Cooper Canyon Falls

Angeles National Forest / Buckhorn Campground, California, USA

About Cooper Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: 4 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2-3 hours

Date first visited: 2003-03-23
Date last visited: 2016-05-01

Waterfall Latitude: 34.36108
Waterfall Longitude: -117.9023

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Cooper Canyon Falls was a waterfall that was quite close to the LA Basin as the crow flies, but it was actually one of the more distant ones we’ve visited.

Getting there involved a fairly long drive on the twisty Angeles Crest Highway (see directions below).

Cooper_Canyon_13_059_03172013 - Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper Canyon Falls

However, the apparent distance also meant that we were in scenery that seemed more like something we might have expected in the Sierras than our local mountains.

Indeed, we saw lots of giant pine trees that reminded us very much of sequoias, and just being around this waterfall in such settings seemed appropriate for a more wild place like this.

As for the waterfall itself, it was said to be around 40-50ft high, and each time we’ve been here in the mid- to late Spring, it had a pretty healthy flow as long as there was a fair amount of snow accumulation during the Winter months.

Speaking of which, this was one of the first waterfalls that Julie and I had visited during our early years of waterfalling (we made our first visit here in 2003).

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_004_03232003 - Cooper Canyon Falls when we first saw it back in March 2003
Cooper Canyon Falls when we first saw it back in March 2003

However, for one reason or another (fires, logistics, priorities, etc.), we weren’t able to re-visit it again until nearly 10 years after that maiden visit.

We also made a subsequent visit with our daughter, who managed some of the more riskier parts of the hike, which we’ll get to later in this write-up.

Speaking of the hike, we were looking at a distance of about 3.2 miles round trip, which would typically take us about 2 hours.

However, if the gate to the Buckhorn Campground is closed, then that would increase the hiking distance to about 5 miles round trip, and it would take us about 3 hours.

Cooper_Canyon_13_008_03172013 - We had to walk to the Buckhorn Campground whenever this gate was closed in order to pursue the Cooper Canyon Falls early in the season
We had to walk to the Buckhorn Campground whenever this gate was closed in order to pursue the Cooper Canyon Falls early in the season

The difficulty rating at the top of this page reflected the shorter hike.

Hiking to Cooper Canyon Falls – Hiking to the Buckhorn Campground

On our first few visits to Cooper Canyon Falls, we actually had to hike from the Angeles Crest Highway to the Burkhart Trailhead (the main trail to the waterfall) since the gate to the Buckhorn Campground would typically be closed.

So this added about a mile in each direction to our overall hiking distance.

It was an upside down hike so we had to go downhill on the way there, which meant we had to go uphill on the way back.

Cooper_Canyon_13_014_03172013 - Julie entering the Buckhorn Campground, which was quite empty and serene when we showed up early in the season to pursue Cooper Canyon Falls
Julie entering the Buckhorn Campground, which was quite empty and serene when we showed up early in the season to pursue Cooper Canyon Falls

The flip side to the extra hiking was that the hiking experience was much quieter.

Indeed, the road to the campground as well as the campground itself was quiet, and the road continuing to the Burkhart Trailhead was already flanked by scenic redwood-like giant pine trees.

I guess since this area was said to be around 5,000-6,000 feet in elevation (which was similar to the elevation where Sequoia trees were present in the Central Sierras), perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising.

It was only on our most recent visit in 2016 did that gate finally open for vehicular traffic so that helped to reduce the overall hike.

Cooper_Canyon_13_017_03172013 - Julie walking beneath redwood-like trees between the Buckhorn Campground and the Day Use Parking Area
Julie walking beneath redwood-like trees between the Buckhorn Campground and the Day Use Parking Area

Under those circumstances, we were able to drive right up to the day use parking area for the Burkhart Trail, and we’ll begin the next section of the trail description from there.

Hiking to Cooper Canyon Falls – Beyond the Day Use Parking Area

Beyond the day use parking area, we were on a dirt trail that gradually descended as it skirted Buckhorn Creek.

The canyon containing the creek deepened quickly as the stream passed over some smaller waterfalls that appeared to be accessible by off-trail scrambles.

The further we went on the Burkhart Trail, the even more deeper the canyon became.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_037_05012016 - Julie and Tahia on the Burkhart Trail, where it was particularly scenic
Julie and Tahia on the Burkhart Trail, where it was particularly scenic

As the Burkhart Trail went from shady groves of tall trees to exposed rocky cliff traverses, we’d eventually get to a part where the scenery really started to open up as the trail bent to our left.

It was around this point that the Buckhorn Creek disappeared quickly into the nearly vertical canyon below.

Since we could hear loud sounds of water crashing here, we suspected that this was where the elusive Buckhorn Falls could very well be.

Of course, we couldn’t conclusively find out from the trail since the canyon was way too vertical to even entertain the thought of cliff scrambling down to Buckhorn Creek.

Cooper_Canyon_13_033_03172013 - Checking out the scenery along the Burkhart Trail en route to the Cooper Canyon Falls
Checking out the scenery along the Burkhart Trail en route to the Cooper Canyon Falls

Next, the trail skirted along mostly rocky cliffs as the elevation loss deepened a bit more than before.

The elevation loss was probably the greatest when we reached a switchback as the trail then skirted a different creek to our left.

Towards the bottom of the descent, the Burkhart Trail crossed Buckhorn Creek (at roughly 1.2 miles from the day use parking area).

This was the lone creek crossing on the trail.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_056_05012016 - Julie and Tahia crossing Buckhorn Creek
Julie and Tahia crossing Buckhorn Creek

This creek was also the starting point for the off-trail stream scramble up to Buckhorn Falls, which is described on a different page.

Shortly beyond the crossing of Buckhorn Creek, the Burkhart briefly climbed before descending once again towards the famous Pacific Crest Trail.

Keeping right at the trail junction (to continue following the creek downstream), we’d eventually reach the top of Cooper Canyon Falls after a few minutes.

We proceeded a short distance further as we were then faced with a steep gully to our left fronted by a section of reinforced trail.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_065_05012016 - Julie and Tahia hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail on the way to the top of the Cooper Canyon Falls
Julie and Tahia hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail on the way to the top of the Cooper Canyon Falls

Although we’ve made the mistake of scrambling down the first gully we’ve seen (which was quite steep), there was a more tame trail of use to the left just a short distance further along the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Steep Descent to the Base of Cooper Canyon Falls

Taking the tamer trail, the path then descended towards that first gully before reaching an even steeper section that had a rope to hold onto to facilitate the rather tricky (and often wet and muddy) last section of the descent.

While the rope was helpful, it was a quite slimy and dirty where it was wet at the bottom of the scramble.

The trick here was to descend with our backs turned to the dropoff so it would be like rapelling down the short cliff.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_074_05012016 - Julie and Tahia descending this steep section to the base of Cooper Canyon Falls using the rope as an aid
Julie and Tahia descending this steep section to the base of Cooper Canyon Falls using the rope as an aid

Note that each time Julie and I have done this hike, at least one rope was present, but I could easily envision this wouldn’t always be the case.

Without the rope, the descent would still be doable, but it would involve a bit more risk of falling.

That said, we were really cognizant of the risk that an aged rope could also pose for if the rope snapped here, a fall and tumble could lead to pretty serious injuries.

Anyways, once we made it to the bottom, we were finally at the bottom of Cooper Canyon Falls.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_076_05012016 - Cooper Canyon Falls not doing nearly as well in our May 2016 visit as in our prior visits though it seemed to get worse with each passing year
Cooper Canyon Falls not doing nearly as well in our May 2016 visit as in our prior visits though it seemed to get worse with each passing year

Depending on the flow of its creek, we’d often have to cross the creek in order to get a more direct look at the waterfall.

However, each time we’ve been here, it was around midday or early afternoon.

And unfortunately, that was also when we were looking somewhat against the sun while the harsh shadows could make taking photos quite a challenge.

So unless the skies were overcast or enough clouds were around to block the sun, photographing the falls was a bit under non-ideal conditions.

Cooper_Canyon_13_088_03172013 - This was what Cooper Canyon Falls looked like during our March 2013 visit
This was what Cooper Canyon Falls looked like during our March 2013 visit

Despite the long drive and the bit of adventure to reach this spot, we’ve found Cooper Canyon Falls to be quite popular.

While it was by no means as busy as say Switzer Falls, it was definitely not a place to find solitude.

Nevertheless, when we were done visiting the waterfall, we still had at least 1.5 miles of uphill hiking at altitude.

This was where it could be a bit taxing (especially if altitude sickness would start to set in) so my advice would be to take your time and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_158_05012016 - Julie and Tahia climbing back up to the Pacific Crest Trail after having had our fill of Cooper Canyon Falls
Julie and Tahia climbing back up to the Pacific Crest Trail after having had our fill of Cooper Canyon Falls

All in all, the round-trip hiking distance from the day use parking area to Cooper Canyon Falls and back was around 3.2 miles according to my GPS logs.

This took us around 2 hours round trip.

Authorities

Cooper Canyon 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_001_05012016 - Looking back at the spur road leading from the Buckhorn Campground to the Cooper Canyon Falls Day Use Trailhead during our May 2016 visit. This photo and the next several shots came on this day
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_010_05012016 - Tahia starting on the hike to the Cooper Canyon Falls with the head start from the Day Use Trailhead
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_013_05012016 - Tahia Continuing on the Burkhart Trail to the Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_017_05012016 - Julie and Tahia early on in the trail leading down to the Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_021_05012016 - Julie and Tahia entering a shaded forested area as the Cooper Canyon Falls Trail was towered over by tall pine trees
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_024_05012016 - The Burkhart Trail hugged some slopes in the early part of the hike to Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_025_05012016 - Julie and Tahia passing by some interesting rock formations alongside the trail to the Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_026_05012016 - The further that we went on the Burkhart Trail en route to Cooper Canyon Falls, the more the slopes became more like dropoffs and ledges
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_028_05012016 - Julie and Tahia continuing further along the Burkhart Trail with hinted at scenery around the next bend
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_033_05012016 - We noticed some attractive wildflowers seen along the way to the Cooper Canyon Falls from the Burkhart Trail during our May 2016 hike
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_044_05012016 - Julie and Tahia now on the switchbacking part of the Cooper Canyon Falls hike as the Burkhart Trail made its way down to join up with the Pacific Crest Trail
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_047_05012016 - Julie and Tahia continuing down the Burkhart Trail towards the Pacific Crest Trail as made our way to the Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_048_05012016 - Julie going past some sloping boulder field on the descent to the Pacific Crest Trail en route to the Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_049_05012016 - After the switchback near the bottom of the descent, the Burkhart Trail followed alongside another creek that was not Buckhorn Creek
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_060_05012016 - Beyond the Buckhorn Creek crossing, Julie and Tahia headed closer to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail as seen during our May 2016 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_062_05012016 - Julie and Tahia at the trail junction between the Burkhart Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Cooper Canyon Falls was only a couple of minutes to the right from this spot
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_066_05012016 - Julie and Tahia on the Pacific Crest Trail where the dropoff to our left was where Cooper Canyon Falls was
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_068_05012016 - Looking down over the top of the Cooper Canyon Falls from the Pacific Crest Trail in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_070_05012016 - On one of our most recent visits in May 2016 where we brought our daughter, we forgot about the easier use-trail to descend into the steep gully and took this even steeper trail-of-use instead to get to the bottom of Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_073_05012016 - Julie and Tahia carefully negotiating the steep scramble to the bottom of Cooper Canyon Falls in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_089_05012016 - Context of someone chilling out before the plunge pool at Cooper Canyon Falls as seen in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_153_05012016 - Tahia checking out the Cooper Canyon Falls in low flow in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_103_05012016 - Context of some other people checking out the Cooper Canyon Falls at its bottom during our May 2016 visit
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_115_05012016 - Just to give you a sense of scale of the Cooper Canyon Falls, this woman scrambled a bit closer so you can compare
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_137_05012016 - Once we got to the bottom, we were able to look back at other people making the steep scramble down to the base of Cooper Canyon Falls in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_147_05012016 - Julie and Tahia enjoying a well-earned picnic at the base of Cooper Canyon Falls in fairly low flow in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_149_05012016 - Another look at the mother and daughter combo checking out the Cooper Canyon Falls in May 2016
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_161_05012016 - Julie and Tahia heading back up to the Pacific Crest Trail after having had their fill of the Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_162_05012016 - Julie and Tahia back on the Pacific Crest Trail after having scrambled back up from the base of Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_13_007_03172013 - The next series of photos came from our March 2013 visit to Cooper Canyon Falls. Here's Julie walking along the Angeles Crest Highway towards the Buckhorn Campground turnoff after we parked our car at one of the pullouts just east of the turnoff
Cooper_Canyon_13_015_03172013 - Tall trees flanking the paved road towards the Burkhart Trailhead after walking past the Buckhorn Campground
Cooper_Canyon_13_018_03172013 - Julie walking to the end of the road and the start of the Burkhart Trail
Cooper_Canyon_13_023_03172013 - The Cooper Canyon Falls Trail continued to descend with trees partially obstructing otherwise expansive views of the surrounding mountains
Cooper_Canyon_13_025_03172013 - The Burkhart Trail passing by more redwood-like trees on the way down to Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_13_027_03172013 - Julie walking besides some rock formations alongside the Burkhart Trail en route to Cooper Canyon Falls in March 2013
Cooper_Canyon_13_029_03172013 - Julie approaching a bend in the Burkhart Trail with some nice scenery of the surrounding mountains in the Angeles National Forest
Cooper_Canyon_13_035_03172013 - When the Burkhart Trail curved to the left, we traversed a shadier section where there were still snow patches besides the trail during our March 2013 visit
Cooper_Canyon_13_038_03172013 - Julie traversing the lone creek crossing at the bottom of the descent. It turned out that this creek was Buckhorn Creek.
Cooper_Canyon_13_041_03172013 - Julie entering the steep gully beneath the reinforced section of trail as it was about to join the Pacific Crest Trail
Cooper_Canyon_13_047_03172013 - Julie using the rope to slowly make her way down the steepest part of the descent to the bottom of Cooper Canyon Falls
Cooper_Canyon_13_057_03172013 - Finally making it down to the base of the Cooper Canyon Falls as of March 2013
Cooper_Canyon_13_065_03172013 - A Boy Scout troop that was going up the steep section just as we had arrived
Cooper_Canyon_13_084_03172013 - Julie checking out Cooper Canyon Falls from the bottom
Cooper_Canyon_13_089_03172013 - Julie making her way back up from the bottom of Cooper Canyon Falls after our March 2013 visit
Cooper_Canyon_13_090_03172013 - Julie keeping left at this trail junction to leave the Pacific Crest Trail and return to the Cooper Canyon Falls trailhead via the Burkhart Trail
Cooper_Canyon_13_091_03172013 - Julie following a backpacker who also appeared to be making his way back to the Burkhart Trailhead
Cooper_Canyon_13_092_03172013 - On the way back towards the Buckhorn Campground during our March 2013 visit, Julie noticed this waterfall that was labeled 'Falls' on our Topo. I wondered if it might have been the mysterious Buckhorn Falls
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_003_03232003 - The last few photos came from our first visit to the Cooper Canyon Falls back in March 2003. This was how it looked when we finally made it to the base of Cooper Canyon Falls back then
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_013_03232003 - When I tried to get close to the Cooper Canyon Falls, I had to contend with lots of spray at its base during our March 2003 visit. It definitely seemed like the falls had better flow on our first visit than in any other time we've visited since
Cooper_Canyon_Falls_018_03232003 - Angled view of Cooper Canyon Falls through foliage as we made the descent to its base in March 2003. This was probably the limited view you'd get if you didn't gecide to finish the descent

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To get to the Cooper Canyon Falls trailhead, we had to drive on the Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) from La Canada-Flintridge just a few minutes north along the I-210 from Pasadena (itself minutes north of downtown Los Angeles).

From the Hwy 2 exit on the 210 freeway, we had to drive about 35 miles on the twisty Angeles Crest Highway.

Given the twisty nature of the road (and that it’s shared by motorbikers and mountain bikers alike), there was a lot of turning and swerving, which easily could cause car sickness for passengers (especially those seated in the rear).

Failed_Cooper_Canyon_015_03022013 - Looking back towards the Los Angeles Basin from the Angeles Crest Highway 2 en route to Cooper Canyon Falls
Looking back towards the Los Angeles Basin from the Angeles Crest Highway 2 en route to Cooper Canyon Falls

Moreover, since you are eventually going to climb up to 5000-6000ft on the drive, it’s a good idea to check the road conditions by consulting the Caltrans website (enter “2” in the query for Highway number).

After nearly an hour on the Hwy 2 (depending on how well you handle the curves and how much you’re caught behind slower drivers refusing to use the pullouts), we passed by the turnoff for Mt Wilson as well as a remote cafe and bikers hangout called Newcomb’s.

Shortly after we passed the Mt Waterman Ski Area (there’s a large pullout and chair lift besides the Angeles Crest Highway), that was when we were on the lookout for the easy-to-miss Buckhorn Campground turnoff to our left.

Roughly 1.5 miles beyond the Mt Waterman Ski Lift, there was a narrow (but still paved) road descending right down to the Buckhorn Campground complex.

Cooper_Canyon_Falls_004_05012016 - At the Cooper Canyon Falls and Burkhart Trail Day Use Trailhead, which was at the end of a spur from within the Buckhorn Campground
At the Cooper Canyon Falls and Burkhart Trail Day Use Trailhead, which was at the end of a spur from within the Buckhorn Campground

If the gate is open, then we were able to drive down into the Buckhorn Campground complex and follow the signs for the Burkhart Trail.

There was one spur road going over a concrete ford (I believe it was between campsites 26-28), which ultimately ended at the Burkhart Trailhead Day Use Parking Area, which was really more like a large cul-de-sac.

Since we were in National Forest land, we were supposed to display a valid Forest Service Adventure Pass.

Now if the gate to Buckhorn Campground is not open, then we’d find parking at a pullout a short distance to the east of the Buckhorn Campground entrance along Hwy 2.

Cooper_Canyon_13_094_03172013 - Looking back towards the pullout and overflow parking along the Angeles Crest Highway outside of the Buckhorn Campground
Looking back towards the pullout and overflow parking along the Angeles Crest Highway outside of the Buckhorn Campground

There was also overflow day use parking to the west of the campground turnoff as well.

In either case, we’d then have to walk along the road leading to the Buckhorn Campground, and then to the official trailhead, and eventually the rest of the way to the falls.

The extra walk between Hwy 2 and the official Burkhart Trailhead added roughly 0.9 miles or so in each direction.

360 degree sweep from in front of the falls while also showing some folks making the steep climb back out

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Tagged with: angeles crest, waterman, la canada, flintridge, angeles national forest, buckhorn, burkhart trail, los angeles, southern california, california, waterfall, wilson, clear creek station



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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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