About Etiwanda Falls
However, we started to get tired of seeing the same local waterfalls over and over again, especially in light of the increased frequency of droughts in California due to Climate Change.
Thus, it was about time that we finally resumed our search for local waterfalls we hadn’t done before, and that was when we pursued visiting this waterfall for the first time in early 2015.
Etiwanda Falls was actually a series of three drops with a cumulative height of about 50ft or so.
Each drop was probably 15ft, 10ft, and 25ft, respectively, from what I could tell though it was really the upper two drops that were the most visible of the lot.
However, waterfall attributes aside, the one thing that struck me about this waterfall excursion was that it was pretty much situated in a desert environment.
We noticed that there were a lot of new housing developments in and around Rancho Cucamonga (including around the trailhead for the falls), which conspired to conceal or make this desert environment a little less obvious.
Indeed, it was pretty clear that this area tended to see more heat waves and gusty Santa Ana winds than rainy days.
So it was one of those places that I would’ve least expected to encounter a waterfall (and a real popular one at that!).
Nevertheless, while the dimensions of this waterfall didn’t knock our socks off, I felt the real appeal of doing this hike had to do with more of the sights along the way.
Indeed, we enjoyed the sweeping views of the Riverside basin (smog haze notwithstanding) as well as the foothills fronting the San Bernardino Mountains.
Contrast Between Desert and Oasis
Further reinforcing the fact that we were indeed in the high deserts, we experienced an example of its extremes on our first visit in late January 2015.
That was when we were blasted with very strong Santa Ana winds that probably had gusts of around 50-70mph.
Such winds easily knocked down trees, made flying pebbles sting as they were kicked up and flung towards us, and made it hard for us to stand up straight.
Under such conditions, we aborted that first attempt to hike to Etiwanda Falls for fears that the power lines nearby might get knocked over.
Fortunately, our retry of this excursion a week later took place without the strong winds, and we also did this hike again 6 years later under some benign conditions preceding another wave of Santa Anas!
In any case, we were then exposed to the arid conditions while being beat down by temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s with little shade throughout the hike.
I can’t imagine how unbearable the hike would be later in the year when the temperatures could easily soar in the 90s or 100s.
So given how this environment contrasted with an oasis-like canyon containing a waterfall, perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that Etiwanda Falls was very popular.
In fact, I’d argue that it was more of a play waterfall where lots of people were playing in the cool water convergence of a side unnamed creek and East Etiwanda Creek just upstream of the falls itself.
As a result of this apparent paradox of a waterfall in a desert environment, seeing Etiwanda Falls perform meant timing a visit for the melting of snow accumulated in the San Bernardino Mountains.
If we’ve had a low precipitation Winter, then the waterfall may flow best in late January through February or March, but if we’ve had a heavy snowfall year, then I can foresee this waterfall flowing well into the brutally hot Summers here.
Hiking to Etiwanda Falls
The hike began from the designated parking lot for the North Etiwanda Preserve (see directions below) next to some seemingly newly-built homes.
From there, we then walked directly north past a wide gate at the far northern end of the unpaved parking lot and fire road (called Decliff Drive on Google Maps) running parallel with the power lines.
We then continued hiking on the somewhat rocky but slightly uphill Etiwanda Trail, which also seemed to be more like a fire road as it went past a large water tank, then continued to snake before some impressive foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
The impressive scenery helped to keep our minds off the hot and sweaty uphill nature of the hike as it was pretty much all unshaded and exposed to the sun.
We also made sure to stay on the main trail (very important when hiking with kids like we were) to minimize the threat of surprising a rattlesnake hiding in the thick desert shrubs on either side of its path.
A little before the quarter-mile post (elevation 2153ft), there was a turnoff on the left leading to a shelter that contained a bunch of interpretive signs (though most of them were defiled with graffiti).
We reached the next post at a half-mile (elevation 2247ft) from the trailhead after about 30-40 minutes into the hike.
I’m sure we could’ve gone faster than this, but the pace tended to be slower when hiking with kids, especially given the persistent elevation gain.
At about 0.6-mile from the trailhead, we then proceeded past a small signed pillar fronting an open gate just beyond an apparent four-way intersection.
And at that point, the trail narrowed a bit more while the slope of the ascent became noticeably steeper.
After another half-hour from the gate (or an hour from the trailhead), we then reached a yellow gate towards the top of this somewhat steeper ascending part of the trail.
The, the climb somewhat flattened out at this point, and I was able to peer over my shoulder for glimpses of the impressive views of the basin.
Less than five minutes after the yellow gate, there was a short spur trail leading to a vista point to better enjoy the views of the Inland Empire.
This spot had a rock with graffiti that said “Frank’s Rock” though I doubted whether that was really the official name or not (I didn’t see the same graffiti the next time I came here 6 years after my first visit).
Anyways, after a brief climb on the main trail, it then started to curve left just as we reached some kind of water contraption or weir.
Accessing the main section of Etiwanda Falls
Beyond the weir, the main trail veered to the left away from the contraption before bending back to the right as it made one last short climb to the end of the official Etiwanda Falls Trail.
Indeed, it was only at that point that the trail eventually started to disappear as it descended towards the East Etiwanda Creek, the stream responsible for Etiwanda Falls.
There were several scrambling paths leading to more frontal views of the uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls (see photo at the top of this page).
But for all intents and purposes, the official trail pretty much led us to the brink of Etiwanda Falls.
The dozens of folks who had made it here were pretty much playing in the stream above the falls as the canyon here was wider and more spread out (likely due to the convergence of East Etiwanda Creek with another side stream its west).
In any case, the picture you see at the top of this page was merely the uppermost drop of Etiwanda Falls, which was probably about 15-20ft tall at best.
It was definitely the most accessible of the tiers of Etiwanda Falls as it was a short and a relatively simple scramble (just be careful) to get to that frontal view.
There was then a shorter drop a short distance downstream, but that one was harder to appreciate given how steep and precarious the viewing spots were.
In addition to the upper tiers of Etiwanda Falls, there was also a lowermost drop of Etiwanda Falls, which was definitely not safely visible nor accessible from this immediate area.
So when we had our fill of Etiwanda Falls and the nice convergence of streams further upstream of the main falls, we got to look forward to the all-downhill hike on the way back to the trailhead.
An added benefit of the return hike was that the impressive vistas of the Inland Empire (smog haze and all), which was pretty much consistently in front of us throughout the descent.
When we finally made it back at the trailhead, we had logged about 3 miles round trip, and we had spent roughly three hours away from the car.
Again, because we were hiking with a bigger party that included three kids, we took our time so conceivably, this entire hike could be done in around 2 hours at an unhurried pace.
Finally, there’s one caveat regarding the hiking distances and times mentioned on this page.
That caveat is that the the parking situation here can get intense, especially on the weekends, which I’ll get more into in the directions below.
Just realize that even though the Etiwanda Falls hike can be finished in 2-3 hours, the parking situation could make it such that we’d have to allocate at least 4-5 hours.
Unsanctioned Scramble to the lowermost of the Etiwanda Falls
Behind the water contraption or weir further down from the main Etiwanda Falls was a spur trail veering right, which looked to be an informal trail of use.
During our 2015 visit, there was no signage prohibiting pursuing these use trails, but on our 2021 visit, there were a handful of signs proclaiming that they were not public access trails urging people to keep out.
Anyways, at the end of this use-trail was also some kind of water gauge or manhole-sized door in the cliff, which pretty much cut off any further progress.
While I could hear the sounds of falling water from the Lower Etiwanda Falls nearby, I wasn’t able to see much of it due to the presence of overgrowth or lots of trees around the falls.
It took some time figuring it out, but I eventually found a spot near the start of the reinforced part of the ledge where it seemed reasonable to scramble down to the base of this elusive waterfall for a cleaner look at it.
While it maybe rather steep and full of risk to make it down to the base of the Lower Etiwanda Falls, I noticed a lot of graffiti that was all over the gorge below so people do indeed make it down here from time to time.
One thing I noticed regarding the size of the Lower Etiwanda Falls as compared to main Etiwanda Falls was that the lower waterfall’s width had considerably less volume than the main waterfall further upstream.
I suspect the reason for this is that the vertical manhole at the end of the reinforced ledge path might conceal some diversion infrastructure robbing the lower waterfall of some of East Etiwanda Creek’s flow.
Anyways, overall, this side detour took me on the order to 20 minutes or so, but now that I understood where to go, this side excursion could take even less time than what I’ve quoted here.
Etiwanda Falls resides in the North Etiwanda Preserve in Rancho Cucamonga in San Bernardino County, California. It is administered by the San Bernardino County Special Districts Department. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
The key to reaching Etiwanda Falls was to drive out to the I-210/I-15 junction near Rancho Cucamonga.
From the Los Angeles basin, there were many ways to get there (e.g. going east on the I-210 or the I-10).
We’ll describe it in terms of going east from the junction of the 57 and 60 Freeways.
We pretty much continued east on the 60 then went north on the I-15 until we reached the Base Line exit (just south of the I-210/I-15 junction).
We turned left onto Base Line, then followed it for a couple of lights until we turned right onto Etiwanda Ave.
Going north on Etiwanda Ave, the road then veered left onto Wilson Ave (to avoid private property) before we turned right to get back onto Etiwanda Ave.
Etiwanda Ave passed through a housing development before ending at an unpaved parking lot at the well-signed North Etiwanda Preserve.
Overall, the drive from the merging of the 60 and 57 Freeways to the trailhead took us about 45 minutes.
Without traffic the 60/57 junction was probably about 30-45 minutes east of downtown Los Angeles (for a grand total of about 90 minutes of driving between downtown LA and the trailhead).
The Parking Situation At Etiwanda Falls
Something that we personally experienced on our second successful visit to Etiwanda Falls (which happened in late February 2021) was the deteriorating parking situation.
The issue is that the only legal parking area for the North Etiwanda Preserve was the sanctioned gated and unpaved parking lot mentioned above.
However, there’s a lot of open spaces outside the reserve, which people would take advantage of when the preserve’s parking lot would be full.
Given the increasing popularity of Etiwanda Falls (as well as all waterfalls throughout Southern California) over the years, the limited parking at the lot became highly competitive.
This was because Rancho Cucamonga police started issuing citations for parked vehicles outside the reserve, which we personally witnessed in action during that visit.
Despite all the open spaces on the east side of Etiwanda Avenue, the city set up barricades in the immediate area south of the North Etiwanda Preserve’s gated lot, and police appear to be on active patrol.
I was a bit curious as to why the city has chosen to taken this stance on making the preserve an unwelcome place, especially in light of the COVID19 pandemic when more people are looking for places to reconnect with Nature given the closure of indoor spots.
And while I may be off in this guess, I suspect that those open spaces may be owned by the Water District or they may be going to the highest bidder for more lucrative housing developments (given how many more new homes were built in the area in recent years).
Perhaps a better and more transparent solution would have been to charge for visitation (like what they do at Monrovia Canyon Falls), which would subsidize any maintenance work, enforcement staff, and indirectly manage crowds, litter, and urban blight.
But who knows what factored into the current way of doing things, especially when money talks?
What Are The Alternatives To The North Etiwanda Preserve Parking Lot?
One of the Rancho Cucamonga police officers told me that the nearest sanctioned parking area would be at the Day Creek Park on the corner of Banyan Street and Day Creek Road, which was about 2.1 miles in each direction from the trailhead.
Similarly, there’s the Etiwanda Creek Park on East Ave north of its intersection with Banyan Street, and this was about 2.5 miles in each direction from the trailhead.
Furthermore, the officer also told me that there used to be street parking in the residential streets around the North Etiwanda Preserve before “it was ruined”.
Now street parking in those neighborhoods are by permit only, but he did say that if you’re willing to go far enough from the trailhead, you might find streets that don’t require permits (though I’m sure this is a fluid situation).
For the record, I wound up parking about a mile from the Etiwanda Falls Trailhead (this is reflected in the updated difficulty score).
That said, it definitely took a lot of careful studying of the street signs to ensure I wasn’t giving the city any excuse to collect a fine from me.
Finally, I did observe that people still would rather eat the parking fines as the logistical troubles resulting from the limiting of legal parking spots might have been worth paying the amount instead of bending over backwards to avoid it in their minds.
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