Big Falls

San Bernardino National Forest / Forest Falls, California, USA

About Big Falls


Hiking Distance: 0.6 miles round trip (to lookout); 1 mile round trip scramble to go higher
Suggested Time: 45-60 minutes

Date first visited: 2005-05-08
Date last visited: 2010-08-08

Waterfall Latitude: 34.08592
Waterfall Longitude: -116.89561

Big Falls could very well be Southern California‘s tallest year-round waterfall with a reported cumulative drop of 500ft.

In our experiences, there was no way to see the entire waterfall from any one spot.

Big_Falls_110_08082010 - Big Falls
Big Falls

After all, it came down in multiple tiers as it twisted and turned on its way down with plenty of canyon walls and trees in the way to ensure we never got a totally clean view.

However, just the main tier alone was attractive and tall (maybe some 150-200ft or so) and certainly worth the effort to drive all the way here.

In fact, we liked this waterfall enough to place it on our Top 10 List of Best Southern California Waterfalls.

Experiencing Big Falls over the years

The first time we attempted to visit this waterfall was back in late Spring of 2005 when they closed the trail to the viewpoint below the falls.

Big_Falls_011_05082005 - Context of Big Falls as seen from the Forest Falls community in May 2005
Context of Big Falls as seen from the Forest Falls community in May 2005

During that trip, we had to settle for views from across the canyon at the Forest Falls community.

We would eventually figure out that they closed the trail due to the presence of snow and high water on a creek crossing (more on that in the next section).

Five years later, we came back in the Summer, and we were pleasantly surprised at its satisfying flow (especially considering it was August and in the middle of fire season).

On that visit, they opened the trail leading to its lookout, and we even got to see some of the hidden aspects of its drop.

Big_Falls_078_08082010 - Unusual view of some of the hidden tiers of Big Falls
Unusual view of some of the hidden tiers of Big Falls

The waterfall did well that year because 2010 happened to be a high rainfall year so I’d imagine its decent flow that far into Summer wasn’t typical.

Another five years after that, we returned in the Spring, but it was during a fourth consecutive year of drought.

Nevertheless, we brought our four-year-old daughter who seemed to enjoy a pretty healthy flow from a dumping of snow that occurred the prior week of this visit.

Of course, that snow was rapidly depleting thanks to record high temperatures at the time, but it entured that Big Falls would have a healthy flow on that visit.

Big_Falls_15_027_03072015 - The family enjoying Big Falls from the sanctioned lookout at the end of its short trail
The family enjoying Big Falls from the sanctioned lookout at the end of its short trail

Indeed, given the variety of circumstances we’ve seen this falls, it never seemed to disappoint.

Big Falls Trail Description – the short trail to its lookout

After parking the car and displaying a Forest Adventure Pass (see directions below), we followed a trail that went left (downstream) along Mill Creek.

A short while later, we had to cross Mill Creek.

In our experiences, this creek crossing was low enough to be nothing more than rock hopping to stay dry.

Big_Falls_009_08082010 - Context of Dad and Mom crossing Mill Creek on the way to Big Falls, which was on Falls Creek
Context of Dad and Mom crossing Mill Creek on the way to Big Falls, which was on Falls Creek

That said, I could totally imagine how it could not be safely crossed during the peak snowmelt period of Spring.

In fact, that could have explained why this trail was closed on our first visit back in May 2005.

Once we went past Mill Creek, we then continued to follow the straightforward trail eventually taking us into the drainage of Falls Creek.

Shortly thereafter, the trail climbed as it hugged the right side of the narrow canyon before stopping at a railing with a decent but distant look at the main drop of Big Falls.

Big_Falls_15_023_03072015 - The family approaching the railing at the end of the short Big Falls Trail
The family approaching the railing at the end of the short Big Falls Trail

It was a good thing I had a telephoto lens to better capture the waterfall in photos.

Otherwise, the falls would look pretty small with most normal zoons.

This would typically be the end point of the excursion, which would end up being about 0.6 miles round trip from the trailhead parking lot.

A Little Water Play downstream of Big Falls

For a relatively safe and family-friendly way to extend a visit to Big Falls, we allowed our daughter to take off her shoes and play a little bit by the delta where Falls Creek was close to joining with Mill Creek.

Big_Falls_15_054_03072015 - Context of people playing or chilling out along Falls Creek with the Forest Falls community way in the distance
Context of people playing or chilling out along Falls Creek with the Forest Falls community way in the distance

Even though the cascades down here were quite small, this part felt more accessible from a relaxing and playing standpoint.

Our daughter didn’t seem to mind the icy cold water of Falls Creek.

Other families were also doing the same thing.

Meanwhile, others managed to find spots along the larger Mill Creek, especially if Falls Creek was a bit on the busy side (which it can be on weekends).

Scrambling to the Hidden Tiers of Big Falls

Big_Falls_067_08082010 - Context of the bouldery stream scramble that would be required to continued beyond the official lookout for Big Falls
Context of the bouldery stream scramble that would be required to continued beyond the official lookout for Big Falls

Now while I don’t advocate scrambling off trail, Mom and I followed a couple of middle-aged guys who indirectly showed us the way up even higher than the official viewpoint.

This involved a bit of stream walking (good thing we had Gore-tex boots) and rock scrambling all the while avoiding poison oak and a couple of fallen trees.

After another 10-15 minutes more of scrambling, Mom and I ended up seeing a couple of tall vertical hidden tiers that would’ve otherwise not been seen.

These sections of the falls really reminded me of a taller version of Fish Canyon Falls, and I believe this was what made the scramble worthwhile.

Big_Falls_072_08082010 - Looking up towards the main drop of Big Falls while standing beneath some nature-stacked boulders, which attests to the rough nature of the scramble in Falls Creek
Looking up towards the main drop of Big Falls while standing beneath some nature-stacked boulders, which attests to the rough nature of the scramble in Falls Creek

However, it was dangerous enough where both Dad and Julie stayed behind (and I definitely wouldn’t recommend children, pregnant women, nor seniors try it).

Had those two guys not have already scrambled up and gave Mom the idea of following them, we wouldn’t have made the attempt.

Thus, I could totally envision why fatalies have happened here before.

Still, I thought I had seen worse scrambles than this, and if you come prepared and respect Nature enough to be willing to turn back when the conditions wouldn’t allow for you to proceed, then perhaps it might be worth a look to see if the scramble is for you.

Big_Falls_092_08082010 - Mom checking out some of the hidden tiers of Big Falls. This was as far as we went before heading back
Mom checking out some of the hidden tiers of Big Falls. This was as far as we went before heading back

But again, be cognizant and respectful of the rockfall danger as well as the slippery rocks.

When we had our fill of this overlook and scramble, we then returned to the somewhat open area at the very bottom of the cascades beneath Big Falls (before the trail started climbing).

Authorities

Big Falls resides in the San Bernardino National Forest in Forest Falls in San Bernardino County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Big_Falls_15_002_03072015 - When we made a visit in March 2015, there was a new dumping of snow from the prior week even though we had been suffering through another drought year prior to that storm.  This photo and the next several ones took place on that day
Big_Falls_15_007_03072015 - Mom, Tahia, and Julie on the trail heading downstream along Mill Creek during our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_008_03072015 - Looking in the distance through the haze (smog?) at the snow atop some of the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains
Big_Falls_15_011_03072015 - The family continuing on the trail to Big falls in March 2015
Big_Falls_15_016_03072015 - During our March 2015 visit, the crossing of Mill Creek was pretty trivial since the creek was pretty low on that day
Big_Falls_15_018_03072015 - While on the trail to Big Falls, we got this look over some homes at Forest Falls backed by mountains still covered in snow in March 2015
Big_Falls_15_020_03072015 - Context of some people getting close to a smaller cascade on Falls Creek well downstream of the main drop of Big Falls in March 2015
Big_Falls_15_021_03072015 - Mom and Tahia going around some rocks on the short trail to the overlook, but we already saw some graffiti along the way during our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_023_03072015 - Looking up towards the main drop of Big Falls from the official lookout at the end of the trail as of March 2015
Big_Falls_15_032_03072015 - Looking towards the context of the main drop of Big Falls with the familiar fallen tree in front of it as of our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_036_03072015 - Another contextual look up at the Big Falls with lookout railing as of our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_046_03072015 - Julie and Tahia walking back from the lookout after having their fill of the view during our March 2015 visit. Note the graffiti on the rock in the foreground, which seemed to be getting worse over the years
Big_Falls_15_051_03072015 - Closer look at one of the smaller waterfalls and cascades in the 'delta' downstream of Big Falls during our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_061_03072015 - Another closeup look at one of the lower tiers of Big Falls, which fell on Falls Creek during our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_077_03072015 - Context of people hiking back from the 'delta' area downstream of Big Falls after having their fill during our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_080_03072015 - The family starting to leave open area beneath Big Falls and head back to the trailhead to end our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_083_03072015 - Context of us re-crossing the bouldery Mill Creek as we were wrapping up our March 2015 visit of Big Falls
Big_Falls_15_085_03072015 - Looking further upstream along Mill Creek as we were crossing Mill Creek towards the end of our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_15_090_03072015 - A nice thing about the return hike from Big Falls was that we were getting these gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains from the wide open trail
Big_Falls_15_091_03072015 - Back at the busy parking lot for the Big Falls Trailhead as of our March 2015 visit
Big_Falls_004_08082010 - The parents starting the hike to Big Falls heading downstream along Mill Creek during our August 2010 visit. This photo and the next several ones were taken on this day
Big_Falls_007_08082010 - The family continuing along the Big Falls Trail en route to the Mill Creek crossing during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_013_08082010 - Looking up at the Big Falls during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_017_08082010 - Another look up at the Big Falls from the bottom during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_019_08082010 - Cascades at the lowest part of the Big Falls on Falls Creek during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_031_08082010 - This was the lookout area at the end of the short trail for Big Falls as of our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_033_08082010 - My parents checking out the falls from the official overlook
Big_Falls_035_08082010 - Context of a fallen log fronting the Big Falls as of August 2010
Big_Falls_039_08082010 - Another zoomed in look at the main drop of Big Falls during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_051_08082010 - Looking upstream at the stream scramble on Falls Creek beneath the main lookout for Big Falls as of August 2010
Big_Falls_055_08082010 - Looking up at the Big Falls from within the cascades beneath the official overlook during the August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_059_08082010 - Another zoomed in look at the Big Falls during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_062_08082010 - Full contextual look up at the surrounding cliffs around the Big Falls as seen on our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_064_08082010 - Fully contextual view of the main drop of Big Falls as seen from the lookout area during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_069_08082010 - The stream scramble on Falls Creek, which was a bit rough and slippery even during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_077_08082010 - Looking up at some other intermediate cascades during the scramble up Falls Creek in pursuit of some hidden tiers of Big Falls in August 2010. Note the graffiti scrawled on the lower left of this photo
Big_Falls_079_08082010 - Looking ahead at some hidden tiers of Big Falls with someone standing on a boulder between the two larger tiers here for a sense of scale. This was during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_088_08082010 - Looking at a couple of other people standing by the large boulder between the pair of tiers of the Big Falls only visible after scrambling up to here during our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_094_08082010 - Me checking out the hidden middle tiers of Big Falls in August 2010
Big_Falls_099_08082010 - This was as close to the hidden tiers of Big Falls as I was willing to go in our August 2010 visit before Mom and I scrambled back down
Big_Falls_101_08082010 - Looking up directly at the hidden middle tiers in long exposure during our August 2010 visit before leaving
Big_Falls_107_08082010 - Returning to the busy parking lot for Big Falls to end our August 2010 visit
Big_Falls_016_05082005 - Context of Big Falls as seen from Forest Falls in May 2005, which was our only option considering that the trail to get closer was closed on the day of our visit
Big_Falls_017_05082005 - Zoomed in view of Big Falls as seen from Forest Falls in May 2005, where you can see that this waterfall had very good flow on that visit

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To get to Big Falls from downtown Los Angeles, we would take the I-10 east until we reach State Hwy 38 (Orange Ave).

At first, Hwy 38 passes through the suburban streets of Redlands, but eventually, it becomes a more full-blown mountain highway.

After about 15 miles or so, Hwy 38 junctions with Valley of the Falls Drive at a hairpin turn.

Big_Falls_003_08082010 - The parking lot area for Big Falls, which can be quite busy especially on the weekends
The parking lot area for Big Falls, which can be quite busy especially on the weekends

We would take Valley of the Falls Drive on the right, and then follow this road through the Forest Falls community before turning left onto the large parking area for Big Falls (it’s just beyond the end of town).

Parked vehicles must display an Adventure Pass here, and we were able to purchase one on the spot at this lot.

It took us about 90 minutes of driving from around the 60/57 Freeway junction (near Rowland Heights or Diamond Bar) towards Forest Falls.

Top down sweep of the impressive upper tier of the falls before panning downstream towards the trail that took us up to the overlook


Top down sweep of the lowermost tier of Big Falls where further downstream was a nice little open area for relaxing and a little playing in the crystal clear stream


Left to right sweep of the lowermost cascades


Fixated on the falls from the bottom just after the Mill Creek crossing


Bottom up sweep from the cascades beneath the official overlook and ending at the main falls at the very top of the canyon


Fixated on the falls and the fallen tree from the official overlook


Fixated on the falls as seen from the Forest Falls community

Tagged with: forest falls, san bernardino, southern california, california, waterfall, riverside, running springs, big bear, angeles oaks, redlands, valley of the falls



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

beautiful, but dangerous (Big Falls) August 23, 2015 8:05 pm by _Anonymous221 - The falls themselves are beautiful, but too many people visit it now and there are often over 1000 visitors in a weekend. According to locals in Forest Falls, there is a rescue almost every day now - sometimes more. We saw tons of trash on the trail and lots of graffiti. Yuck. Past the railing… ...Read More
something local (Forest Falls) June 25, 2012 7:10 am by Genevieve - my boyfriend and i were looking for a place to enjoy nature. weve been all over the area but never forest falls. we tried it and climbed all the way up with our little maltese, she was a fighter, till we could not climb anymore. it was a very pleasant view looking from the bottom… ...Read More
Forest Falls more than just Big Falls February 27, 2011 5:56 am by David Doyel - There is a lot of unknown in the valley of the falls. First, when you turn off the hwy is the Monkey Face Falls with the profile rock of a monkey head. The falls is normally a trickle except for heavy rains and snow melt. The best part of Big Falls is going past the… ...Read More
Forest Falls , CA May 16, 2010 3:17 pm by Janice Carabine - We took a long hike up to Forest Falls yesterday for the first time and loved it ! The falls are flowing well and the stream below is low enough to cross to see it. Be prepared to get wet ! ...Read More

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