About Millard Falls
Millard Falls was a local waterfall that really felt like one of the more family-friendly adventures when it came to waterfalling in the Southland.
Not only was the hiking short and the terrain more-or-less flat, but it also helped that the falls had nice dimensions to it (said to be about 60ft tall).
Moreover, the waterfall’s distinguishing feature was the boulders wedged at its brink, which actually split the falling water into more-or-less of a contorted Y shape.
Aside from the waterfall, the canyon scenery encompassing the falls was scenic in its own right.
We were literally surrounded by impressively tall mountains with nearly vertical rock walls enclosing the canyon around us.
This provided that rugged beauty that you can only find in Nature when it’s relatively untouched and unspoiled by people.
That said, the waterfall does sit within the rugged Millard Canyon which has seen its share of wildfires and the resultant landslides (especially with Global Warming exacerbating such conditions).
So accessing the Millard Falls can be a hit-and-miss affair as we once went 13 years between visits from closures due to public safety.
Millard Falls Timing
In addition to the public safety closures, Millard Creek required a certain degree of timing since its stream was considered to be intermittent according to our Topo maps from both National Geographic and Garmin.
In general, in order to see Millard Falls perform, we’d have to first ensure that we’ve had a wet Winter, or at least a storm or two prior to a visit.
Just to give you an idea of the varying degrees of flow, we have photos of the waterfall fairly low flow from May 2001, late December 2002, and January 2016.
However, we’ve also seen a crazy amount of water in Millard Falls in May 2017, which was an unusually wet year.
So you really have to pay attention to the weather and the rainfall totals.
Then, when the rains have cleared and the trail is open, you don’t want to wait too long thereafter or else risk witnessing Millard Creek return to a more low-flow state or even just trickle or go dry.
Experiencing Millard Falls
I’ve managed to experience Millard Falls in a couple of different ways.
The most obvious way would be to do a short 1.2-mile round-trip hike from its trailhead to its base.
This hike took us about 25-30 minutes in each direction (or about an hour round-trip) at a very leisurely pace.
Since it was the most obvious manner to visit the waterfall, it was also the most crowded and popular option (so don’t expect solitude for long stretches of time), especially since there’s a campground next to the trailhead.
That said, it also popular because almost everything about the excursion seemed to be relatively family-friendly as there was hardly any elevation change and the paths were pretty well-defined.
A less obvious way to access Millard Falls would be to do part of the Mt Lowe Road to the Sunset Trail, which provided an elevated view of Millard Falls as well as going to its top and beyond.
This trail took me about 40 minutes round-trip to do, but that also included a lot of pausing to check out the Mt Lowe Railway signs, the views of the Los Angeles Basin, and the unusual views of the waterfall itself.
Because I only pursued this option when the trail to the base of Millard Falls was closed, I’d imagine that it doesn’t get nearly as much foot traffic.
The Base of Millard Falls
The hike to the bottom of Millard Falls began at the main parking lot for the Millard Picnic Area and Campground (see directions below).
From there, we followed an obvious trail that quickly led to the campground area.
There were some toilet facilities there as well as picnic tables and room for tents to be set up.
I’ve been here on weekends where this campground was packed even when the trail to the falls itself was closed.
That said, on one of our most recent visits, the campground was pretty much empty even though the trail to the falls was re-opened.
In any case, just before the dirt road passing by the campground dipped into a creek ford, a signposted trail pointed us to go right, which promptly started us on the trail within Millard Canyon.
For the most part, the trail was pretty obvious to follow despite the canyon walls closing into a relatively narrow passageway.
We were able to keep our feet dry throughout the trail except for a couple of pretty easy creek crossings.
When Millard Creek would have heavier flow, then I can see where it might be trickier to keep the feet dry on those creek crossings or where the trail abutted against the creek itself.
Anyways, the trail pretty much meandered about the canyon for the next half-mile or less.
We spotted some interesting grandfathered wooden cabins perched high up on the canyon cliffs as well as an interesting mine shaft.
The trail undulated while twisting and turning with the curves of the canyon.
However, the trail would make an abrupt end right at the Millard Falls where the canyon walls would box itself in with vertical rock walls.
Given the presence of a few large boulders on the ground around the falls, we were cognizant of the potential for rock falls.
In fact, upon closer inspection of the top of the waterfall itself, we could see at least two or three large boulders wedged against each other.
While they look pretty securely wedged in, you never know how Mother Nature can change the circumstances over the years so we tried to limit the amount of time spent directly underneath the waterfall.
Each time we’ve been to the bottom of this waterfall, we’ve noticed folks standing near the boulders at the top of the falls.
While it may be tempting to find a way to scale the vertical rock walls to get up there, it’s actually not a smart thing to do given the risk of injury or death as a result of the steepness of the canyon walls here.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s definitely not necessary, which you’ll see in the next section below.
The Top of Millard Falls
Before the Station Fire in 2009, I had never contemplated visiting Millard Falls in any other way than from the obvious trail to its base.
However, ever since the resulting closure of that trail, it opened up my mind to consider other ways to see and experience the waterfall.
That was how I learned about a trail that took me to the top of the falls.
Little would I realize that parts of the trail I would end up taking would also expose me to some interesting history concerning the Mt Lowe Railway.
This was an engineering attempt in the 1890s at taming the San Gabriel Mountains and essentially creating a “railway to the sky” as well as a city atop Echo Mountain.
For a period of about 40-50 years, this was said to be Southern California’s most famous attraction, but Mother Nature didn’t give in very easily.
Eventually, storms would ultimately dislodge some loose boulders that would ultimately smash key parts of the pavilion atop the railway thereby putting an end to the Mt Lowe Railway.
From the gate barricading the start of the Mt Lowe Road near the old Sunset Ridge Station, I walked the Mt Lowe Road as it narrowed to become more or less a mostly paved foot trail.
This road ascended a ridge and veered to the left under some power lines with some sweeping views back towards the Los Angeles basin.
Looking back in the other direction, I was able to see the road descending to the Millard Picnic Area and Campground below as well as the Sunset Ridge Station itself, which was a power substation tapping into the high voltage lines in the area.
Continuing along the road-turned-trail for about another 8-10 minutes or so, I then followed a signposted path that forked to the left leaving the Mt Lowe Road.
This dirt trail was the Sunset Trail, and it pretty much skirted the parts of Millard Canyon where the main waterfall trail was directly below.
After roughly 5 more minutes of walking this trail, I started to get eye-level views of Millard Falls in the distance.
However, given the presence of thick foliage around the base of the falls, I never really got a totally clean view from anywhere along the Sunset Trail.
And as I continued further on the trail, the views became even more obscured, but then I realized that the trail skirted right past the top of the waterfall itself.
So if one wanted to get a closer look at the boulders wedged above Millard Falls, this was the right trail to do it.
Beyond the waterfall, the Sunset Trail then entered deeper along the rim of Millard Canyon before reaching another fork.
One of the forks looked like it went towards someone’s cabin.
The other fork continued the Sunset Trail, which would ultimately rejoin the Mt Lowe Road near the Cape of Good Hope.
This fork was my turnaround point so I can’t make any further comments about that section of the trail.
Overall, this hike took me under 40 minutes round trip though I probably didn’t need to go as far as I did (so it could require even less time than this).
Thus, from a difficulty standpoint, I figured it was about the same difficulty as the obvious trail leading to the base of Millard Falls described in the section above.
A Very Wet Adventure to Millard Falls
In February 2017, we took advantage of a break in some saturation rains that seemed to have finally put a dent in our multi-year drought situation in California.
That yielded the state of the Millard Falls that you see pictured at the very top of this page.
Of course, with everything that I had been saying up to this point about this hike being somewhat family-friendly and easy, the hike was definitely more of a wet adventure during that 2017 visit.
During that visit, Millard Creek was as swollen as I had ever seen it.
Obviously, given the narrowness of Millard Canyon, this would not be the place to be during a downpour as flash flooding would be a killer here.
That said, it was next to impossible to keep our feet dry under the conditions that yielded the photo at the top of this page.
Indeed, the moral of this story is that we urge you to know the conditions and come prepared (or even be prepared to turn back if it’s too dangerous to proceed).
Mother Nature can be very unforgiving, especially under extreme weather conditions when life changing events can suddenly happen without warning.
Millard Falls resides in the Angeles National Forest near Altadena 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.
Over the years, we’ve found a couple of ways to drive to the Millard Canyon area and the Millard Falls Trailhead.
We’ll first describe the way we historically had taken since we’d typically be coming from the east.
Driving from Duarte to the Millard Falls Trailhead
Turning right onto Lake Ave, we drove north for about 4 miles to its junction with Loma Alta Drive.
Turning left onto Loma Alta Drive, we followed this residential road for about a mile to the Chaney Trail (it’s just past a blinking yellow light on the right).
Turning right onto Chaney Trail, we then followed this narrow and winding road for a little over a mile to its three-way T-junction with the Mt Lowe Road.
There was a barricade on the right side of the three-way T-junction that prevented further vehicular access on Mt Lowe Road.
So if the intent was to hike to the top of Millard Falls or explore other parts of the historical Mt Lowe Railway, then we would park in one of the spaces or shoulders around this gate.
We just had to make sure that we didn’t park in one of the painted areas where it was strictly forbidden to park.
The road continued to descend into the base of the canyon after turning left at the T-junction with the Mt Lowe Road.
The parking lot for both the Millard Falls and the Millard Campground was at the end of the road.
We had to display a Forest Adventure Pass in our parked car since we were on National Forest Service land.
An Alternate Approach to the Millard Falls Trailhead
If the above route described involves too much local driving and stoplights, we learned that we could also continue driving on the I-210 west past the Lake Ave exit.
In doing that, then we’d keep right on the I-210 until taking the Lincoln Ave exit.
Once we got off the freeway, we turned right onto Lincoln Ave and followed this street past a few traffic lights to Loma Alta Drive (just under 2 miles).
Turning right onto Loma Alta Drive, we continued for about 0.6 miles to the Chaney Trail on the left.
If we got to the blinking yellow lights, then we would have missed the easy-to-miss Chaney Trail.
Once on the Chaney Trail, we then followed the directions as given above to both trailheads.
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