Buckhorn Falls

Angeles National Forest / Buckhorn Campground, California, USA

About Buckhorn Falls


Hiking Distance: 4.6 miles round trip; scramble (6.6 miles round trip if campground closed)
Suggested Time: at least 3 hours (closer to 5 hours if campground closed)

Date first visited: 2016-05-01
Date last visited: 2022-03-27

Waterfall Latitude: 34.3537
Waterfall Longitude: -117.90459

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Buckhorn Falls was a waterfall that eluded us mostly because getting to it wasn’t easy.

That said, it turned out that we had plenty of opportunities over the years to make a visit since it was very close to Cooper Canyon Falls.

Buckhorn_Falls_112_05012016 - Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn Falls

However, this waterfall was not marked on the topographic maps (at least none that I owned or seen).

It was also not visible from along the Burkhart Trail (though I could hear water falling down there), which was the main trail enabling access to both waterfalls.

As you can see from the photo above, this elusive waterfall was impressively tall and arguably more scenic than its more popular neighbor.

It was said to be about 70ft tall as it twisted its way down amongst vertical cliffs flanked by tall rock formations.

Buckhorn_Falls_061_05012016 - Looking up from the base of the Buckhorn Falls
Looking up from the base of the Buckhorn Falls

But the adventure to even get to this point was what made this waterfalling experience all the more memorable, especially since I really had to earn it.

Hiking to Buckhorn Falls – Deviation from the Cooper Canyon Falls Hike

To reach Buckhorn Falls, I started from the Burkhart Trail just like for Cooper Canyon Falls.

In fact, the first 1.2 miles along the Burkhart Trail pretty much followed the same route.

Thus, if the gate to the Buckhorn Campground was closed, then you’d have to add about another 1.8-2.0 miles to the overall hike.

Cooper_Canyon_13_038_03172013 - Julie crossing Buckhorn Creek, which would continue the Burkhart Trail to the PCT and ultimately Cooper Canyon Falls, but here's where I'd scramble upstream on Buckhorn Creek to the Buckhorn Falls
Julie crossing Buckhorn Creek, which would continue the Burkhart Trail to the PCT and ultimately Cooper Canyon Falls, but here’s where I’d scramble upstream on Buckhorn Creek to the Buckhorn Falls

However, when the Burkhart Trail would wrap up its descent and cross Buckhorn Creek, that was when I had to deviate from the Cooper Canyon Falls route.

Instead of continuing on the Burkhart Trail, I then had to go off the trail and stream scramble my way up the Buckhorn Creek itself.

Realizing how rough stream scrambles can be, I had to leave Julie and Tahia back along the Burkhart Trail.

After all, I didn’t think it would be wise to bring them along.

Hiking to Buckhorn Falls – Scrambling on Buckhorn Creek

Buckhorn_Falls_001_05012016 - Looking at the rough Buckhorn Creek scramble in order to reach the elusive Buckhorn Falls
Looking at the rough Buckhorn Creek scramble in order to reach the elusive Buckhorn Falls

The main difficulty in doing the off-trail scramble was that often times I had to choose between clinging onto boulders with mild dropoffs or wading through nearly waist-deep poison oak.

Most of the tricky parts involved the handful of small waterfalls that weren’t anything significant from a scenic standpoint, but they represented scrambling obstacles to get around and over.

There really wasn’t much in the way of a use-trail to exploit to speed up the hiking.

Indeed, the majority of the scrambling involved boulder hopping (to stay dry) as well as route finding so progress was slow.

Buckhorn_Falls_016_05012016 - One of the waterfall obstacles to get around and over during the rough off-trail scramble of Buckhorn Creek
One of the waterfall obstacles to get around and over during the rough off-trail scramble of Buckhorn Creek

When I did this scramble, the water level of Buckhorn Creek seemed decent (typically no more than knee deep if I choose my steps wisely).

However, I knew that this is all dependent on the snowmelt coming from the north face of Mt Waterman.

Thus, this scramble would be significantly more difficult if the creek possessed more water.

Moreover, I had to contend with scraping my legs on dry twigs and branches as well as sweating bullets from wearing long sleeves to minimize poison oak exposure on my skin.

Buckhorn_Falls_032_05012016 - Lots of tricky trail-less bouldering within Buckhorn Creek to really earn my sighting of the Buckhorn Falls
Lots of tricky trail-less bouldering within Buckhorn Creek to really earn my sighting of the Buckhorn Falls

Anyways, after around 45 minutes (to go only 0.8 miles) of this stream scramble, I finally reached the base of Buckhorn Falls.

Throughout the scramble, I was the only person on this adventure during each of my visits here (once in May 2016 and another in March 2022).

Considering how difficult it was, I didn’t find that so surprising.

Observations Around Buckhorn Falls On My First Visit

Even though I was all alone at the Buckhorn Falls, I was surprised to find the amount of litter alongside Buckhorn Creek.

Buckhorn_Falls_042_05012016 - My first look at the entire drop of the Buckhorn Falls
My first look at the entire drop of the Buckhorn Falls

I managed to find some broken glass, beer cans, torn up foil balloons, and even a tire!

I wasn’t sure if the litter was deposited here from the Burkhart Trail way up towards the rim of the canyon or if they were mostly from thoughtless visitors leaving their trace from within the canyon.

Apparently, it was quite clear to me that a few other people have done this adventure despite the overall forbidden feel of this place.

That said, I also spotted some interesting long-legged water bugs floating about in the calmer parts of Buckhorn Creek.

Buckhorn_Falls_047_05012016 - A very interesting-looking long-legged water bug swimming in the plunge pool beneath the Buckhorn Falls
A very interesting-looking long-legged water bug swimming in the plunge pool beneath the Buckhorn Falls

I never recalled seeing them before, but such surprises can typically be found in spots like this where not many people would go.

Anyways, there was lots of overgrowth around the base of Buckhorn Falls so I had to scramble closer in order to get a cleaner look at it.

Unfortunately, in doing so, the height of the falls was also such that it was too tall to take it all in (with the camera) when I was at its base.

Speaking of the waterfall height, the surrounding cliffs that boxed in this canyon was such that it would’ve been nearly impossible to scramble down directly from the Buckhorn Campground and follow the creek downstream to the bottom of this waterfall.

Buckhorn_Falls_128_05012016 - Even in a place as seemingly pristine as the Buckhorn Falls, I still managed to find some litter down here
Even in a place as seemingly pristine as the Buckhorn Falls, I still managed to find some litter down here

Nevertheless, when I had my fill of the Buckhorn Falls, I scrambled back downstream to return to the Burkhart Trail.

Going downstream was just as tricky as it was going upstream, but I did have the benefit of knowing where I needed to go and for roughly how far so it only took me roughly 35 minutes to get back.

If I was solely doing Burkhart Trail before doing the Buckhorn Creek scramble to reach the base of Buckhorn Falls, the overall round trip distance would be roughly 4.6 miles or so.

However, it would require on the order of 3-4 hours or more.

Cooper_Canyon_13_008_03172013 - If the gate to the Buckhorn Campground is closed, then you'd have to increase the overall hiking distance by at least 1.8 miles round trip
If the gate to the Buckhorn Campground is closed, then you’d have to increase the overall hiking distance by at least 1.8 miles round trip

The difficulty rating reflects this time investment as well as the awkward stream scramble itself.

Of course, when I first did this adventure, it was an extension of the Cooper Canyon Falls hike, which was around 3.6 miles round trip by itself.

Thus, with the additional 1.6 miles round trip of scrambling, the total distance was more like 5.2 miles return (we spent about 4.5 hours away from the car).

As a result, the overall hike would be even longer (6.6 miles round trip) if the Buckhorn Campground gate was closed.

Dramatic Changes Since The Bobcat Fire On My Second Visit

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_107_03272022 - Buckhorn Canyon was littered with burnt trees, deadfall branches, and lots of debris flow during my late March 2022 visit
Buckhorn Canyon was littered with burnt trees, deadfall branches, and lots of debris flow during my late March 2022 visit

When I returned to do the Buckhorn Falls in March 2022, it followed the devastating Bobcat Fire in the end of Summer 2020 as well as atmospheric river-type storms in December 2021.

What the fire did was essentially strip the mountainsides and canyons of soil-stabilizing vegetation, and this included tall, fire resistant trees that were killed in the blaze.

So when the storms came through, all that soil became debris and mud flows into the Buckhorn Canyon along with the felled trees.

The end result of these effects was a dramatically more chaotic jumble of deadfalls and debris burying a lot of the canyon floor.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_089_03272022 - Context of one of the small waterfall obstacles within Buckhorn Canyon with lots of fallen rocks and deadfall resulting from the Bobcat Fire
Context of one of the small waterfall obstacles within Buckhorn Canyon with lots of fallen rocks and deadfall resulting from the Bobcat Fire

Over time, the chaos will eventually wash away and create a new “normal”, but for the years to come, this scramble has become a lot more difficult and hazard-ridden than my first time here.

So it took me about an hour in each direction to do this scramble (instead of the 45-50 minutes that I had to contend with the first time), but there were even more dry-fall hazards, sudden rock slides, new boulders, more dropoffs, and more poison oak.

Such is the new reality of a Global Warming world, where more frequent and intense droughts yield more frequent and intense wildfires.

Consequently, places like these become harder to access or downright dangerous.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_095_03272022 - This was the state of Buckhorn Falls in late March 2022 when it was flowing pretty well despite a dry start to the year, but as you can see the Bobcat Fire definitely affected the vegetation around it
This was the state of Buckhorn Falls in late March 2022 when it was flowing pretty well despite a dry start to the year, but as you can see the Bobcat Fire definitely affected the vegetation around it

And I’m afraid that Buckhorn Falls is gravitating more towards this category of bordering on becoming inaccessible and reclaimed by Nature.

Authorities

Buckhorn Falls resides in the Angeles National Forest near Pasadena in Los Angeles 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.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_017_03272022 - On our late March 2022 visit, we started from the Buckhorn Day Use Area and tried to take a more direct approach to the Buckhorn Campground by following this road down
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_026_03272022 - Julie and Tahia trying to route-find their way down to the Buckhorn Campground during our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_034_03272022 - This sign apparently survived the Bobcat Fire during our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_035_03272022 - Lots of evidence of the effects of the Bobcat Fire during our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_042_03272022 - The mountains in the distance were quite bare as a result of the Bobcat Fire. This shot was taken our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_046_03272022 - Julie and Tahia descending along this ledge as the Burkhart Trail would eventually reach the Buckhorn Creek down below.
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_054_03272022 - Julie and Tahia continuing to descend amongst more burnt trees along the Burkhart Trail during our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_092_03272022 - Dealing with lots of creek wading, brushing up against hard branches, clinging against ledges, and trying to dodge poison oak during my late March 2022 visit to Buckhorn Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_104_03272022 - Finally after an arduous hour-long scramble on Buckhorn Creek, I finally got this look at Buckhorn Falls in late March 2022
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_102_03272022 - Long-exposed look at the Buckhorn Falls as seen in late March 2022
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_109_03272022 - After finally having my fill of Buckhorn Falls and making it out of the rugged canyon, I then had to race the fading daylight to get back to the car before it got dark during our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_110_03272022 - Looking in the distance at some pretty bare mountaintops as a result of the Bobcat Fire
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_111_03272022 - Following this narrow section on the way back to the car during our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_113_03272022 - Continuing to long ascent back to the trailhead after having gone through a rough experience accessing (and coming back from) Buckhorn Falls in late March 2022
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_115_03272022 - Following the paved road back into the Buckhorn Campground and eventually the Buckhorn Day Use Trailhead Parking to cap off our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_and_Buckhorn_Falls_116_03272022 - It was pretty much dark by the time I got back to the gate and the Angeles Crest Highway on our late March 2022 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_013_05012016 - The adventure to the bottom of Buckhorn Falls began along the same trail as that of Cooper Canyon Falls - the Burkhart Trail
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_024_05012016 - The Burkhart Trail was the family-friendly part of the hike since it led to the Pacific Crest Trail and ultimately the Cooper Canyon Falls as well as the Buckhorn Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_028_05012016 - Buckhorn Creek would be nestled into the ever-deepening canyon to the right, which was precisely the reason why the bottom of Buckhorn Falls would not be accessible from the top
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_033_05012016 - When I made my visit, it was late enough in Spring (May 1) that wildflowers like this were blooming
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_044_05012016 - The Burkhart Trail continued its downward trajectory as it would eventually drop down to the level of Buckhorn Creek
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_056_05012016 - This was where Burkhart Trail crossed Buckhorn Creek, and this was also where I had to leave the Burkhart Trail in order to access Buckhorn Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_058_05012016 - Looking upstream along the bouldery Buckhorn Creek. Perhaps this picture shows why this scrambling adventure took quite a bit of time
Buckhorn_Falls_002_05012016 - When I wasn't boulder scrambling to continue in Buckhorn Creek, I had to negotiate log jams and fallen trees like this
Buckhorn_Falls_003_05012016 - Negotiating some steep slopes when I had to bypass difficult creek boulder obstacles or logjams on the scramble upstream to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_004_05012016 - When I wasn't bouldering in Buckhorn Creek, I managed to wade through fallen trees and poison oak
Buckhorn_Falls_118_05012016 - This plastic bottle was an example of some of the litter I found while doing this scramble upstream to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_005_05012016 - This was one of the easier parts of the Buckhorn Creek scramble en route to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_006_05012016 - Bouldering obstacles like this were common around the handful of small waterfalls I had to get around en route to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_008_05012016 - More tricky bouldering around pools in Buckhorn Creek en route to the Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_010_05012016 - Still more bouldering within Buckhorn Creek on the way up to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_013_05012016 - This was another one of the small waterfalls I encountered within Buckhorn Creek on the rough scramble up to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_022_05012016 - Trying to figure out a way around this larger pool in Buckhorn Creek without getting wet en route to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_026_05012016 - Another tricky bouldering and pool obstacle on Buckhorn Creek en route to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_031_05012016 - Yet another bouldering obstacle to get around near a small waterfall en route to Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_035_05012016 - Finally approaching the base of Buckhorn Falls after around 45 minutes of rough stream scrambling on Buckhorn Creek
Buckhorn_Falls_038_05012016 - Scrambling to get closer to the Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_040_05012016 - Closer look at the entirety of Buckhorn Falls though the overgrowth always left me wanting to improve the view
Buckhorn_Falls_044_05012016 - Broad contextual look at the Buckhorn Falls illustrating just how precipitous the surrounding cliffs were
Buckhorn_Falls_071_05012016 - Looking across the base of the elusive Buckhorn Falls
Buckhorn_Falls_074_05012016 - Looking up towards the top of Buckhorn Falls from near its base
Buckhorn_Falls_108_05012016 - Looking back at Buckhorn Falls as I was starting to leave
Buckhorn_Falls_115_05012016 - After having my fill of Buckhorn Falls, I now had to deal with the rough Buckhorn Creek scramble all over aggain


The start of the hike and scramble to Buckhorn Falls was the same as that of Cooper Canyon Falls.

See that page for the detailed driving directions.

To give you some geographical context, the Buckhorn Campground was about 68 miles (over 90 minutes drive) north of downtown Los Angeles or 58 miles north of Pasadena.

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Looking around the chaotic area fronting the Buckhorn Falls in good flow


Checking out the elusive Buckhorn Falls from its base and from a few different positions alongside Buckhorn Creek

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Tagged with: angeles national forest, buckhorn campground, cooper canyon, mt waterman, mount waterman, la canada, flintridge, california, los angeles, southern california, waterfall, scramble, buckhorn creek, burkhart trail



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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