we got to a spur trail leading to the top of Hermit Falls. The First Water Trail continued beyond this spur towards Cabin 1, which turned out to be further downstream from the falls (in other words, it would be too far from where we wanted to go).
So after taking that spur trail, we ended up at the uppermost tier of Hermit Falls along with its little rock pool. However, we knew that there was more of the waterfall further downstream right below us, but getting a view of the main falls and accessing its plunge pool turned out to be very difficult due to the real steep and tricky scramble that was required. Just trying to get a view of the falls without scrambling to the base turned out to be dangerous itself considering the edges of the ledge we were standing on had slippery surfaces.
Even though I personally wouldn't recommend trying the steep scramble to the base of Hermit Falls, I ended up following a family that made the scramble before me. However, there were a couple of spots that made the descent as well as the ascent difficult as good rock climbing skills and some upper body strength to pull yourself up on the way back up were required. In fact, if I didn't see that family already go down, I don't think I would've tried it. I even discouraged Julie from joining me given the difficulty of the rock scramble.
So when I nervously made my way to the bottom, I had to do some additional awkward scrambling by rocks littered with graffiti to the pool at the base of Hermit Falls. Had I gone in the water, I might have been able to get a more direct and fuller view of the falls, but I was content with where I was at (and not risk damage to the camera). I understand that plenty of youthful folks with a high risk tolerance have actually jumped from one of the ledges above the falls into the waterfall's plunge pool. Clearly that was something I wasn't even thinking of doing.
All told, it was probably about a 3-mile return upside-down hike (not counting the extra hiking we had to do due to the difficult parking situation). If you want to combine this waterfall with Sturtevant Falls, realize that it would be a difficult "W" hike where you descend to reach Hermit Falls, ascend in the hot and unforgiving sun to get back up to the paved road, then descend to reach Sturtevant Falls, before ascending (in the sun) all the way back up to the car park. Total round trip distance doing it this way could easily be around 8 miles.
Alternately, you could take the trail within the canyon all the way to Sturtevant Falls though I understand that this would require numerous stream crossings, which can be tricky in high water.
Directions: Take the I-210 into the city of Arcadia and exit at Santa Anita Ave. Then head towards the foothills (north of the freeway) as Santa Anita Ave. becomes the winding and mountainous Santa Anita Canyon Road. Take this road all the way to its end at the Chantry Flat Pack Station and Car Park.
Once here, you can buy a Forest Service Pass (if you didn't possess one already) and then try your luck at finding parking. If this lot is full, you'll have to drive back down Santa Anita Canyon Road and look for a pullout somewhere. You'll definitely want to have that Forest Service Pass because we consistently saw employees issuing citations for parked vehicles not displaying the pass.