Millard Falls was a local waterfall that really felt like one of the more family-friendly adventures when it came to waterfalling in the Southland. Not only was the hiking short and the terrain more-or-less flat, but it also helped that the falls had nice dimensions to it (said to be about 60ft tall). Moreover, the waterfall's distinguishing feature was the boulders wedged at its brink, which actually split the falling water into more-or-less of a contorted Y shape. Aside from the waterfall, the canyon scenery encompassing the falls was scenic in its own right as we were literally surrounded by impressively tall mountains with nearly vertical rock walls enclosing the canyon around us thereby providing that rugged beauty that you can only find in Nature when it's relatively untouched and unspoiled by people.
And yet despite all these positive attributes, it had been a long period of about 13 years between our visits to the waterfall's base (where we were able to get the photo you see at the top of this page), which was not helped by the Station Fire in the Summer of 2009 that began a period of about six years of closure due to the risk of landslides in the burn areas as well as falling boulder hazards. Plus, Millard Creek required a certain degree of timing since its stream was considered to be intermittent according to our Topo maps from both National Geographic and Garmin. Indeed, when we first saw this waterfall way back in late 2002 (actually Julie and I visited the falls individually on separate occasions since 2001), it didn't really have that great of a flow. I'd attribute that to the late starts to the rainy season on each of those years. The one time that I did visit the falls in very good flow in the Spring of 2010, the trail to the bottom was closed. It wasn't until our most recent visit in early 2016 that we were finally able to appreciate the falls intimately from its base. However, even on that most recent visit, its flow was limited despite being only about 3 dry weeks removed from the last series of storms creating snow in the San Gabriel Mountains.
So given the couple of different ways to experience this waterfall (at least that I'm aware of), let's get into each method that we were able to accomplish.
Getting to the base of Millard Falls was the most obvious way to experience the waterfall. Almost everything about the excursion seemed to be relatively family-friendly as our five-year-old daughter was able to enjoy it while hiking under her own power with our supervision. As for the logistics, the hike was said to be about 1 mile round trip with very minimal elevation change. The hike took about 25-30 minutes in each direction (about an hour round trip), but we totally took our time, especially since we let our daughter set the pace. Now given that it was such a relatively easy hike, it wasn't realistic to expect to be at the waterfall alone for any long stretches of time. It's too close to the Los Angeles basin to be unpopular and uncrowded. If you're trying to avoid this, then it's probably best to not come on the weekends or on holidays.
The hike began at the main parking lot for the Millard Picnic Area and Campground (see directions below). From there, we followed an obvious trail that quickly led to the campground area. There were some toilet facilities there as well as picnic tables and room for tents to be set up. I've been here on weekends where this campground was packed even when the trail to the falls itself was closed. On one of our most recent visits, the campground was pretty much empty even though the trail to the falls was re-opened. In any case, just before the dirt road passing by the campground dipped into a creek ford, a signposted trail pointed us to go right.
From there, the trail walking began. For the most part, the trail was pretty obvious to follow despite the canyon walls closing into a relatively narrow passageway. We were able to keep our feet dry throughout the trail except for a couple of pretty easy creek crossings. When Millard Creek would have heavier flow, then I can see where it might be trickier to keep the feet dry on those creek crossings or where the trail abutted against the creek itself. And when there's a flash flood danger, this canyon would definitely not be the place to be as there would be limited opportunities to escape the onrush of water (so definitely pay attention to the weather forecasts and conditions before doing this hike).
Anyways, the trail pretty much meandered about the canyon for the next half-mile or less. We spotted some interesting grandfathered wooden cabins perched high up on the canyon cliffs as well as an interesting mine shaft. The trail undulated while twisting and turning with the curves of the canyon. However, the trail would make an abrupt end right at the Millard Falls where the canyon walls would box itself in with vertical rock walls. Given the presence of a few large boulders on the ground around the falls, we were cognizant of the potential for rock falls. In fact, upon closer inspection of the top of the waterfall itself, we could see at least two or three large boulders wedged against each other. While they look pretty securely wedged in, you never know how Mother Nature can change the circumstances over the years so we tried to limit the amount of time spent directly underneath the waterfall.
Each time we've been to the bottom of this waterfall, we've noticed folks standing near the boulders at the top of the falls. While it may be tempting to find a way to scale the vertical rock walls to get up there, it's actually not a smart thing to do given the risk of injury or death as a result of the steepness of the canyon walls here. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's definitely not necessary, which you'll see in the writeup below.
Before the Station Fire in 2009, I never contemplated visiting Millard Falls in any other way than from the obvious trail to its base. However, ever since the resulting closure of that trail, it opened up my mind to consider other ways to see and experience the waterfall, and that was how I learned about a trail that took me to the top of the falls yielding the types of views like you see in the photo above.
Little would I realize that parts of the trail I would end up taking would also expose me to some interesting history concerning the Mt Lowe Railway, which was an engineering attempt in the 1890s at taming the San Gabriel Mountains and essentially creating a "railway to the sky" as well as a city atop Echo Mountain. For a period of about 40-50 years, this was said to be Southern California's most famous attraction, but Mother Nature didn't give in very easily, and eventually storms would ultimately dislodge some loose boulders that would ultimately smash key parts of the pavilion atop the railway thereby putting an end to the Mt Lowe Railway.
From the gate barricading the start of the Mt Lowe Road near the old Sunset Ridge Station (right where the Chaney Flat Road hit a T-intersection before descending to the parking lot for the Millard Picnic Area and Campground; see directions below), I walked the Mt Lowe Road as it narrowed to become more or less a mostly paved foot trail as it ascended the ridge and veered to the left under some power lines. Looking back in the other direction, I was able to see the road descending to the Millard Picnic Area and Campground below as well as the Sunset Ridge Station itself, which was a power substation tapping into the high voltage lines in the area.
Continuing along the road-turned-trail for about another 8-10 minutes or so, I then followed a signposted path that forked to the left leaving the Mt Lowe Road. This dirt trail was the Sunset Trail, and it pretty much skirted the parts of Millard Canyon where the main waterfall trail was directly below. After roughly 5 more minutes of walking this trail, I started to get eye-level views of Millard Falls in the distance. However, given the presence of thick foliage around the base of the falls, I never really got a totally clean view from anywhere along the Sunset Trail. And as I continued further on the trail, the views became even more obscured, but then I realized that the trail skirted right past the top of the waterfall itself.
So if one wanted to get a closer look at the boulders wedged above Millard Falls, this was the right trail to do it. Beyond the waterfall, the Sunset Trail then entered deeper along the rim of Millard Canyon before reaching another fork. One of the forks looked like it went towards someone's cabin. The other fork continued the Sunset Trail, which would ultimately rejoin the Mt Lowe Road near the Cape of Good Hope. This fork was my turnaround point so I can't make any further comments about that section of the trail.
Overall, this hike took me under 40 minutes round trip though I probably didn't need to go as far as I did (so it could require even less time than this). Thus, from a difficulty standpoint, I figured it was about the same difficulty as the obvious trail leading to the base of Millard Falls described in the section above.
Looking towards La Canada Flintridge from the Chaney Trail, which yielded some surprisingly nice views of the LA Basin when we were on our way back from Millard Falls
Millard Falls was very close to the Los Angeles Basin, which can surprise us from time to time, like in this photo when we looked towards the basin from the Queen Mary in Long Beach
The Chaney Trail Road was a pretty narrow paved road going from the residential neighborhoods of Altadena to the Forest Service area
At the car park for the Millard Picnic Area and Campground
Julie and Tahia on the brief trail bridging the car park with the campground
Passing by a toilet facility at the Millard Campground
This was the Millard Falls trail, which began just before the ford of Millard Creek
Julie and Tahia getting past one of the pretty easy stream crossings of Millard Creek
High up on the canyon wall was what appeared to be an old wooden cabin, which was something we didn't notice the first time we did this trail 13 years ago!
This was what appeared to be an old mine shaft seen along the Millard Falls Trail
Tahia walking on the waterfall trail, which skirted alongside Millard Creek in this stretch shown here. I can see in times of flood, the water could very well get onto the trail itself here
Tahia getting across this very easy crossing amongst some big boulders on the waterfall trail
Tahia doing another crossing of Millard Creek
The walls of Millard Canyon were getting increasingly rockier the deeper we went
Tahia about to approach the dead-end of the trail
Finally arriving at the base of Millard Falls
You can see in this photo that some folks managed to make it above the waterfall
Julie and Tahia enjoying the base of Millard Falls
One of the nice things about the return hike to the car park was the chance to see and enjoy Millard Canyon from a different perspective
Closure gate at the start of the trail on Mt Lowe Rd for the alternate view of Millard Falls
Walking along a ridge flanked by wildflowers while beneath power lines
Start of the Sunset Trail as it left Mt Lowe Rd
The Sunset Trail skirted Millard Canyon
Looking down in direction of Millard Campground and the access road leading to its car park
Contextual view of Millard Falls from the upper trail showing some visual clues about the ruggedness of the terrain
This was as far as I went beyond the waterfall. One path went to someone's cabin. I didn't explore where the other path went.
Driving back towards Altadena on Chaney Trail
Just to give you an idea of how much the Station Fire affected the area, here's a juxtaposition of the bare burn area against the spared vegetated area as seen in Spring 2010.
Waterfall trail to its base still closed as of April 2011. This barricade wound up being here for a period of about six years!
Contextual view of Millard Falls from its base as seen back in 2002. Note that the tree in this photo is no longer there!
In case you're curious about the view of the falls at the end of this trail, here's a photo looking up towards the top of Millard Falls from its base. Note the rocks wedged above. Part of me wonders if they left the trail closed because these rocks might fall at any time (in addition to the landslide danger from soil erosion resulting from the fire).
Over the years, we've found a couple of ways to drive to the Millard Canyon area. We'll first describe the way we historically had taken since we'd typically be coming from the east.
Starting from the I-605 and I-210 junction near Monrovia and Duarte, head west on the I-210 for about 10 miles then take the offramp for Lake Ave near Pasadena. Turning right onto Lake Ave, drive north for about 4 miles to its junction with Loma Alta Drive. Turning left onto Loma Alta Drive, follow this residential road for about a mile to the Chaney Trail (it's just past a blinking yellow light on the right).
Turning right onto Chaney Trail, follow this narrow and winding road for a little over a mile to its three-way T-junction with the Mt Lowe Road. There's a barricade on the right side of the three-way T-junction that prevents further vehicular access on Mt Lowe Road. So if your intent is to hike to the top of Millard Falls or explore other parts of the historical Mt Lowe Railway, then park the car in one of the spaces or shoulders around the gate or as far back as Chaney Trail (just as long as it's not on one of the painted areas where it's strictly forbidden to park).
However, if your intent is to hike to the bottom of Millard Falls, then you can turn left at the T-junction and descend the paved road all the way to the car park for the Millard Picnic Area and Campground. Since this is Forest Service land, parked vehicles must have a Forest Adventure Pass displayed.
If the above route described involves too much local driving and stoplights, we learned that we could also continue driving on the I-210 west past the Lake Ave exit and keep right on the I-210 until taking the Lincoln Ave exit. Once we get off the freeway, we turned right onto Lincoln Ave and followed this street past a few traffic lights to Loma Alta Drive (just under 2 miles).
Turning right onto Loma Alta Drive, continue for about 0.6 miles to the Chaney Trail on the left. If you get to the blinking yellow lights, then you've missed the easy-to-miss Chaney Trail. Once on the Chaney Trail, follow the directions as given above to both trailheads.
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