San Antonio Falls was a waterfall where it pays to time a visit for the peak snowmelt when Mt Baldy (formally known as Mt San Antonio) has accumulated snow during the Winter. As you can see the photo above, when this waterfall on the slopes of Mt Baldy puts on a show, you can easily see why we included it on our Top 10 So Cal Waterfalls List. Luckily, Mt Baldy is quite visible from the Los Angeles basin (it's the very prominent south-facing mountain when looking towards Pomona) so Mother Nature already provides clues as to when to time a visit. So what is this timing, you may ask?
Our general rule of thumb is to observe whether Mt Baldy has had snow or not. Usually in the Winters, the storms we get would produce snow in the mountains. And if there has been an accumulation, it's quite visible on the peak of Mt Baldy. Of course with Climate Change, we now have to evaluate our Winters in terms of drought years versus wet years, and so it may be certain years where it's worth the effort to make it up to the slopes of Mt Baldy to see this waterfall. In any case, when the seasons change and the weather warms up (typically in the Spring), that would be when the creek responsible for feeding the waterfall would contain the volume it would need to put on a show.
Just to give you an idea of how the timing can affect the experience, here's a quick summary of how we experienced the falls over the years. We've been to San Antonio Falls twice on heavy percipitation years (once in 2005 and once in 2010), once in a Dry Winter of a "headfake" year in February 2015 where a dry January followed a lot of precipitation in December, and most recently a little over a week of no rain after nearly a week of saturation rains in early January 2016. In those heavy precipitation years, Spring was definitely the time to see the waterfall put on a show as there was even enough volume to have a waterwheel (where the water can get thrown up before resuming its descent) on its lower tiers. However, on one of those visits, there was enough snow clinging to its neighboring slopes that the waterfall kind of blended in with it.
In our visit during a drought year, we showed up when most of the snow had left (a little over a month after the last significant precipitation), but it was clear that the waterfall didn't have that many more weeks left before trickling or going dry. Most recently, we were there when most of Mt Baldy was covered in snow. While the waterfall did have appreciable volume, both the trail and the neighboring slopes to the falls had a combination of ice and snow. That made the hike a little more difficult than an easy stroll, but then the trailhead area became more of a snow play area, which also made this waterfalling excursion much more popular than we had seen over the years.
As for the hike itself, it was really more of a short walk on a paved road (though when Julie and I were first here back in 2005, Falls Road was not paved). The entire course was along Falls Road, which deviated from Baldy Road at Manker Flats (see directions below). The slightly uphill hike was very easy for the family and it even provided a nice glimpse of the LA Basin looking downslope near where the road made a sharp turn. After about 3/4-mile (passing by what looked like someone's driveway and possibly the very reason why Falls Rd became paved), we arrived at the lookout for San Antonio Falls. It was from this vantage point that we could appreciate its three main drops which might be on the order of 100-150ft tall (even though Ann Marie Brown had it at 80ft). We had also noticed there were a few more tiers above and below this main section so it's conceivable that we could've easily underestimated the overall height of the waterfall. That said, the taller slopes made the falls appear smaller or even more invisible by comparison, especially when there's snow.
Beyond the overlook (right at the end of the hairpin turn), there was a narrow path that led right to the base of San Antonio Falls. A short distance from the overlook at the Falls Road hairpin, there was a pretty well-worn section of the track that definitely required us to wear shoes with decent grip. A slip and fall into that ravine that the slope faced would certainly be cause for injury. And even if you slid down there uninjured, it looked like it would be a difficult scramble back up. So I can see why more than a few people don't continue from the overlook to the base of the falls. If there happened to be snow or ice here or the erosion eventually gets to the point that this might not be passable, then I'd be very uncomfortable proceeding past this point. Anyways, Falls Road continued going up the slope apparently towards the lifts at the Baldy Summit, but we've never hiked past the waterfall so we can't comment more on it. Thus, the round trip distance of this hike was on the order of 1.5 miles and generally 90 minutes to 2 hours was more than enough time for us to enjoy both the hike and the falls.
Attractive vista back towards the basin from Falls Rd
Looking up from the base of San Antonio Falls towards a little waterwheel
Parked vehicles on Mt Baldy Road; you'll want to display an Adventure Pass or Recreation Pass to avoid getting ticketed
Seems like over the years, this falls has gotten more popular as evidenced by the presence of even more parked cars on our latest visit in 2016
A gate prevents vehicular access by public vehicles
This is what Falls Road would be like during those times when there's lots of snow in the area. Clearly, hiking in these conditions require a bit more care and preparation
Julie on the paved Falls Road
Looking downhill from the trail on a more recent visit when most of Mt Baldy was snow free
Overtaken by the tail end of a large group of Korean seniors seeking to summit Mt Baldy on the same trail as San Antonio Falls
Julie going past a private driveway. No wonder why the Falls Road was so well-maintained!
A mostly snow-free look at San Antonio Falls from the overlook in February 2015. Notice the scale of the falls as evidenced by the group of people at the base of the falls as well as the abseilers climbing up besides it
Dad and Tahia about to approach the falls
Mom traverses a very worn section of track as she attempts to get closer to the base of the falls. Note the dropoff on her left. On our 2005 visit, I actually didn't have the confidence that I'd get past this so I didn't get all the way to the base back then.
Julie approaching the base of the falls when there was more snow in 2010
In low flow, it's possible to get even closer to the base of the falls for more different looks
Looking downstream from the base of the falls
In drier times, the family was able to have a pleasant little picnic at the base of the falls
Julie heading back to the start of the hike. Note there was still quite a bit of snow upslope from where we were hiking in 2010.
We noticed this lizard trying to blend in with the rocks while on our return hike
The family heading back to the trailhead on the easy-to-walk paved road
We saw this parked vehicle at the overlook of San Antonio Falls in 2005. I guess the driver of this vehicle must be one of the locals here.
Julie actually made the attempt to get closer to San Antonio Falls, but I chickened out in 2005
Julie on the unpaved road heading back to the car park. I knew I wasn't crazy when I thought Falls Rd was unpaved whereas it seemed to be mostly paved on our most recent visits in 2010, 2015 and 2016.
To get to the falls, you'll want to take the I-210 East towards the Claremont area (34 miles east of downtown Los Angeles). Exit at Base Line Road, turn left at the light, then immediately turn right onto Padua Road. Follow Padua Road through what looks like a pretty new suburban neighborhood until Mt Baldy Road. Turn right onto Mt Baldy Road and take it roughly 9 miles or so climbing along the winding mountainous roads through Baldy Village, and eventually to the Falls Road entrance just beyond the Manker Flat Campground (note there is one hairpin turn beyond Baldy Village towards Icebox Canyon where it's easy to mistakenly go straight and leave Mt Baldy Road). There's usually lots of vehicles parked along divided Mt Baldy Road on the downslope side around the Falls Road so you shouldn't miss it.
But before getting to the trailhead, we recommend that when you reach Baldy Village, you pick up an Adventure Pass or Recreation Pass in one of the handful of outfitters and shops there. That's because the falls is on Angeles National Forest land and parked vehicles are supposed to display these passes.
On one of our recent visits in 2015, we followed Ann Marie Brown's directions, where she had us getting off Mountain Ave from the I-210 and taking it north for 4.3 miles. Shortly after a hairpin turn by Lower San Antonio station, we then had to turn sharply right at a blind turn onto Mt Baldy Road, then we continued climbing up the mountain for the next 9 miles to Manker Flat Campground and ultimately the trailhead for San Antonio Falls shortly thereafter.
Speaking of climbing, I want to mention that for steep mountain roads like this (especially on the hairpins and grades beyond Baldy Village), you'll probably want to be honest with yourself about whether your car has enough power and endurance (and maintenance) to handle these types of roads. In the case of our Corolla with 230k miles on it, we managed to make it, but we did have a bit of a scare when we parked the car at the trailhead and noticed some steam or smoke protruding from the hood (despite the fact that the car made no indication of overheating or abnormally high engine temperatures). On our very recent 2016 visit, the automatic transmission fluid on my parents' SUV overheated due to negligence of not having that fluid flushed prior to making our visit (luckily, the issue solved itself when we parked the car and returned to it some 90 minutes later). So just keep this in mind if you have an old car, because it's not exactly a nice place to have a break down.
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