Etiwanda Falls

North Etiwanda Preserve / Rancho Cucamonga, California, USA

About Etiwanda Falls


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

Date first visited: 2015-02-01
Date last visited: 2015-02-01

Waterfall Latitude: 34.18576
Waterfall Longitude: -117.52323

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Etiwanda Falls was one of those waterfalls that Julie and I had previously overlooked over the years even though it wasn’t far from places like Bonita Falls and San Antonio Falls.

However, we started to get tired of seeing the same local waterfalls over and over again (the California drought from 2012 to 2015 and counting didn’t help).

Etiwanda_Falls_137_02012015 - Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda Falls

Thus, it was about time that we finally resumed our search for local waterfalls we hadn’t done before; starting with this waterfall.

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

However, waterfall attributes aside, the one thing that struck me about this waterfall excursion was that it was pretty much situated in a desert.

Even though there were a lot of new housing developments in and around Rancho Cucamonga, which conspired to conceal or make this dry climate less obvious.

Etiwanda_Falls_051_02012015 - Looking back at the dusty and hazy basin of the Inland Empire from the Etiwanda Falls Trail
Looking back at the dusty and hazy basin of the Inland Empire from the Etiwanda Falls Trail

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!).

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 were probably around 50-70mph gusts.

N_Etiwanda_009_01242015 - Intense and gusty Santa Ana winds in late January 2015 adversely impacted our first attempt at hiking to Etiwanda Falls
Intense and gusty Santa Ana winds in late January 2015 adversely impacted our first attempt at hiking to Etiwanda Falls

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 these conditions, we aborted that attempt to hike to Etiwanda Falls.

Fortunately, our retry a week later took place without the strong winds.

However, 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.

Etiwanda_Falls_158_02012015 - Lots of people playing in the water further upstream from the Etiwanda Falls
Lots of people playing in the water further upstream from the Etiwanda Falls

So given this environment contrasted with an oasis-like canyon containing a waterfall, perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising that Etiwanda Falls was so popular.

In fact, I’d argue that it was more of a play waterfall where lots of people were playing in the cool water upstream of the main drops of the falls.

Plus, the hike to get to the falls contained some surprisingly impressive scenery.

So with the Etiwanda Falls, it was really more about the environment and the overall experience in addition to the diminutive falls itself.

Hiking to Etiwanda Falls

Etiwanda_Falls_013_02012015 - Starting on the hike to Etiwanda Falls through the trailhead at the North Etiwanda Preserve in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains
Starting on the hike to Etiwanda Falls through the trailhead at the North Etiwanda Preserve in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains

The hike began from the designated parking lot for the North Etiwanda Preserve (see directions below) next to some seemingly newly-built homes.

After finding a spot to park, we then headed directly north past a wide gate at the far northern end of the unpaved parking lot and fire road.

We then continued hiking on the somewhat rocky fire road going past a large water tank, then continuing to snake our way north within 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 exposed to the sun.

Etiwanda_Falls_296_02012015 - Approaching a lookout shelter with interpretive signs at the North Etiwanda Preserve
Approaching a lookout shelter with interpretive signs at the North Etiwanda Preserve

We also made sure to stay on the trail (very important when hiking with kids like we were) to minimize the threat of surprising a rattlesnake hiding in the desert shrubs flanking the wide trail.

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.

Etiwanda_Falls_073_02012015 - Deeper into the hike to Etiwanda Falls, the trail ascended into the undulating foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains
Deeper into the hike to Etiwanda Falls, the trail ascended into the undulating foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains

Moreover, the hike remained predominantly uphill, rocky, and unshaded to this point.

A short distance further, we proceeded to go straight at a four-way intersection, where we then passed another open gate.

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.

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.

Etiwanda_Falls_083_02012015 - Looking back at a vista of Rancho Cucamonga from a lookout spot where there was graffiti that said 'Frank's Rock'
Looking back at a vista of Rancho Cucamonga from a lookout spot where there was graffiti that said ‘Frank’s Rock’

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.

Anyways, after a brief climb on the main trail, it then started to curve left just as we reached some kind of water contraption.

Scramble to the lowermost of the Etiwanda Falls

There was a spur trail veering right (behind the water contraption), but that was an informal trail of use.

Etiwanda_Falls_085_02012015 - Some kind of water contraption where a steep scramble to the lowermost of the Etiwanda Falls started behind it
Some kind of water contraption where a steep scramble to the lowermost of the Etiwanda Falls started behind it

It ultimately led to the steep access of the base of the lowermost of the Etiwanda Falls.

There was also some kind of water gauge or door in the cliff at the end of this spur trail.

I wasn’t able to see much of the falls from this informal trail (though I could definitely hear it).

However, it appeared that I could’ve scrambled down to the base, where it was clear that there were many people who have done that before.

Etiwanda_Falls_174_02012015 - Context of the steep terrain looking downstream from the Etiwanda Falls
Context of the steep terrain looking downstream from the Etiwanda Falls

After all, I noticed graffiti that was all over the gorge below.

Perhaps in my younger days, I wouldn’t hesitate to go down, but being a dad now, I opted to play it safe.

Accessing the main section of Etiwanda Falls

Back on the main trail, it made one last short climb before bending to the right.

It was only at that point that the trail eventually started to disappear as it descended towards the stream responsible for Etiwanda Falls.

Etiwanda_Falls_087_02012015 - The family making a final uphill push to reach the Etiwanda Falls
The family making a final uphill push to reach the 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.

The picture you see at the top of this page was merely the uppermost drop, which was probably about 15-20ft tall at best.

Etiwanda_Falls_203_02012015 - The family checking out Etiwanda Falls from a distance
The family checking out Etiwanda Falls from a distance

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.

The aforementioned lowermost drop of Etiwanda Falls was definitely not safely visible nor accessible from this area.

When we had our fill of Etiwanda Falls, we got to look forward to the all-downhill hike on the way back to the trailhead.

Etiwanda_Falls_236_02012015 - The mostly downhill hike back to the Inland Empire basin after having had our fill of the Etiwanda Falls
The mostly downhill hike back to the Inland Empire basin after having had our fill of the Etiwanda Falls

An added benefit of the return hike was that the impressive vistas of the Inland Empire (smog haze and all) were pretty much consistently in front of us throughout the descent.

When we were 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 two hours in an unhurried pace.

Authorities

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.

N_Etiwanda_010_01242015 - On our first attempt at hiking to Etiwanda Falls, we checked out the area around the trailhead as we looked for signs telling us the way to proceed to the waterfall
N_Etiwanda_002_01242015 - Looking towards another gate and trail that appeared to follow the power pylons at the North Etiwanda Preserve. This trail did not go to the Etiwanda Falls
N_Etiwanda_011_01242015 - Gusty Santa Ana Winds made the hiking conditions a bit on the sketchy side so we ultimately turned back and aborted our first attempt at hiking to Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_001_02012015 - Back at the parking lot for the North Etiwanda Preserve as we made another go at hiking to Etiwanda Falls one week after the aborted attempt as the Santa Ana Winds had died down on this day
N_Etiwanda_013_01242015 - This was the first of a handful of gates that we had to get through to reach Etiwanda Falls. This one was at the north end of the parking lot
Etiwanda_Falls_298_02012015 - Shortly after crossing the first gate on the Etiwanda Falls hike, we noticed this water tank
Etiwanda_Falls_010_02012015 - The Etiwanda Falls Trail passed through mostly open fire road as it headed into the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains up ahead
Etiwanda_Falls_024_02012015 - The initial part of the Etiwanda Falls hike involved a lot of open exposure to the sun as the foothills still seemed pretty far away
Etiwanda_Falls_032_02012015 - The first notable detour on the Etiwanda Falls hike was this spur trail leading to a sheltered lookout with a view back towards Rancho Cucamonga. There were interpretive signs there (albeit they were laced with graffiti)
Etiwanda_Falls_272_02012015 - Closeup look at one of the quarter-mile posts seen along the Etiwanda Falls Trail, which helped us track our progress
Etiwanda_Falls_038_02012015 - As you can see, the hike to Etiwanda Falls continued to be quite exposed to the sun before even getting into the canyons in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains up ahead
Etiwanda_Falls_044_02012015 - As you can see from this photo, the hike to Etiwanda Falls was also both rocky and uphill
Etiwanda_Falls_049_02012015 - We used mile posts like this to track our progress as we still hiked the initial portion of the Etiwanda Falls Trail
Etiwanda_Falls_050_02012015 - Because the Etiwanda Falls Trail was so close to suburbia in the far northeast of the Greater Los Angeles area, there was also the shameful display of urban blight
Etiwanda_Falls_055_02012015 - A short distance after the half-mile post and just beyond a four-way intersection, we passed by the second gate, where the trail started to ascend noticeably more steeply on the way to Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_068_02012015 - This was Julie and Tahia approaching the yellow gate, which marked about the 1.25-mile point of the trail as well as the end of the most of the steep climbing on the way to Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_227_02012015 - Not long after the yellow gate, there was this spur path leading to a nice vista of the Inland Empire near some rock with graffiti indicating it was 'Frank's Rock'
Etiwanda_Falls_074_02012015 - This was the vista towards Rancho Cucamonga from the so-called 'Frank's Rock'
Etiwanda_Falls_078_02012015 - The family continuing to make their way beyond the lookout by 'Frank's Rock' and getting deeper into the canyon containing the Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_221_02012015 - The scrambling path leading closer to the lowermost of the Etiwanda Falls, which began behind some kind of water contraption
Etiwanda_Falls_222_02012015 - Continuing further along the scrambling trail behind the water contraption, the informal use trail that led to this steep descent to the base of the bottommost tier of Etiwanda Falls became more overgrown. It looked doable, but I opted not to go down there
Etiwanda_Falls_086_02012015 - The family makes one last bend in the Etiwanda Falls Trail before the final ascent to the waterfall itself
Etiwanda_Falls_090_02012015 - Our first partial look at the Etiwanda Falls as we were finally starting to approach its top
Etiwanda_Falls_125_02012015 - Frontal view of the uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_144_02012015 - This photo shows the upper two tiers of Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_149_02012015 - Contextual view of the upper drop of Etiwanda Falls with some bare trees standing above it
Etiwanda_Falls_156_02012015 - Another look down at the upper two tiers of the Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_168_02012015 - Context of Julie checking out the Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_172_02012015 - Looking downstream from the top of Etiwanda Falls
Etiwanda_Falls_224_02012015 - After having our fill of Etiwanda Falls, it was time to make the downhill hike back to the trailhead at the North Etiwanda Preserve parking lot
Etiwanda_Falls_232_02012015 - Context of the Etiwanda Falls Trail as we were headed back to the trailhead
Etiwanda_Falls_250_02012015 - Back out of the canyon and descending towards the North Etiwanda Preserve Trailhead with Rancho Cucamonga and the Inland Empire in the background
Etiwanda_Falls_251_02012015 - Continuing our descent to the Etiwanda Falls Trailhead as the trail gets a little steeper on the return
Etiwanda_Falls_263_02012015 - Approaching the water tank and the housing developments meaning that we were almost done with the Etiwanda Falls hike
Etiwanda_Falls_267_02012015 - This is the view east in the direction of Big Bear (I'd imagine) and the last vestige of south-facing snow as we were near the end of our Etiwanda Falls hike
Etiwanda_Falls_271_02012015 - Making a quick detour to the lookout shelter on the way down to the bottom of the Etiwanda Falls hike
Etiwanda_Falls_298_02012015 - Almost back at the trailhead at the North Etiwanda Preserve thereby ending our Etiwanda Falls hike
Etiwanda_Falls_300_02012015 - Finally back at the parking lot for Etiwanda Falls

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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).

N_Etiwanda_004_01242015 - Entering the North Etiwanda Preserve parking lot
Entering the North Etiwanda Preserve parking lot

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_Falls_005_02012015 - Looking back at the parking lot for the North Etiwanda Preserve and trailhead for Etiwanda Falls with new housing developments just to the right side of this picture
Looking back at the parking lot for the North Etiwanda Preserve and trailhead for Etiwanda Falls with new housing developments just to the right side of this picture

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).

Left to right sweep starting from upstream then continuing to follow the stream past the falls from its top


Side to side sweep showing the front of the uppermost tier of Etiwanda Falls before revealing part of the next tier further downstream

Tagged with: north etiwanda, etiwanda, rancho cucamonga, san bernardino, california, southern california, waterfall, los angeles, inland empire



Visitor Comments:

Some more info about San Bernardino Mountains February 12, 2016 1:24 am by Jay - Not a big deal by any means but the picture on your site that shows the snow-covered San Bernardino Mountains with the caption "This is the view east in the direction of Big Bear (I'd imagine) and the last vestige of south-facing snow," captures San Bernardino Peak (left) and San Gorgonio Mountain (right). San Gorgonio… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Etiwanda Falls Should Be a Solid 2 On the Ratings Scale March 21, 2016 6:29 pm by Jason Ethridge - My wife and I visited Etiwanda Falls on the first day of spring and we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the canyon (once you get up into it). We braved the descent to the (almost) bottom of the falls (she's a trooper). It is a strenuous scramble, but from here you get a… ...Read More
That waterfall is just the beginning… July 31, 2015 4:30 pm by Justin Williams - I have explored Etiwanda Canyon and Day Creek Canyon quite a bit and there are other water falls further up the canyons that most people never see. The ones to the left are most accessible and a short distance. Several of these have graffiti all over them. But if you follow the canyon up to… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of 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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