In this guide to the best Los Angeles waterfalls to visit during a drought, I wanted to showcase where there can still be waterfalls even if it hasn’t rained for almost a year or two. I figured since we’re Los Angeles residents, we have enough experience to identify such places where you might doubt if it’s even worth the effort to reach.
Of course, in order to even have this kind of a list, we have to cast a wider net from the Greater Los Angeles Area so we’re pretty much including not only Los Angeles County, but we’re also including the neighboring Southern California counties of Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Ventura County. The only criteria for consideration for a waterfall to qualify on this list is that it must flow year-round for at least a year (even if it’s a drought year).
By the way, if you’re interested in seeing an expanded survey of all the local waterfalls or those within the state of California, we do have other pages covering all of Southern California, the whole state of California, our top 10 favorite waterfalls throughout Southern California, and even 19 of the best waterfalls specifically in both LA and the OC.
What Are The Best Los Angeles Waterfalls To Visit During A Drought?
So without further ado, let’s first cut right to the chase and show you the best waterfalls (in no particular order) of the Greater Los Angeles area to experience during one of our infamous droughts. And if you’d like more specific information about how to reach each of the waterfalls we’re naming below, they all have individual write-ups providing even more details including maps, driving directions, trail descriptions, and more photos…
EATON CANYON FALLS
I figure that I’d start this list with the most obvious (and reliable) Los Angeles Waterfall of all. In fact, when we know we’re in a drought year, we tend to come here because we know it’s going to have some flow. That said, its popularity has really exploded over the years (so there’s a constant graffiti and subsequent clean-up), but it’s rare to have such a waterfall in the local mountains, especially when it’s hot, sunny, and dry in Southern California (which seems to be more of the rule rather than the exception exacerbated by Global Warming).
Visit Eaton Canyon Falls.
Technically Sturtevant Falls in Big Santa Anita Canyon is considered a year-round waterfall though in lean years deep within the dog days of summer and fall, it may show more algae than a legitimate column of water like you see pictured above. It’s certainly one of the most popular waterfalls in the Los Angeles area and parking may be hard to come by (especially on the weekends), but it can offer a respite from the crowded beaches though I’d recommend an early start so the effects of the hot sun (especially if you have to park far away) are minimized.
Visit Sturtevant Falls.
Let’s face it. Sometimes when it’s hot and dry in Southern California, we’re craving for something different besides the crowded beaches or our air-conditioned rooms. Well, it turns out that Hermit Falls is a rare waterfall with a punch bowl-like characteristic in the Big Santa Anita Canyon – actually further downstream from Sturtevant Falls. While the plunge pool may not be deep enough for a legitimate swim during a drought and it does require a bit of work to reach, it can be something different than the usual suspects.
Visit Hermit Falls.
BIG FALLS (FOREST FALLS)
Big Falls in the Forest Falls Community is perhaps the most reliable and accessible waterfall of the San Bernardino Mountains. It only takes a short hike to get to the sanctioned lookout where you can see part of its drop (and you can get more satisfying views from the Forest Falls Community itself). However, we’re talking about places to seek relief from the unrelenting Southern California summer and fall so even if the sanctioned lookout leaves much to be desired, there are streams and small wading ponds further downstream to cool off in. Sure, it’s a bit of a drive from downtown Los Angeles, but I’ll certainly take it for that something different.
Visit Big Falls (Forest Falls).
PARADISE FALLS (WILDWOOD FALLS)
While we’re in the mindset of casting a wider net over the Greater Los Angeles Area in search of reliable waterfalls to visit during a drought, we can’t discount Paradise Falls (or Wildwood Falls) in Thousand Oaks. In an area where you wouldn’t expect such a place (especially considering the recent history of fires in the area), we can vouch for the consistent performance as we’ve been here even at the very end of the dry season before the next winter rains would have fallen. The only catch though (besides the very sun-exposed trails to get there) is that the water itself is polluted with suburban runoff so it might not be a good idea to swim in, as tempting as it is.
Visit Paradise Falls.
ROSE VALLEY FALLS
Of all the waterfalls on this list, Rose Valley Falls is perhaps the most surprising to me because it never seems to have very high flow. Perhaps it’s the water distributing all over its moss-covered wall that gives that delicate appearance. Plus, there’s an even higher tier that you can see from below if there’s good volume (or you’d have to do a dicier scramble to get up to it). Heck, there’s even a cave that you can crawl through to get from one side of the falls to the other. Either way, this place can be nice and shady on a hot summer’s day provided there’s no forest fire, which is something that has been happening a bit more frequently in both Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
Visit Rose Valley Falls.
MONROVIA CANYON FALLS
Bringing it back to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, I found Monrovia Canyon Falls to not only be a consistent performer in the Los Angeles area, but it’s also quite a hit with the kids. In fact, when we do have dry years (which seems to be more often than not these days), we’d come here to at least let the kids have a wade and chill out even though the forest may be a hot tinder bundle elsewhere. In the past it was a fairly obscure neighborhood waterfall, but with waterfalls blowing up in the Southland, it has certainly seen its share of new visitors over the years.
Visit Monrovia Canyon Falls.
With Bonita Falls, you really have to look past its flaws (and there are many of them no thanks to its constant and ever-increasing littering and tagging problem). However, we’ve come in the off-season even in a drought year and we were pleasantly surprised by not only its performance but also an unexpected visit by a group of bighorn sheep! Granted that visit took place at the end of 2015 (one of our notoriously dry years) and probably before apps like AllTrails would bring even more people here (which makes such sightings even more rare).
That said, I kind of see this place as a metaphor of the paradoxes that pervade the Greater Los Angeles Area. After all, if I’m talking about waterfalls in a drought on this page, well here’s a waterfall that’s getting ever more trashed with more people visiting yet it’s still beautiful despite some knuckleheads trying to ruin it for everyone else.
Visit Bonita Falls.
What Should I Be Aware Of Concerning Los Angeles Waterfalls During A Drought?
I know it might seem like a paradox to go chase waterfalls in the Greater Los Angeles Area during a drought, but as you can see above, you can indeed visit waterfalls even when the forest can seem like one giant tinder bundle.
That said, you definitely have to be more cognizant of the fire danger because we have been getting more intense wildfires with increasing frequency thanks to Global Warming.
There’s nothing you can really do about the larger problem without cooperation at both the community and global level (something I’m not really holding my breath for). However, on a personal level, you’re going to have to be aware of your own safety (and your own behavior) given the conditions.
So here’s what I am generally on the lookout for should I consider visiting a waterfall in the Greater Los Angeles area during a drought.
ASSESS THE FIRE SITUATION
First, I assess the fire situation, especially since the local news will already tell you if a fire is raging in an area. So it’s best to avoid those areas because you don’t want to get caught in a wildfire and you don’t want to be overcome with smoke or bad air quality in general (even if the fire is not burning in your immediate area).
CHECK THE TEMPERATURE (AND WEATHER IN GENERAL)
Second, if I am considering an outing in the forest while it’s hot and dry, I also have to assess the weather and especially the temperatures. If the hike involves lots of hiking on sun-exposed trails with lots of elevation gain, I might avoid the hike (especially if it’s a long one). There have been many more incidents of people dying from heat exhaustion in recent years so you want to make sure you’re not going to be another fatality statistic.
ASSESS THE HIKE YOU’RE ABOUT TO DO
Finally, if I do decide to chase a waterfall during a drought, then I’d do whatever I can to minimize the chances of serious injury or death. This means I’d get an early start before it really gets hot, and I’d bring lots of water just in case. I’d also consider only shorter hikes or plan to take advantage of available shade if I do go on something more moderate or strenuous (though it better be worth it if I’m going to put that kind of effort).
Most of all, if I’m bringing or leading a group, then I’m responsible for everyone’s well-being. Therefore, I want to make sure that no one is left behind. After all, you can and should only go as fast as your slowest member to minimize the chances of something more dangerous happening.
What Else Should I Be Aware Of Concerning Waterfalls In General?
In addition to the drought conditions, there are also general things about waterfall safety that should always be adhered to regardless of the weather and/or climate. Especially with waterfalls, by their very existence, you’re dealing with cliff exposure, slippery surfaces (thanks to water), or a combination of both.
Even the trails to get to such spots can be sketchy. And if it has been very dry or the soil had been destabilized and eroded from fire, then it can be surprisingly slippery without the proper shoes let alone the proper route to take. It’s why you really need to be cognizant of trail conditions and to be prepared before even seeking out these waterfalls.
I try to describe such conditions in the detailed write-ups for each of the waterfalls we’ve done, and I urge you to use such field observations to anticipate the hazards you might encounter.
Even if in hindsight you think the hazards aren’t as bad during your visit, it’s definitely better to come overprepared than underprepared as this can mean the difference between life and death if you do encounter a dicey situation!
Indeed, the risks need not be life threatening if you’re prepared going in and are cognizant and have a healthy respect and fear of Nature. More importantly, you have to exercise good judgment and properly assess the risk versus reward. It even means you might have to have the humility to turn back if you reach an obstacle or situation that can take your life away without properly preparation and the presence of mind to properly respond to the ordeal.
The bottom line is that visiting waterfalls that you are responsible for your own safety as well as those of your group if you’re the excursion leader.
Final Thoughts / Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed reading and seeing what we had to say about the best Los Angeles Waterfalls to visit during a drought.
More importantly, I hope you’ve been able to use this resource for your own trip planning needs so you can go out there and experience them for yourself (even if the conditions are less than ideal)!
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