Rubio Canyon Falls

Altadena, California, USA

About Rubio Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.8 miles round trip (1.3 miles of stream scrambling)
Suggested Time: 90-120 minutes

Date first visited: 2020-04-14
Date last visited: 2020-04-14

Waterfall Latitude: 34.20752
Waterfall Longitude: -118.11629

Rubio Canyon Falls was a series of multiple seasonal waterfalls with a bit of a checkered past nestled within a steep canyon in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains in Altadena.

The main waterfalls of note were the Ribbon Rock Falls, Moss Grotto Falls, Grand Chasm Falls, Thalehaha Falls, and Leontine Falls.

Rubio_Canyon_074_04142020 - Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls - the most accessible of the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls
Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls – the most accessible of the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls

There were several other named waterfalls that were either coming in from smaller gullies or were sections that happened to be named that could be merged with the ones just mentioned.

The photo you see above only shows the combination of the 25ft Ribbon Rock Falls and 20ft Moss Grotto Falls, respectively.

In order to access just these lowermost of the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls, I had to endure a rough stream scramble with lots of overgrowth.

Accessing the remaining waterfalls required even sketchier steep cliff scrambling with considerable risk to life and limb.

Timing the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls

Rubio_Canyon_045_04142020 - This dry waterfall is what I thought was Maidenhair Falls, which would be one of the side waterfalls spilling into Rubio Canyon
This dry waterfall is what I thought was Maidenhair Falls, which would be one of the side waterfalls spilling into Rubio Canyon

The seasonal creeks draining into Rubio Canyon have small watersheds, which means they don’t last long.

Generally, if you want to see the Rubio Canyon Falls have flow, you’d have to show up in the late Winter through Spring, but that only applies if the area has seen sufficient precipitation in that time.

We’ve had to deal with notoriously dry Winters (further exacerbated by Global Warming) so there could be years where the waterfalls hardly flow at all even in the “wet” season.

However, if there has been substantial precipitation, I’d argue that you may have a window of perhaps a few weeks (maybe a month or two) after the passing of the last rain storm before the falls would trickle or dry up again.

The Checkered History of Rubio Canyon

Millard_007_04232011 - Focused on a map sign on the Mt Lowe Road on a ridge above Millard Canyon drawing out a map of the Great Incline and the Mt Lowe Railway
Focused on a map sign on the Mt Lowe Road on a ridge above Millard Canyon drawing out a map of the Great Incline and the Mt Lowe Railway

All of the nomenclature regarding each of the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls suggested that they used to be accessible, and indeed, there used to be steps that accessed each one as far up as the Thalehaha Falls.

Back in that heyday, these waterfalls were once featured attractions at the foot of the Great Incline, which was a funicular that went up a steep cliff leading to the bottom of the Mt Lowe Railway.

That railway ultimately went to the “White City” atop Echo Mountain, where there was a series of Alpine-style Hotels with views over the Los Angeles Basin.

It was almost as if they tried to re-create the infrastructure that you would currently see in say the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland.

Millard_008_04232011 - The other part of the map sign explaining the Mount Lowe Railway's heyday and other interpretive signs along the Mt Lowe Road
The other part of the map sign explaining the Mount Lowe Railway’s heyday and other interpretive signs along the Mt Lowe Road

I’ve seen old pictures referenced by Dan’s Hiking Pages showing steps accessing all of the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls as part of this grand tourist infrastructure.

Anyways, to make a long story short, the Mount Lowe Railway project was ultimately abandoned after a series of calamities had made it not economically viable to continue.

Just to give you a sense of some of the neighboring geography, I recalled reading a sign about this railway from the Mt Lowe Road, which was now a mostly-paved trail in the ridge above Millard Canyon.

Nevertheless, the negligence and aftermath of the abandonment of the Mt Lowe Railway infrastructure in Rubio Canyon didn’t end there.

Millard_009_04232011 - The Mt Lowe Road, which ultimately led to the where the Mt Lowe Railway tracks were laid out over Rubio Canyon towards Echo Mountain
The Mt Lowe Road, which ultimately led to the where the Mt Lowe Railway tracks were laid out over Rubio Canyon towards Echo Mountain

In 1998, the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls were buried under a major rockslide that resulted from mismanagement by a contractor working on behalf of the Rubio Canyon Land and Water Company.

It wasn’t until late 2004 that the debris field started to wash away from flash floods as a result of some early season storms that continued into the Spring of 2005.

Thus, the Rubio Canyon Falls were once again revealed though any hope of accessing these waterfalls at this point now involved rough off-trail scrambles.

This was when I stumbled upon an LA Times Outdoor article sitting in the break room at work, where the article discussed the Waterfalls of Rubio Canyon.

Rubio_Canyon_060_04142020 - Looking back at the remnants of the foundation supporting the Rubio Pavilion at the bottom of the former Great Incline leading up to the Mt Lowe Railway
Looking back at the remnants of the foundation supporting the Rubio Pavilion at the bottom of the former Great Incline leading up to the Mt Lowe Railway

Ever since I saw that article, I had been meaning to finally visit these waterfalls, but little did I realize that it would take another 15 years before that would finally happen!

The Hike and Scramble to the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls

The adventure to the Rubio Canyon Falls requires a hike and stream scramble for a round-trip distance of about 1.8 miles according to my GPS logs.

Of this distance, about 0.5 miles of it was on a pretty standard trail.

However, the remainder of the adventure was pretty much stream scrambling, which ultimately led up to the base of the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls.

Rubio_Canyon_014_04142020 - The early parts of the Rubio Canyon hike followed along this trail leading into Rubio Canyon and eventually the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls
The early parts of the Rubio Canyon hike followed along this trail leading into Rubio Canyon and eventually the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls

The stream scrambling was pretty moderate and didn’t involve any severe climbing.

Along the way, I noticed some of the remnants of the heyday of the Mt Lowe infrastructure, but Nature had pretty much reclaimed most of Rubio Canyon.

Perhaps the only other signs of civilization down here now were the presence of water pipes, which were likely set up for diversion before the creek’s waters would eventually end up in an underground aquifer or in the debris basin.

Beyond the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls, however, the scrambling became even more intense and riskier.

Rubio_Canyon_133_04142020 - The creek scramble in Rubio Canyon involved lots of bouldering, rubbing against prickly vegetation, and dodging these water pipes
The creek scramble in Rubio Canyon involved lots of bouldering, rubbing against prickly vegetation, and dodging these water pipes

I ultimately settled on only visiting the bottommost waterfalls on my first visit here.

I’ll need much more time and the right circumstances in order to access Grand Chasm Falls as well as the overlook for Thalehaha Falls let alone Leontine Falls.

In any case, this rough adventure was by no means suitable for neither younger children nor the unprepared.

It ultimately took me under 2 hours to complete this excursion including a rough 20-minute failed attempt to pursue the Grand Chasm Falls.

Detailed Description of the Adventure to the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls

Rubio_Canyon_005_04142020 - The trail to Rubio Canyon skirted between a pair of private residences off Rubio Vista Road
The trail to Rubio Canyon skirted between a pair of private residences off Rubio Vista Road

The hike began from a rather obscure trailhead right in between a pair of residences (see directions below).

Since this trailhead was in a residential neighborhood, I definitely drew a lot of notice from local residences so it was definitely wise to tread lightly.

After going through the somewhat hidden corridor between the homes, I was then on an established trail where there was a trailhead sign board.

Beyond the signboard, the pretty tame Mt Lowe Railway Trail went for about 0.1-mile before reaching an unsigned junction (which was just past a bridge and some water pipes).

Rubio_Canyon_022_04142020 - Unsigned trail junction just past a bridge about 0.1-mile from the trailhead, where I took the path on the right to descend to the creek bed of Rubio Canyon
Unsigned trail junction just past a bridge about 0.1-mile from the trailhead, where I took the path on the right to descend to the creek bed of Rubio Canyon

I went right at this junction to leave the Mt Lowe Railway Trail and descend a few switchbacks (just under 0.2-mile) right into the creek running through Rubio Canyon.

Once at the bottom, it was pretty much an off-trail stream scramble for the remaining 0.6 miles though there were traces of use-trails alongside the creek from time to time.

Within minutes of this scramble, I noticed what appeared to be the ruins of a wall on the left side though I wasn’t sure if it belonged to any of the Mt Lowe Railway and Pavilion infrastructure.

At about 0.2-mile further upstream, I went past an intermediate waterslide as well as faced what I think was the location of Maidenhair Falls.

Rubio_Canyon_041_04142020 - A small water slide just downstream from what I thought was the dry Maidenhair Falls and the trail junction with the Camp Huntington Trail
A small water slide just downstream from what I thought was the dry Maidenhair Falls and the trail junction with the Camp Huntington Trail

It wasn’t flowing during my visit, but I did notice that there was another trail descending into the canyon from what I think was the Camp Huntington Trail on the east-side of the canyon.

In another 0.1-mile of scrambling, I reached the remnants of what appeared to be the Rubio Pavilion, which were nothing more than foundations at this point.

Just beyond the pavilion remnants was a “trail” junction next to a dead-fall where the path on the left appeared to climb to some ledge though I didn’t pursue that path any further.

Continuing upstream past the dead-fall, I scrambled an additional quarter-mile as the canyon continued to narrow even more.

Rubio_Canyon_049_04142020 - Fairly rough stream scrambling past intermediate cascades on the way up to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Fairly rough stream scrambling past intermediate cascades on the way up to the Rubio Canyon Falls

There were sections where I had no choice but to cross or go into the shallow stream, but eventually I arrived at the attractive Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls.

Beyond the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls

While exploring around the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls, it seemed like the cliffs surrounding these waterfalls were not safely scalable.

I knew that Grand Chasm Falls was just upstream from these waterfalls, but in order to access that waterfall I had to find a way to get to the top of the Ribbon Rock Falls.

It turned out that there was a side gully continuing further to the east of the creek, where there was a spur deviation that climbed very steeply towards an outcrop high above the Ribbon Rock Falls.

Rubio_Canyon_126_04142020 - Looking up at the steep gully leading towards the even steeper scramble to Grand Chasm Falls and the overlook of Thalehaha Falls
Looking up at the steep gully leading towards the even steeper scramble to Grand Chasm Falls and the overlook of Thalehaha Falls

From that outcrop, there was a very sketchy steep descent that would have taken me down to the top of the Ribbon Rock Falls and eventually the foot of the Grand Chasm Falls.

However, the descent looked way too steep for my liking so I ultimately turned back and decided not to chance it.

When I returned to the main gully climbing up the east side of Rubio Canyon, I did contemplate continuing this climb, which would have led up to an even higher outcrop with a view of Thalehaha Falls.

But I also didn’t choose to pursue that route on my first go around.

Rubio_Canyon_109_04142020 - Angled look back towards the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls from the steep gully after making my way back from its steep descent
Angled look back towards the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls from the steep gully after making my way back from its steep descent

Had I persisted with that steep climb, I might have spent another couple more hours of very rugged and risky climbing.

In the end, I ultimately turned back and returned to the trailhead after just under 2 hours away from the car.

Authorities

Rubio Canyon Falls resides in the Angeles National Forest but the trailhead is outside the federal lands in 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.

Rubio_Canyon_004_04142020 - The trailhead to the Mt Lowe Railway Trail and the Rubio Canyon Falls access began between a pair of houses on Rubio Vista Road
Rubio_Canyon_006_04142020 - The trailhead signage for the Mt Lowe Railway Trail, which was also the same trail we used to access the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_010_04142020 - On the Mt Lowe Railway Trail as it approached Rubio Canyon
Rubio_Canyon_011_04142020 - Looking towards the mouth of Rubio Canyon where there was some kind of water facility, and I wondered if that plant had something to do with the diversion pipes I had seen throughout the hike and scramble to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_020_04142020 - Looking back over some homes fringing Rubio Canyon towards the buildings of downtown Los Angeles from the Mt Lowe Railway Trail
Rubio_Canyon_021_04142020 - Looking back at the context of the mouth of Rubio Canyon, the Mt Lowe Railway Trail, and the Los Angeles basin in the distance
Rubio_Canyon_023_04142020 - Descending onto a narrower trail that ultimately switchbacked a few times before depositing me onto the creek responsible for the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_025_04142020 - Approaching the last switchback before reaching the bottom of Rubio Canyon and the start of the stream scrambling up to Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_028_04142020 - Now I had to stream scrambling within the Rubio Canyon drainage in order to make it up to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_029_04142020 - At first the Rubio Canyon stream scramble was fairly wide and I managed to find use-trails for some fairly quick progress
Rubio_Canyon_032_04142020 - Continuing along one of the old trails of use within the Rubio Canyon drainage alongside the creek responsible for the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_033_04142020 - Looking back at what I think was a foundation or some kind of wall within the Rubio Canyon drainage though I wasn't sure if this had anything to do with the Rubio Pavilion infrastructure
Rubio_Canyon_035_04142020 - Continuing with the upstream scramble within the Rubio Canyon drainage en route to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_036_04142020 - One of numerous creek crossings while doing the scramble within the Rubio Canyon drainage en route to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_038_04142020 - Following some prevalent water diversion pipes while scrambling in the Rubio Canyon drainage en route to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_040_04142020 - This water slide was one of the notable intermediate cascades that I had to scramble by en route to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_044_04142020 - Examining some of the minor bouldering and deadfall that I had to get past in order to reach the base of the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls
Rubio_Canyon_047_04142020 - Scrambling through a lush and shaded part of Rubio Canyon while still pursuing the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls
Rubio_Canyon_050_04142020 - Context of the stream scrambling conditions while pursuing the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_051_04142020 - The stream scramble in Rubio Canyon was pretty much a choose-your-own-path kind of an adventure
Rubio_Canyon_054_04142020 - More scrambling past intermediate cascades and overgrowth en route to the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_056_04142020 - In the wider parts of Rubio Canyon, the trails of use re-emerge, which made for a little more rapid progress to Rubio Canyon than the rougher stream scramble
Rubio_Canyon_058_04142020 - Here was one part of the stream scramble in Rubio Canyon where I had no choice but to get into the water a little bit then boulder up past the intermediate cascade
Rubio_Canyon_067_04142020 - Rubio Canyon really closed in beyond the Rubio Pavilion remnants where further progress involved more bouldering
Rubio_Canyon_068_04142020 - It seemed like I encountered even more water diversion pipes while scrambling further up Rubio Canyon past the Rubio Pavilion remnants
Rubio_Canyon_071_04142020 - Finally approaching the Rubio Canyon Waterfalls of Ribbon Rock Falls (top) and Moss Grotto Falls (bottom)
Rubio_Canyon_073_04142020 - Direct look at the attractive pairing of Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls at the base of the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_084_04142020 - While scrambling immediately around the Moss Grotto Falls, it seemed like any possibility of proceeding any further upstream involved pretty sketchy vertical climbing. This look across its brink was about as high as I was willing to go
Rubio_Canyon_089_04142020 - Looking over prickly growth fronting the bottom of the Rubio Canyon Falls. Notice there's an interesting rock atop the cliff further up the canyon
Rubio_Canyon_104_04142020 - Looking right up at the pairing of Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls from right at the base of the lower falls
Rubio_Canyon_106_04142020 - Looking back at the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls from the gully I had to climb in order to try to pursue the other Rubio Canyon Waterfalls
Rubio_Canyon_114_04142020 - Looking up at the side scramble deviating from the gully heading east of the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_122_04142020 - From the rock outcrop above the Ribbon Rock Falls, I got this view back towards the Los Angeles Basin and downtown LA. Unfortunately, I didn't feel up for doing the real steep descent from here to the top of the Ribbon Rock Falls to pursue the Grand Chasm Falls
Rubio_Canyon_130_04142020 - Last look back at the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls fronted by a broken water pipe
Rubio_Canyon_134_04142020 - Now following the water pipes down the Rubio Canyon after having had my fill of the bottommost of the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_139_04142020 - Context of the downstream scramble after having had my fill of the Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_147_04142020 - Ascending back up this narrow trail to regain the Mt Lowe Railway Trail
Rubio_Canyon_158_04142020 - Returning to the Mt Lowe Railway Trailhead
Rubio_Canyon_160_04142020 - I noticed that a couple of California poppies were in bloom next to the Mt Lowe Railway Trail
Rubio_Canyon_163_04142020 - Hiking back along the residential wall flanking the Mt Lowe Railway Trail as I was about to end my adventure to Rubio Canyon Falls
Rubio_Canyon_165_04142020 - Finally back at the Rubio Vista Road

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


Since the trailhead to the Rubio Canyon Falls sits in a residential neighborhood, there are many ways to route there.

That said, I’ll describe what I think is the most straightforward route heading west on the I-210 freeway from say the I-605 interchange in Duarte.

So heading west on the I-210 Freeway, we’d then take exit 26 for Lake Ave.

Rubio_Canyon_003_04142020 - Looking up towards the bend in the residential Rubio Vista Road, where the Mt Lowe Railway Trail and the way to Rubio Canyon Falls begins
Looking up towards the bend in the residential Rubio Vista Road, where the Mt Lowe Railway Trail and the way to Rubio Canyon Falls begins

Turning right onto Lake Ave., we’d then drive for about 3 miles to Dolores Drive.

We’d then turn right onto Dolores Drive and follow it for about 0.3 miles to Maiden Lane, where we’d turn left.

Shortly thereafter, we’d turn right onto Rubio Canyon Road, where we’d then drive f or about 0.3 miles to Rubio Crest Drive.

Turning left onto Rubio Crest Drive, we’d then proceed for another 0.1-mile before turning right onto Rubio Vista Road.

Rubio_Canyon_001_04142020 - Looking downhill towards the sweeping views of the Los Angeles basin along Rubio Vista Road
Looking downhill towards the sweeping views of the Los Angeles basin along Rubio Vista Road

Finally, we’d find street parking near the street corner, where the trailhead began between the homes addressed 1342 and 1351.

Note that because this is a residential area outside of National Forest lands, you don’t need to display a Forest Service pass while parked here.

However, this is a quiet neighborhood so please exercise common sense when it comes to being discreet and not blocking driveways while parking.

Full sweep from right in front of Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls before repositioning to show rock upstream of these falls and doing another top down sweep


Brief right to left sweep starting with steep gully trail leading to other Rubio Canyon Waterfalls before ending with sweep of the Ribbon Rock Falls and Moss Grotto Falls from the gully

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Tagged with: rubio canyon, ribbon rock falls, moss grotto falls, grand chasm falls, thalehaha falls, leontine falls, san gabriel mountains, los angeles county, california, waterfall, mt lowe, mount lowe, white city



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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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