About Newton Canyon Falls
Newton Canyon Falls was one of those waterfalls that somehow eluded us many years ago on our first attempt.
But after finding it on our subsequent visits, we wondered how on earth we managed to miss it, especially given how close it was to a busy road let alone a busy trail!
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that our first attempt occurred in late Spring during a pretty dry Winter so perhaps it wasn’t flowing back then.
Nonetheless, on our later visits in 2010 and 2023, we came during early Spring after a very wet Winter so for sure we weren’t going to miss it this time around!
This waterfall was somewhat hidden from the Backbone Trail alongside the Kanan Dume Road, which links Hwy 1 to the 101 Freeway through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
That said, when it’s flowing, you can’t miss it because you can certainly hear it when hiking Backbone Trail as it descends into the head of Newton Canyon before climbing back up.
Hiking and Scrambling to Newton Canyon Falls
After parking the car (see directions below), we followed the Backbone Trail downhill on a switchback before descending further towards a creek that may or may not have water going over the trail.
Since the Kanan Road was perched alongside and above the Backbone Trail during this stretch, it was quite noisy given the amount of traffic that the road sees.
However, the scenery was already interesting along this short 0.4-mile stretch of the Backbone Trail as we could see into both Newton Canyon immediately below as well as Zuma Canyon further in the distance.
Shortly after the creek, there was an unmaintained branch trail that left the Backbone Trail to the left and descended into Newton Canyon.
On my March 2023 visit, I noticed that there’s now a sign with strong language telling you not to go down this unofficial path (it definitely wasn’t there on my prior visits in 2010 and before).
Of course, this path is the easiest way to get down to the base of the hidden Newton Canyon Falls, and I could see by how worn this trail is, people continue to go down there (signage or not).
In any case, I resisted the direct paths going right down to the creek that would eventually deposit you at the top of Newton Canyon Falls.
However, there are much easier and more gradual use-trails that we followed for about 300ft or so (maybe a minute or two) before we identified a manageable use-path descending towards the creek in Newton Canyon.
With some trial and error to find the scrambling route that we were most comfortable with, we eventually reached the bottom where we immediately were next to the stream within Newton Canyon.
From there, we pretty much scrambled our way upstream (both alongside it as well as inside it) which involved going over some deadfalls and termite-rotted trees.
Ultimately, we found ourselves right before the base of Newton Canyon Falls, which was surrounded by trees (so it’s hard to get a clean photo of it) as well as dripping cliffs and some patches of poison oak.
If this waterfall is the goal of this rather short excursion, then you can go back up the way you came, which would make the total hiking distance about a mile round trip.
Of course, you can extend your hike further along the Backbone Trail, where you might catch teasing glimpses of Newton Canyon Falls, especially after the Woolsey Fire burnt most of the vegetation that otherwise would have concealed the falls.
Extending the Excursion to Zuma Canyon Falls
As suggested in our California Waterfalls book, we could have followed the stream downstream towards the top of more cascades and waterfalls, ultimately culminating in a pair of 20-25ft waterfalls (one of which she called “Zuma Falls”).
However, every time we considered pursuing them, we either didn’t have the time, or the conditions were too sketchy to continue.
You see, when the creek was in high flow (as it was in March 2023 when I last made the attempt), there was a cascade obstacle that was just too risky for me to keep going.
Even if I made it to the tops of the waterfalls further downstream past this cascade obstacle, I’d still have to figure out a way down without necessitating a search and rescue effort (not to mention the ubiquitous poison oak overgrowth there).
Indeed, as far as pursuing the waterfalls in the lower reaches of Newton Canyon, there’s a really fine balancing act between too much water and too little water.
Moreover, there was also a safety factor since we are talking about an unsanctioned scramble, after all.
Anyways, as far as pursuing other waterfalls in the adjacent Zuma Canyon, since that involves hiking further along the Backbone Trail, I’ll talk about those in a separate write-up.
Newton Canyon Falls resides in the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area near Malibu in Los Angeles County, California. It is administered by the MRCA as well as the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit the MRCA website or NPS website.
There were a couple of ways to access the nearest parking lot for the Newton Canyon Falls, which starts at the parking area for the Backbone Trailhead.
Accessing Newton Canyon Falls from the coast
The first time we drove to Newton Canyon Falls, we came from the Highway 1, which began as the 10 Freeway westbound ended near the Santa Monica pier.
We then followed Hwy 1 for roughly 17 miles, where we then turned right onto Kanan Dume Road and followed it for a little over 4 miles.
We went past a tunnel where the parking lot and trailhead was close to the tunnel exit on the left side of the road.
Overall, this 24-mile drive would take about an hour.
Accessing Newton Canyon Falls from the 101
For a more Los Angeles-centric approach, we could also have also taken the 101 from its junction with the 405 freeway, which was just north past Westwood (of UCLA fame) and the Sepulveda Pass.
Anyways, we took the Kanan Road exit off the 101 Freeway, and we followed this road roughly 8 or 9 miles south past two tunnels and eventually reaching the trailhead parking for the Backbone Trail on our right just before the third tunnel.
This 38-mile drive (from the 10/405 junction via the 101 Freeway) would also take about an hour.
Although parking was limited for the parking lot of the Backbone Trail, we saw many people take advantage of a lot of roadside shoulder parking along Kanan Dume Road itself.
Nevertheless, for geographical context, Santa Monica was 16 miles (about an hour drive due to traffic) west of downtown Los Angeles or 7 miles (roughly 30 minutes drive with traffic) southwest of Westwood Village.
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