About Placerita Creek Falls
Placerita Creek Falls (also known as the Los Pinetos Waterfall since it was near the Los Pinetos Canyon as well as Placerita Canyon Falls) was a quaint and secluded 25ft sloping waterfall.
We definitely had to earn our first visit with a bit of a hike and scramble as well as some good fortune with the timing.
Indeed, this was one of those waterfalls that we had procrastinated on pursuing for one reason or another as a result of circumstances that didn’t favor our visitation until January 2019.
With the falls being close to the I-5 and Hwy 14 junction in Newhall, we always had opportunities to check it out, especially when driving up the Hwy 395.
However, we had never bothered to stop by or make the detour due to drought as well as the lack of faith that the falls would be performing when we finally had the time to stop by.
This was especially the case when we’d be on a long drive to reach the Eastern Sierras (usually in the Summer) when the falls would likely not be flowing.
That’s why I don’t consider visiting this waterfall unless there had been some significant rains.
Then under such circumstances, I wouldn’t wait longer than a month after the last of the rains to really experience the waterfall.
The Hike To Placerita Creek Falls
When we first visited this waterfall (in January 2019), we found the experience to be a bit on the adventurous side because it involved a fair bit of stream scrambling and route-finding.
The flip side to having to earn our visit was that we pretty much had the waterfall to ourselves.
Perhaps some of that had something to do with the longer hike from the Placerita Canyon Natural Area being closed at the time (probably due to landslides).
In any case, we did a modestly short 2.4-mile round-trip hike starting from the Walker Ranch Trailhead (see directions below) so we weren’t subject to that closure.
That said, it took us nearly two hours to do the hike as a result of the fairly rough conditions, especially towards the end in the confines of Placerita Canyon.
However, I came back to visit this waterfall a second time four years later (in mid-February 2023), I found the experience to be much easier than that first time.
In fact, it only took me a little over an hour in total to do the whole excursion, where I noticed some of the difficulties from the first visit (i.e. a trail disappearance and a slippery cascade scramble) had been mitigated.
I guess the changing conditions made sense because Placerita Creek Falls resided within a narrow canyon, and thus it was subject to landslides and flash floods.
Placerita Canyon Natural Area and The Walker Family Heritage
Nevertheless, there was that option to really extend this hike and explore Placerita Canyon while starting the hike from the Placerita Canyon Natural Area.
Visiting the Placerita Creek Falls in this manner meant that the overall hike would be 5.5 miles round-trip.
The main reason why it might be worthwhile to pursue the longer hike would be to experience more canyon scenery as well as soaking a bit more of the Walker Family heritage.
By the way, the Walkers were early settlers in the area who apparently were the first non-Native people to strike gold in California (even before the Gold Rush that started in Northern California).
They settled where the nature center is currently located, and they apparently used their land to drilling for oil as well as to rent out their cabin for movie making.
I do intend to do the hike from the natural area to learn a bit more about this place firsthand the next time I happen to be in the area ready to experience the waterfall again.
From the gate at the Walker Ranch Trailhead, there was some signage right at an apparent trail fork.
It turned out that you can take either path to get down to the Placerita Creek Basin, but I’d recommend going down the road first so you can experience the sweeping scenery of the mountains backing Placerita Canyon.
On the way back, you can go up the narrower and more direct trail, which follows a gully flanked by prickly vegetation and fire-scarred trees.
Once at the bottom of the basin (there may be portapotties down here), we then had to cross Placerita Creek.
On our first visit, we had to figure out how to rock hop our way across without getting water into our shoes, but on my second visit, I noticed some people set up wooden planks to act as makeshift bridges.
Beyond the crossing of Placerita Creek, the path reached a signed trail junction near a picnic area.
The path on the left was the Waterfall Trail while the path on the right went past a picnic area back towards the Placerita Canyon Natural Area via the Canyon Trail.
Taking the Waterfall Trail, the signage here indicated that the waterfall was 0.56-mile away or 3/4-mile away (depending on which sign you look at).
In any case, going past the signage, the open terrain briefly followed alongside Placerita Creek before reaching a stepped slope to briefly rise up out of the basin.
The trail then followed along a ledge while going past a curious poison oak sign before dropping back down alongside Placerita Creek just as the trail entered a narrowing canyon.
Within a few minutes of entering this canyon, we then reached the first obstacle, which was a twisting cascade.
During my second visit here, I noticed that there was a noticeable sulfur smell (though I didn’t see much in the way of yellow-caked rocks).
In any case, we had to scramble up the rock face on the left side of the falls (which can be slippery though there were some not-so-obvious footholds) before crossing the creek to continue further upstream.
After a second creek crossing to get back on the left side of the stream, we then encountered a second waterfall obstacle.
When we first visited this place, the best way forward was to climb up the slippery slope by the waterfall’s right side.
However, on my second visit, there was a newly-established path that went around the left side of the falls after a brief climb (using all fours) over some exposed roots of a tree.
Shortly after this second waterfall obstacle, the path then got to a point where the trail hugged a ledge that became badly eroded the further we went on our first visit.
That trail eventually disappeared and we had to backtrack and stream scramble our way forward.
However, in my second visit, there was a more obvious trail that climbed up and over a landslide, which made this section considerably easier.
This was a classic example of how conditions can easily change within the canyon, and in this case, the change was for the better (which is not often the case).
Nevertheless, the trail then crossed the creek again before reaching a bend right at the confluence of two streams.
Keeping to the right (there was one jokester that spraypainted “Dat Way” pointing towards the stream on the left), we then followed the path the rest of the way to the Placerita Canyon Falls.
A sign here marked the official end of the trail though most visitors go past it and get right up to the foot of the modestly-sized 25ft sloping falls.
Now, on my second visit to the falls, I did see one family (all adults) scale the right side of the waterfall, but it looked sketchy and I didn’t try it.
I did speak to one member of that family, who said that there were two more waterfalls further upstream, but I guess this comes down to the risk versus reward equation that we all have to evaluate.
Placerita Creek Falls sat in the Placerita Canyon County Park near Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County, California. It is administered by the County of Los Angeles. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Placerita Creek Falls could be accessed from either the Placerita Canyon Nature Center or from the Walker Ranch Trailhead – both of which were near Newhall in Santa Clarita.
We’ll describe the directions to both since they’re close to each other.
From downtown Los Angeles, we’d drive northwest on the I-5 for about 23 miles before eventually leaving the Los Angeles Basin shortly after the I-405 joins up with it near Sylmar.
Keeping to the rightmost lanes, we then took the Hwy 14 (Antelope Highway) north before leaving the freeway at the Placerita Canyon Road exit (roughly 2 miles from the start of the Hwy 14).
Once on Placerita Canyon Road, we turned right to go east and follow this road for a few minutes.
At about 1.5 miles east on Placerita Canyon Road, there was the well-signed turnoff for the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, which would yield the longer hike to Placerita Creek Falls.
However, continuing on Placerita Canyon Road for another 1.5 miles, we then reached a gate for the Walker Ranch Trailhead.
Since there was no parking allowed around that gate (at least as of our first visit in January 2019), we had to go a little further to the east where there was a pullout with enough room for perhaps a half-dozen or more cars.
Once we got out of the car, we then walked back towards the gate and descended onto the trail from there.
To give you a sense of context and distances, Santa Clarita was 37 miles southwest of Palmdale, about 110 miles (under 90 minutes drive) south of Bakersfield, and 33 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
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