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