Salmon Creek Falls

Big Sur / Los Padres National Forest / Gorda, California, USA

About Salmon Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 1/2 mile round trip
Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Date first visited: 2001-03-31
Date last visited: 2018-11-16

Waterfall Latitude: 35.81612
Waterfall Longitude: -121.35779

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Salmon Creek Falls is another one of those must-see waterfalls when we’re out and about touring the Big Sur Coast.

Not only is this falls gushing with reliable flow (at least in the Spring), but it’s over 100ft in height, and it has a memorable shape in that its main plunge consists of a pair of waterfalls that join together as they drop.

Salmon_Creek_Falls_019_03202010 - Salmon Creek Falls with healthy flow in the Spring
Salmon Creek Falls with healthy flow in the Spring

Moreover, this is one of those free roadside waterfalls that either compel you to pull over and get a closer look (if you’re headed south on Hwy 1) or compel you to pull over just to satisfy your curiosity as to why so many vehicles are parked here (if you’re headed north on Hwy 1).

Increasing in popularity

Julie and I swear that this waterfall has been increasing in popularity over the years because we could still remember when we were one of a handful of people at the falls (often times having it to ourselves).

But on a recent visit in 2010, it was crowded here with some people chilling out at the top of the falls, plenty of others rock scrambling to get that photo op in front of the falls, and the pullouts were completely full of cars.

Salmon_Creek_Falls_038_11162018 - Salmon Creek Falls still flowing at the end of a very nasty dry season as seen from nearby a small 'cave' composed of fallen boulders
Salmon Creek Falls still flowing at the end of a very nasty dry season as seen from nearby a small ‘cave’ composed of fallen boulders

Even on our most recent visit in 2018 towards the end of a nasty Dry Season, Salmon Creek was still flowing (albeit very lightly), and there were a handful of people still checking out the falls. The low season flow of the falls was more of a segmented dual strand, but there was still enough volume to produce reflective ponds and minor cascades spilling into them.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that our latest visits here were in late afternoon when the afternoon sun casted favorable backlighting on the falls.

However, in the morning (when we had visited the falls in each of our first few visits), it may be quieter because we found ourselves looking directly against the sun (very bad for photos).

Consider it one of those tradeoffs where it’s especially hard to get that perfect picture postcard moment without the crowds and with good lighting. I guess it’s one of those things where you can’t have your cake and eat it too!

Salmon_Creek_Falls_035_03202010 - Tree graffiti
Tree graffiti

Another consequence of the increasing popularity of the falls is that we did notice some juvenile tree graffiti near the falls (something we didn’t notice before; though they’re mostly of the tree carving vandalism variety).

I don’t know if it’s legal to camp here, but the first two times we’ve scrambled to the waterfall (in separate years), we’ve seen people pitch tents and camp here. So you might find yourself tip-toeing (as we had to) past these folks to get closer to the falls in the morning.

Getting close to Salmon Creek Falls

The scramble to the falls began on the south side of the bridge at the hairpin turn curving right before the gulch that contained the Salmon Creek Falls.

From there, a fairly obvious use trail behind brown signage led closer to the falls.

After about 5 to 10 minutes of walking, we saw a signposted fork where the path straight ahead went closer to the bottom falls while the path on the right continued up towards the top of the falls and beyond.

Salmon_Creek_Falls_004_03202010 - Poison oak flanking the short trail to get closer to Salmon Creek Falls
Poison oak flanking the short trail to get closer to Salmon Creek Falls

In our pursuit of the base of the falls, the path pretty much disappeared around some large boulders and small alcoves or “caves”.

In order to access Salmon Creek and a more frontal view of the falls, we had to scramble down the rocky banks. And as we did so, we had to be cognizant of the poison oak flanking the trail as they were everywhere!

Authorities

Salmon Creek Falls falls under the jurisdiction of the Los Padres National Forest. Although I haven’t seen any national forest literature devoted to this waterfall, if you’re looking for more information or to inquire about current conditions, you can check out the Los Padres National Forest USDA website.

Salmon_Creek_Falls_042_03202010 - Parked cars filled up the pullout at the falls
Salmon_Creek_Falls_004_11162018 - Looking back at the twisty Highway 1 from the Salmon Creek Trailhead
Salmon_Creek_Falls_001_03202010 - Salmon Creek Falls is visible from Hwy 1 when headed south
Salmon_Creek_Falls_008_11162018 - Signage on the south side of Salmon Creek marked the way to Salmon Creek Falls as well as some primitive campsites further beyond it
Salmon_Creek_Falls_011_11162018 - Julie on the Salmon Creek Trail flanked by a bit less overgrowth in the tail end of the Dry Season
Salmon_Creek_Falls_014_11162018 - On our most recent visit in November 2018, we noticed this sign that we didn't recall was there before. Either way, this was where the waterfall trail branched off to the left while the other trail climbed higher and to the right
Salmon_Creek_Falls_016_11162018 - This jumble of big boulders was where the trail pretty much disappeared and we had to scramble lower in order to get a satisfying view of Salmon Creek Falls
Salmon_Creek_Falls_009_03202010 - The merging of two waterfalls
Salmon_Creek_Falls_040_03202010 - Some people managed to climb up to the top of the falls
Salmon_Creek_Falls_022_11162018 - This was how Salmon Creek Falls looked towards the end of the Dry Season
Salmon_Creek_Falls_039_11162018 - This was as close to Salmon Creek Falls as I was willing to get with its Dry Season flow
Salmon_Creek_Falls_043_11162018 - This was one of the 'caves' that we chanced upon at Salmon Creek Falls
Salmon_Creek_Falls_002_scanned_03312001 - How the falls looked in 2001
Salmon_Creek_Falls_011_03292003 - Closeup of the main plunge of Salmon Creek Falls in 2003

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To get to Salmon Creek Falls, we first had to make the long drive from Los Angeles to Ragged Point just north of San Simeon (roughly 250 miles or 5 hours drive).

I’m sure it’s a bit of a shorter drive for Bay Area Residents coming from say San Francisco (193 miles or under 5 hours drive) or San Jose (146 miles or about 3.5 hours drive).

Once we got past the hamlet of Ragged Point, the road started to wind a lot more.

At roughly 6 miles north of Ragged Point, look for a bridge spanning Salmon Creek with a fair-sized parking shoulder on the north side of the bridge.

This bridge is roughly 19 miles south of Limekiln State Park, where it’s much easier to spot Salmon Creek Falls from the road and be compelled to pull over in the aforementioned parking area.

Bottom up sweep of the falls with a lot of people around this busy place


Fixated on the falls from a viewpoint that required a bit of scrambling to get to


Classic old-school video of the falls in Big Sur


Checking out a partial view of the falls in dry season from the front of a small cave

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Tagged with: big sur, monterey, bay area, central coast, california, waterfall, ventana, los padres, gorda, ragged point



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