About Buckhorn Falls
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. However, this waterfall was not marked on the topographic maps (at least none that I owned or seen) and it was not visible from along the Burkhart Trail (the main trail enabling access to both waterfalls), and so it eluded us ever since our first hike to Cooper Canyon Falls back in 2003. But as you can see from the photo at the top of this page, 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. 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.
To reach this waterfall, 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. However, when the trail would wrap up its descent and cross Buckhorn Creek, that was when I had to deviate from the Cooper Canyon Falls route and go off the trail as I now had to stream scramble my way upstream inside Buckhorn Creek itself! It turned out that this creek scramble was quite rough, and so I had to leave Julie and Tahia back along the Burkhart Trail as I didn’t think it would be wise to bring them along. 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. And indeed, the majority of the scrambling involved boulder hopping (to stay dry) as well as route finding so progress was slow. When I did this scramble, the water level of Buckhorn Creek seemed decent, but I knew that most of the snow was already long gone so I could imagine how much more difficult this scramble would be had the creek possessed more water. Anyways, after around 45 minutes (to go only 0.8 miles) of scraping my legs on dry twigs and branches while sweating bullets from wearing long sleeves to minimize poison oak exposure to my skin, I finally reached the base of Buckhorn Falls.
Throughout the scramble, I was the only person on this adventure. Considering how difficult it was, I didn’t find that so surprising. However, what I did find surprising was the amount of litter I spotted alongside Buckhorn Creek. 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, but it was quite clear to me that quite 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. 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 from the Buckhorn Campground and follow the creek downstream to the bottom of this waterfall. I’d imagine the best you could do under those circumtances was to get to the top of the falls, then scramble back upstream to either the Burkhart Trail or the Buckhorn Campground.
Nevertheless, when I had my fill of the 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 3.4 miles or so, but it would require on the order of 3 hours or more. The difficulty rating reflects this time investment as well as the awkward stream scramble itself. Of course, when I did this adventure, it was an extension of the Cooper Canyon Falls hike, which was around 3.2 miles round trip by itself, and with the additional 1.6 miles round trip of scrambling, the total distance was more like 4.8 miles return (we spent about 4.5 hours away from the car). The overall hike would be even longer (6.6 miles round trip) if the Buckhorn Campground gate was closed.
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.
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