Bonita Falls

San Bernardino National Forest / Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA

About Bonita Falls


Hiking Distance: 2-3 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 90 minutes

Date first visited: 2011-05-07
Date last visited: 2015-12-31

Waterfall Latitude: 34.23028
Waterfall Longitude: -117.50477

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Bonita Falls was one of those waterfalls where you really had to look past its flaws in order to appreciate its true beauty as well as the fun from the experience of getting to it.

On one of our visits, we even managed to get a surprise visit from bighorn sheep right around the waterfall itself!

Bonita_Falls_109_05072011 - Bonita Falls
Bonita Falls

That said, most of the flaws were human-induced so there is hope for a rehabilitation of this hike if the authorities here care to implement measures striving for it.

Indeed, we got to experience both the good, the bad, and the ugly with the Bonita Falls, which we’ll share with you on this page.

As for some of the waterfall’s characteristics, it was one of the taller waterfalls in Southern California as it’s said to have a cumulative drop of some 400ft.

However, we were only able to see its final 90ft drop from its base (shown in the photo above).

Bonita_Falls_129_05072011 - Distant view of the hard-to-see upper tiers of Bonita Falls from a nearby campground
Distant view of the hard-to-see upper tiers of Bonita Falls from a nearby campground

Its hard-to-see upper tiers (possibly 100ft or higher) were only be seen a distance nearby a private campground turnoff.

Adding to the allure of the Bonita Falls was the adventure we had to go through, which involved fording Lytle Creek in high flow, a rough boulder scramble in a wash, and then a little bit of some rock scramble to get right in front of the falls.

Urban Blight at Bonita Falls

The only real bummer with this falls was the presence of insane amounts of graffiti and litter all throughout the hike (which you might have guessed this already from looking at the photos on this page).

Although I’ve seen such poor displays of respect for Nature in places like Eaton Canyon Falls and Hermit Falls among others, I think this one by far took home the crown for the most trashed waterfall that we’ve been to so far in the Southland.

Bonita_Falls_15_035_12312015 - The unfortunate impact of urban blight afflicting the Bonita Falls adventure
The unfortunate impact of urban blight afflicting the Bonita Falls adventure

It’s really sad that such a beautiful place like this can degenerate into something you’d expect to see in the Hood.

However, I guess it goes to show you how fragile Nature can be, and how easy it is to ruin a good thing when you let it.

I personally hope the San Bernardino Forest Service can do something about it, but I wonder how resource-limited the National Forest Service is.

This is especially the case when it’s close enough to the foothill cities like Rancho Cucamonga, which invites urban blight to creep in and constantly put pressure on the resources necessary to enforce rules and clean up the mess that’s here.

The Bonita Falls Adventure – Crossing Lytle Creek

Bonita_Falls_135_05072011 - Traversing Lytle Creek in high flow during a visit in May on a wet year
Traversing Lytle Creek in high flow during a visit in May on a wet year

The Bonita Falls Adventure started after parking the car in one of the pullouts in the area around the confluence of Middle Fork and South Fork of Lytle Creek (see directions below).

Once we got out of the car and scrambled down towards the banks of Lytle Creek, we then had to look for a place to cross that creek in order to access the wash on the other side.

On my first visit here, the creek had high flow that I thought it was treacherous enough to employ river crossing techniques seen in survival shows (or at least be willing to turn back if the creek was deeper than my thighs).

By river crossing techniques, I meant that I had to look for the widest part of the creek or river, unhook the waist belt of my pack, face upstream, and use a stick for added balance.

Bonita_Falls_15_011_12312015 - Julie and Tahia traversing Lytle Creek with the aid of some planks that someone had laid out here while the creek was in low flow
Julie and Tahia traversing Lytle Creek with the aid of some planks that someone had laid out here while the creek was in low flow

For added comfort (and to prevent ruining my hiking boots), I actually crossed Lytle Creek in Keens and then changed into hiking boots once I got past the creek crossing.

However, on a second visit four years later (in the midst of a multi-year drought throughout California), Lytle Creek was easily crossed by the whole family while staying relatively dry.

Only our daughter required a little bit of assistance to get across while remaining dry.

It even seemed like some folks placed fallen trees or logs (and even a plank) that traversed part of the creek to make the crossing easier.

Needless to say, on that second visit, there was no change of shoes necessary.

The Bonita Falls Adventure – Traversing the Bouldery Wash

Bonita_Falls_015_05072011 - Context of the bouldery wash that we had to traverse on the way to Bonita Falls
Context of the bouldery wash that we had to traverse on the way to Bonita Falls

Anyways, the hiking boots were definitely needed on this hike because the next phase of the adventure involved walking a wide and bouldery wash.

It was here that the thought of twisting an ankle did cross our minds, even though we were wearing proper footwear.

So while in the wash, we made a beeline for the south (left) wall of the South Fork of Lytle Creek.

We did this because the waterfall “trail” itself lacked any signage indicating its presence, and the south wall was the nearest wall after the creek crossing.

Bonita_Falls_15_023_12312015 - Julie and Tahia making their way up the bouldery wash en route to the Bonita Falls
Julie and Tahia making their way up the bouldery wash en route to the Bonita Falls

Thus, it served as sort of a trail guide for us since we knew that we had to leave the wash on this side at some point (roughly a half-mile or so from the creek crossing).

Without the wall serving as our trail guide, we potentially could have missed the part of the trail that left the very wide and bouldery wash and went up to the Bonita Falls.

Of course upon hugging the south wall of the wash (it was mostly in shade during the Winter morning but less so in the Spring), we experienced the mixed bag of uneven footing and some moments of relief of the trail being relatively flat.

That said, it turned out that there were more flatter and less rockier informal footpaths closer to the other side of the wash (closer to the campgrounds) then ultimately towards the middle of the wash.

Bonita_Falls_15_026_12312015 - Hugging the south wall of the wide bouldery wash on the way up to Bonita Falls
Hugging the south wall of the wide bouldery wash on the way up to Bonita Falls

Thus, we figured that on a first visit, hugging the south wall might be the easier thing to do even though the hiking might be slower going.

However, on the return hike, it made sense to hike in the flatter and more sun-exposed trails of use within the center or far end of the wash since we knew where we had to go in general to return to the parked car.

Anyways, once we reached the fairly easy-to-miss footpath about a half-mile from the creek crossing, we then climbed up some more conventional trail, which even passed by a reassuring sign a bit above the wash itself.

We could spot this turnoff because there were more trees and vegetation surrounding this escape from the wash, which hinted at the presence of water in this hidden canyon.

Bonita_Falls_15_044_12312015 - Julie and Tahia climbing up to the graffiti-laced sign as the trail now climbed above the wash towards Bonita Falls
Julie and Tahia climbing up to the graffiti-laced sign as the trail now climbed above the wash towards Bonita Falls

It was too bad the sign didn’t say anything and it was covered in graffiti, but that sign kind of mentally assured us that we were on the right path to Bonita Falls.

The Bonita Falls Adventure – The Final Stretch to the Waterfall’s Base

Next, we continued going uphill from that graffiti-laden sign as the trail went past more spray-painted boulders while weaving between shrubs and trees.

Then, we had to go up some more rocky climbs amidst more graffiti before regaining the trail of use essentially skirting alongside the creek responsible for Bonita Falls.

Probably after another 10 minutes or so, we were finally up the last of the rocky climbs leading us right to the base of the waterfall.

Bonita_Falls_15_066_12312015 - Finally arriving at the Bonita Falls. This visit came on New Year's Eve so you can see some of the icicles flanking the waterfall's main drop
Finally arriving at the Bonita Falls. This visit came on New Year’s Eve so you can see some of the icicles flanking the waterfall’s main drop

While the last 10 minutes of walking and scrambling got steeper with plenty of deadfall obstacles and slippery rocky sections, they were relatively tame enough that even our four-year-old daughter was able to do it mostly on her own.

At the base of the falls, it was possible to do a little more scrambling to get right up to the pool beneath the main tall drop of the Bonita Falls.

It seemed the intensity of the graffiti was maximized around the waterfall itself, which illustrated just how defiled this otherwise beautiful waterfall was.

That said, on one of our early-season visits, this was also the place where we saw icicles spreading out from the upper reaches of the falls while bighorn sheep were grazing high up on the cliffs nearby.

Bonita_Falls_15_084_12312015 - A bighorn sheep seen just as we were right by Bonita Falls
A bighorn sheep seen just as we were right by Bonita Falls

Given how steep the surrounding cliffs were, we had to be cognizant of the rockfall and icicle danger.

So we stayed as far away from the cliff walls as we could, and we didn’t linger longer than we needed to.

In fact, the bighorn sheep we saw were inadvertently kicking down rocks, which rapidly tumbled to the base of the falls.

Getting hit by one of these rocks would definitely cause injury, and it just illustrated the inherent dangers of a place as beautiful as this.

In addition to the falls (and the sheep), I also made a steep scramble up the south side of the canyon up to where there was a trio of tiny caves as well as the possibility of glimpsing the Bonita Falls’ main drop rising above the foliage.

Bonita_Falls_088_05072011 - One of the small caves near the main drop of the Bonita Falls
One of the small caves near the main drop of the Bonita Falls

I found this scramble before the final dead-end containing the waterfall itself.

Regardless, I only managed to scramble up to two of the three caves and didn’t continue onwards to see the upper tier (if it was possible) during my visit.

But like the rest of this side canyon, these caves were also loaded with graffiti.

I even noticed toilet paper soiled with poop left right in front of one of the caves.

All in all, it took me roughly 30 to 45 minutes in each direction to cover the roughly 1.5- to 2-mile return hike and scramble.

Bonita_Falls_15_148_12312015 - Julie and Tahia making their way back across the bouldery wash en route to our parked car at the base of those mountains up ahead
Julie and Tahia making their way back across the bouldery wash en route to our parked car at the base of those mountains up ahead

When Julie, Tahia, and I did this hike as a family, we spent roughly 2.5 hours away from the car (a bit longer than the 90 minutes I had spent when I did this hike solo four years prior).

Authorities

Bonita Falls resides in the San Bernardino National Forest. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Bonita_Falls_15_001_12312015 - The informal parking area by the bear-proof trash can at the start of our Lytle Creek adventure to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_008_12312015 - Julie and Tahia descending towards Lytle Creek in lower flow on our second visit here
Bonita_Falls_15_013_12312015 - Julie and Tahia finishing their traverse of Lytle Creek in low flow without getting their socks wet
Bonita_Falls_15_014_12312015 - Looking downstream from the spot where we crossed Lytle Creek during our second visit here, which happened in 2015 (and it was also a dry year)
Bonita_Falls_15_017_12312015 - Julie and Tahia getting through this small opening in the bush before getting onto the extensive bouldery wash on the way to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_022_12312015 - There was no escaping the prevalent graffiti even on these trees at the start of the wash en route to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_031_12312015 - Julie and Tahia traversing the bouldery wash as we headed to the shady south wall, which also acted as our trail guide for much of the time we were in the wash itself en route to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_037_12312015 - To give you a little sense of context, this look back at a pair of hikers dwarfed by the mountains and the width of the wash should provide a good sense of the scale of the wash on the way to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_053_12312015 - Julie and Tahia going past some more graffiti in the final stretch of our adventure to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_059_12312015 - Julie and Tahia approaching the base of Bonita Falls while passing by more spray-painted rocks
Bonita_Falls_15_064_12312015 - Partial view of Bonita Falls through mostly bare trees as we were just about at the end of the hike
Bonita_Falls_15_069_12312015 - Looking up from the base of Bonita Falls flanked by icicles on New Year's Eve
Bonita_Falls_15_075_12312015 - A polarized view from the base of Bonita Falls providing more contrast between the water and the underlying rock wall
Bonita_Falls_15_089_12312015 - On our second visit to Bonita Falls, we saw quite a few bighorn sheep grazing high up on the cliffs nearby
Bonita_Falls_15_092_12312015 - Looking way up at the profile of another one of the bighorn sheep grazing near the Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_095_12312015 - Angled look back towards Bonita Falls flanked by icicles.  Note the couple near the waterfall's base for a sense of scale
Bonita_Falls_15_104_12312015 - Scrambling right up to the base of Bonita Falls for this profile view of its sloping drop flanked by icicles
Bonita_Falls_15_113_12312015 - Another look at the desert bighorn sheep perched high up on the cliffs near the Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_124_12312015 - Another one of the desert bighorn sheep perched high up on the cliffs near the Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_129_12312015 - Julie and Tahia starting to head back after having our fill of the Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_15_133_12312015 - It was a real shame that there was so much urban blight at the Bonita Falls because this place had the makings of something really special in the Southland
Bonita_Falls_15_154_12312015 - Julie and Tahia making their way back across the boundery wash on the way back to the Lytle Creek Road, where we were parked
Bonita_Falls_15_168_12312015 - Final ascent up the banks of the Lytle Creek Road to end our Bonita Falls Adventure
Bonita_Falls_001_05072011 - We spotted this waterfall while looking for the right pullout to start the Bonita Falls hike and scramble. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is Bonita Falls (as we almost did)!
Bonita_Falls_128_05072011 - If you see this sign, you went too far for the start of the scramble. However, this was where I was able to see the upper tiers of Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_132_05072011 - The unsigned pullout we were looking for was not far past the Green Mountain Ranch
Bonita_Falls_005_05072011 - Looking towards Lytle Creek from the Lytle Creek Road during our first adventure to Bonita Falls back in May 2011
Bonita_Falls_012_05072011 - Julie scoping out where was the best spot to cross Lytle Creek during our May 2011 visit to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_014_05072011 - We identified this was the best spot to cross Lytle Creek when it was flowing high
Bonita_Falls_137_05072011 - Me on the other side of Lytle Creek after having done the semi-deep crossing
Bonita_Falls_018_05072011 - Graffiti on a tree near the south wall of the South Fork's wash
Bonita_Falls_020_05072011 - Hugging the graffiti-laden south wall of the wash en route to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_121_05072011 - The use trail leaving the wash on the way up to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_022_05072011 - A reassuring graffiti-laden sign once I left the wash and started the final stretch to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_025_05072011 - Rock steps during the last ten minutes of the hike/scramble to Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_029_05072011 - Some more graffiti next to a lower cascade downstream of the Bonita Falls as seen during our visit in May 2011
Bonita_Falls_030_05072011 - Looking up at a fairly full-flowing Bonita Falls during our visit in May 2011
Bonita_Falls_043_05072011 - Looking up towards one of the graffiti-laden walls adjacent to the Bonita Falls as seen during our visit in May 2011
Bonita_Falls_044_05072011 - Looking up towards the top of Bonita Falls against the sun from its left side
Bonita_Falls_055_05072011 - Looking away from the base of Bonita Falls towards the heaps of graffiti on a nearby wall
Bonita_Falls_059_05072011 - Looking straight up to the top of the Bonita Falls from its base
Bonita_Falls_082_05072011 - View of Bonita Falls from the steep climb up to the caves
Bonita_Falls_083_05072011 - View of Bonita Falls from just in front of one of the caves
Bonita_Falls_086_05072011 - One of the caves I checked out near Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_091_05072011 - This shameful scene was just in front of the second cave I saw around Bonita Falls. In this photo was a heavily-spray-painted rock wall and toilet paper soiled with poop right at its base
Bonita_Falls_092_05072011 - Context of another family showing up and trying to climb to get closer to the Bonita Falls
Bonita_Falls_123_05072011 - That family up ahead took what appeared to be an easier path in the middle of the wash. We managed to do the same thing on the way out since we knew where our car was as we headed back
Bonita_Falls_126_05072011 - Looking ahead towards the pullouts along Lytle Creek Road as we approached Lytle Creek itself

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We’ll describe how we drove to Bonita Falls from the Los Angeles basin.

We started by driving east on any of the eastbound Freeways (e.g. the 10 Freeway, 60 Freeway, or the 91 Freeway) until it reaches the I-15 going north (kind of like how we would be driving to Vegas).

Bonita_Falls_009_05072011 - Context of the pullout area by a bear-proof trash can, which was where we started our adventure for Bonita Falls
Context of the pullout area by a bear-proof trash can, which was where we started our adventure for Bonita Falls

However, as we drove along the I-15 just north of the 210 freeway near Rancho Cucamonga, we took the Sierra Ave exit then turned left to go deeper into the mountains.

Eventually, Sierra Ave became Lytle Creek Road.

We continued taking Lytle Creek Road for a little over 6 miles from the I-15.

Once we’ve gone past the Lytle Creek Ranger Station (where we can also buy Forest Adventure Passes), we then started looking for a pullout (not signposted) with a bear-proof trash bin between the Green Mountain Ranch sign and the Bonita Ranch RV & Campground sign.

The adventure described above on this write-up began from this pullout.

Bonita_Falls_008_05072011 - Looking down towards Lytle Creek from where we parked the car to begin our Bonita Falls Adventure
Looking down towards Lytle Creek from where we parked the car to begin our Bonita Falls Adventure

Overall, the drive from downtown LA would be about 59 miles (or roughly 90 minutes drive).

Now if you’re curious about getting a distant (but unsatisfactory) view of one of the upper tiers of the Bonita Falls, you might be able to spot it once you turnoff towards the private Bonita Ranch Campground.

This turnoff was just a short distance west of the unsigned pullout described earlier to start the hike.

However, we had to be cognizant that the owners and guests do not appreciate us blocking traffic in order to catch this view.

Checking out a bighorn sheep with pronounced rounded horns before panning over to the Bonita Falls and the graffiti-laced walls


Bottom up sweep of the falls with some people crossing stream for scale


Top down sweep of the falls from an angle as I stood towards its left


Top down sweep from right at its base ending at the graffiti as I was looking downstream

Tagged with: san bernardino, rancho cucamonga, national forest, lytle creek, southern california, inland empire, california, waterfall, graffiti



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Lytle Creek Bonita Falls and unnamed falls April 24, 2011 11:46 pm by David Doyel - Hiked to Bonita Falls in Lytle creek with my son. There are also 3 small caves there. If you climb up to the left of the falls you can see part of the upper falls which are 190'. Bonita is supposedly 160'. I have heard that Hummingbirds are present when the flowers bloom on the… ...Read More

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