About Santa Ynez Falls
Santa Ynez Falls (or Santa Ynez Canyon Falls) was one of those waterfalls we had put off doing after all the years we had been waterfalling locally in Southern California.
We adopted this mentality because we tended to pursue those that we felt were more worth our time and effort, and this was definitely not a particularly easy one to do.
Nonetheless, after timing our visit for the clearing of a rare week-long storm, we finally had the opportunity to do this hike, especially after we had already visited most of the other waterfalls in the Southland.
And when it came to this roughly 15-20ft waterfall, I’d argue it was more about the adventure to get here than the actual waterfall itself.
In fact, our daughter really enjoyed the excursion. She especially embraced the problem-solving necessary to figure out how to stay dry while stream walking and creek crossing. The slippery bouldering at the end was particularly tricky for her as well as us adults alike.
The bottom line was that we spent about 2.5 hours on this roughly 2.4-mile round trip hike and scramble. Because we had to deal with “high” water during our excursion, I’d imagine in drier times that this would be a far easier and less time-consuming hike.
Although there was a rope by some sloping rock wall with some footholds etched into its slippery surface to get up and over this waterfall obstacle, we opted not to incur more risk than we needed to. This was especially the case since we had read that the scenery doesn’t improve further upstream.
The Santa Ynez Canyon Trail
The hike began from one of the upscale residential areas in the fire-prone mountains and canyons of Pacific Palisades between Malibu and Santa Monica (see directions below).
Once we managed to find street parking, we then walked towards the entrance gate, which was one of several entrances to Topanga State Park. This was the southern start of the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, which was said to go for 2.1 miles to Trippet Ranch.
As for the state park, we clearly saw the need for reserves like this because housing developments were ever encroaching on wild spaces like Topanga State Park. Without such reserves, the whole area could be drained and terraformed to squeeze in more housing developments (regardless of whether they should be built or not; someone is always willing to spend or coerce people to spend on real-estate even if it’s in an area that’s prone to flood and fire).
Within minutes past some signage telling us how far we had to walk as well as warning signs about poison oak and ticks, we then encountered our first of many stream crossings. The first one was over a concrete ramp with circular steps to help with the footing as the ramp itself was quite slick when wet (as it was during our visit).
Shortly after this crossing, we then encountered one of the deeper flooded sections where gunning it straight through would certainly mean water intrusion over the top of any Gore-tex high top or gaiter. However, we did manage to find a dead-fall and a muddy area where we managed to avoid getting our socks wet for the most part.
After this obstacle, there would be at least another nearly half-dozen more creek crossings though we were able to rock hop our way across without too much difficulty (and we really wished we had brought hiking sticks to help with the balance).
Most of the trail was fairly straightforward to follow and dry. So it was fairly smooth going. In fact, we had encountered off-duty firefighters doing a morning trail run along this stretch of trail.
Eventually after around a mile, we then encountered a signed trail junction where we kept right to go onto the Waterfall Trail. The left fork was the continuation of the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, which eventually went to Trippet Ranch, and that was where most of the trail-running firefighters went during our visit.
The Santa Ynez Falls Adventure
Shortly after the fork, the trail descended to the next stream crossing. Some signage helped to assure us that we were going the right way, but it also warned that the trail was unmaintained.
As the trail continued to cross the creek several times and alternate between dry and wet terrain, the canyon walls continued to close in more.
After a second sign indicating the waterfall trail, that was pretty much when the trail was the stream itself. And that was where trying to stay dry was either a non-trivial problem solving exercise, or you’d just give in and let your feet get wet and pruny.
Ultimately at around 3/4-mile from where the Waterfall Trail branched off the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail (to Trippet Ranch), we encountered a fairly significant 10ft or so waterfall obstacle.
In order to get past it, we saw that there was a dicey scramble and cliff-ledge traverse above and to our right to get past the right side of this waterfall.
However, we also saw that there was a much more manageable rock wall climb to the left side of this waterfall. Fortunately, there were natural footholds that made it easier to do this climb without worrying too much about how slippery the wall was.
Once above this waterfall obstacle, the hike was now more of a bouldering scramble. The bouldering was made trickier by the presence of deeper pools.
Indeed, if you managed to get to this part fairly dry, this final stretch would certainly make all but the most prepared hikers give in and get their feet wet.
There was one particular obstacle where I had to lift our daughter onto a large boulder while Julie and I tried to figure out how to get through a narrow chute without a misstep into the pool below.
Once we got past that tricky obstacle, then we bouldered a little more before finally arriving at the dead-end before the Santa Ynez Falls.
We weren’t alone at the falls, but we did have about 15 minutes or so of having the falls to ourselves. It took us around 75 minutes to do the roughly 1.2 miles to get to this point.
We could have extended the hike by going up some rope to the left of the waterfall, but I opted against doing that as it didn’t look particularly safe nor did the rewards further upstream seem justified in assuming such risk.
Finishing Off The Adventure
Santa Ynez Falls was apparently quite the popular spot despite the adventure it took to get here.
Not only did we encounter a couple of young women at the falls when we first showed up, but a few more couples showed up as we were about to make our way back out.
On the hike and scramble back downstream, we had to negotiate the same obstacles as on the way in, so it didn’t go as fast as would typically be the case.
We also encountered numerous hikers heading towards the waterfall, which further corroborated that sense of this place being quite popular (even if it was only our first time doing this hike after all these years).
After another 70 minutes or so, we finally returned to our car, where suddenly we saw the residential street full of cars parallel parked.
Having spent so much time sloshing around in the creek, our feet finally thanked us letting them breathe and dry out a bit.
And now having done this hike, we can totally appreciate the fun factor even if this waterfall was on the diminutive side at first glance.
Santa Ynez Falls resides in the Topanga State Park. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the California Department of Parks and Recreation website.
Santa Ynez Falls pretty much sat within one of the few pockets of undeveloped terrain in Pacific Palisades.
To get here, we had a choice of driving to the Santa Ynez Canyon Trailhead or an alternate trailhead at Trippet Ranch.
We’ll only describe the Santa Ynez Canyon Trailhead route since that was the way we did it.
From the I-10 and I-405 junction in Santa Monica, we headed west on the I-10 towards the freeway’s end as it transitioned into Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) just past the Santa Monica Pier.
After about 4 miles along PCH from the tunnel beneath the Santa Monica Pier, we then turned right onto Sunset Blvd.
We then drove roughly a half-mile on Sunset Blvd before turning left onto Palisade Dr.
Next, we drove about 2.5 miles on Palisade Drive through a canyon before re-emerging among upscale housing communities. Then, we turned left onto Vereda de la Montura, which was a residential road leading to a pair of gates at the intersection with Camino de Yasato.
The gated trailhead was right by this intersection on the right. We found street parking along the Vereda de la Montura.
This drive was about 23 miles (or about 30-60+ minutes depending on traffic) from downtown Los Angeles.
For further context, Santa Monica was about 52 miles (over an hour drive) northwest of Irvine, 92 miles (over 90 minutes drive) southeast of Santa Barbara, and roughly 70 miles (also about 90 minutes drive) west of Riverside.
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