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 surrounding and 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 (as well as Gaia GPS).
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, as well as immediately after a series of atmospheric river storms in early January 2023.
So we’re not kidding when we say that 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’ll have to act quickly to see the falls before it diminishes to a low-flow or trickling state, but at the same time you have to watch for hazards when the creek is in high flow.
Experiencing Millard Falls
I’ve managed to experience Millard Falls in a couple of different ways, which are the following.
First, the most obvious way would be to do a short 1.2-mile round-trip hike from its trailhead to its base, and this hike would take 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 Ridge Trail, which provided an elevated view of Millard Falls as well as going to its top and beyond.
This trail took me about 1.5 hours round-trip to do (or 40 minutes round-trip just to the falls view), which featured Mt Lowe Railway signs, views of the Los Angeles Basin, and even the scramble to the brink of the falls.
While this way of experiencing Millard Falls was far less popular than the hike to its base, it was still pretty popular with joggers and day hikers looking to go further afield.
In fact, most people wouldn’t pursue this second option for the Millard Falls by itself, but rather it would be a bonus for pursuing landmarks like Echo Mountain, the Mt Lowe Railway, and the historic Dawn Mine.
Experiencing Millard Falls Option 1: The Bottom Of The Waterfall
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 (so it depends on whether you’re here on a weekend or holiday versus a weekday).
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 (which happened for us on our 2017 and 2023 visits), then it might be better to wear shoes that can get wet as trying to stay dry under such conditions would be a futile effort.
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 gently undulated while twisting and turning with the curves of the canyon often criss-crossing Millard Creek (I counted at least a half-dozen crossings when we visited in high flow).
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 right above its main drop.
While they look pretty securely wedged in, you never know how Mother Nature can change the circumstances over the years so we tend 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.
Experiencing Millard Falls Option 2: The Brink Of The Waterfall
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 in the immediate years following the Station Fire, 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 an alternative elevated view of the falls as well as access to its brink.
This excursion started from a gate barring public traffic onto the paved Mt Lowe Road.
The paved road gently ascended past some kind of water facility while providing views of the Los Angeles basin (including the downtown skyline) while going underneath powerlines held up by power pylons.
I followed this road for about 0.4-mile (bypassing the first trail junction which went back down to the Millard Campground) and then made it to another trail junction where the Sunset Ridge Trail branched off the Mt Lowe Road.
Then, the hike followed the Sunset Ridge Trail for another 1/2-mile to another trail junction between the Dawn Mine Trail to the left and the continuation of the Sunset Ridge Trail to the right.
During this stretch, I was able to look back to my left and see the road descending to the Millard Picnic Area and Campground as well as the Sunset Ridge Station itself, which was a power substation tapping into the high voltage lines in the area.
I was also able to get a cross-canyon view of Millard Falls at about a quarter-mile from the start of the Sunset Ridge Trail.
Unfortunately, how much of the falls you see from here depends on how thick the vegetation is immediately at the waterfall’s base, and I suspect this is why this is more of a bonus reward for a longer hike to the Dawn Mine and beyond.
Speaking of the Dawn Mine Trail, I then left the Sunset Ridge Trail and pursued this trail for another 0.1-mile as it went past a private cabin and ultimately down to Millard Creek.
Finally, the trail provided an option to go over a mile upstream towards the Dawn Mine or about a quarter-mile downstream towards the brink of Millard Falls.
Heading downstream, the hike degenerated into more of an unmaintained hike and scramble that involved a few more stream crossings (which might force you to get wet if the creek has high flow).
Along the way, I noticed that there appeared to be a former trail on the left side of the creek (facing downhill) that ultimately disappeared in a series of landslides.
I suspect that this former trail connected with a more obvious trail (as seen from the Sunset Ridge Trail) that went right above the brink of Millard Falls.
So I stayed on the other side of the creek (crossing it back and forth a second and third time) before finally reaching the top of the main falls.
While I did notice one person traverse the creek right above the falls and then scramble up a mini-cliff and gully back up to the former trail, I was content to just experience this place without such maneuvers.
Historical Context Of The Mt Lowe Railway
One thing I noticed about visiting Millard Falls via the second option (i.e. going to its top) was how much it exposed me to some interesting history concerning the Mt Lowe Railway.
You see, 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 (especially since it provided access and views of the Rubio Canyon Falls).
However, Mother Nature didn’t give in very easily, and eventually, storms would 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.
The village in the sky atop Echo Mountain ultimately succumbed to fire, which if you’ve spent any time in Southern California (especially with Global Warming) is quite commonplace.
Thus, these days, you really have to pay attention to see the relics of this colorful past, where an attempt to “tame” Mother Nature was ultimately met with folly and waste.
This is something that has become a familiar story of abandoned projects in the Southland, especially if you visit the Bridge to Nowhere.
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 suspended over Loma Alta Drive).
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.
For geographical context, Pasadena is about 11 miles (roughly 30 minutes depending on traffic) northeast of downtown Los Angeles, 43 miles (about an hour drive depending on traffic) east of Thousand Oaks, and 56 miles (about an hour drive depending on traffic) from Irvine.
See the map below for accommodations closest to this waterfall.
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