Buckhorn Falls

Angeles National Forest / Buckhorn Campground, California, USA

About Buckhorn Falls


Hiking Distance: 3.4 miles round trip; scramble
Suggested Time: 2.5-3 hours

Date first visited: 2016-05-01
Date last visited: 2016-05-01

Waterfall Latitude: 34.3537
Waterfall Longitude: -117.90459

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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, 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, 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.

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 my May 2016 visit.

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

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

Observations Around Buckhorn Falls

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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 Buckhorn Falls, I scrambled back downstream to return to the Burkhart Trail.

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

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.

However, 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.

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

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.

Thus, 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).

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

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_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

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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.

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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