Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls

Lake Elsinore / San Juan Capistrano / Cleveland National Forest, California, USA

About Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls


Hiking Distance: about 3 miles round trip (1st waterfall); about 4.2 miles round trip with scramble (2nd waterfall)
Suggested Time: about 2 hours (1st waterfall only); about 3-4 hours (2nd waterfall)

Date first visited: 2022-01-15
Date last visited: 2022-01-15

Waterfall Latitude: 33.64758
Waterfall Longitude: -117.4707

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls (perhaps more descriptively referred to as the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfalls) are a series of waterfalls within the accessible part of Hot Spring Canyon.

It turns out that the entirety of Hot Spring Canyon is one of the most pristine canyons to be found in the Santa Ana Mountains, which is shared between Orange County and Riverside County.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_327_01152022 - One of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls
One of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls

The reason why it’s mostly pristine is that it requires technical canyoneering (i.e. a combination of rappeling, climbing, swimming, and scrambling) throughout most of the canyon.

Only the Upper Hot Spring Canyon and its waterfalls are accessible to hikers, and that’s the focus of the remainder of this write-up.

The Hot Spring Canyon Waterfalls

As far as the waterfalls within Upper Hot Spring Canyon are concerned, we encountered four notable ones – two main waterfalls and two intermediate waterfalls in between them.

Of the two main waterfalls, the first one is said to be 15ft while the second one is said to be about 25ft (though I actually think the cumulative heights are more like 25ft and 40ft, respectively).

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_218_01152022 - Mom checking out one of the intermediate waterfalls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Mom checking out one of the intermediate waterfalls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon

Regarding the two intermediate waterfalls, one was on the order of about 5-10ft or so while the other one is a sloping cascade that’s closer to about 10-15ft or so.

By the way, among the many waterfalls further within the Lower Hot Spring Canyon is the 160ft Tanriverdi Falls, which is said to be the tallest in the Santa Ana Mountain Range.

As much as I would like to witness this waterfall in person, it is not realistic for me to attempt.

In fact, I’d imagine the vast majority of hikers would be unwilling to risk life and limb to pursue this waterfall so it should be avoided until someone decides to make a sanctioned trail to get to it from the lower end of Hot Spring Canyon.

Are The Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls Worth The Effort?

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_366_01152022 - The first main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon in low flow
The first main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon in low flow

As you can see from the low scenic rating we gave this waterfall, there’s a bit of a dilemma when it comes to making a visit to the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfalls.

Come when there’s low flow like you see in the photo above, and you’re set up for a disappointing visit (and the tagging around the falls doesn’t help either).

However, if you come when there’s high flow, then it becomes more difficult (maybe even dangerous) to get a good look at the top of the second main waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon, especially considering how slippery the rocks were around it.

So even though the first waterfall wasn’t doing so well, just downstream from the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls was a tributary feeding Hot Spring Creek (at least that’s what I think it’s called).

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_023_iPhone_01152022 - That's me looking down at the second main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon. Needless to say, if there had been more water in the creek, then sitting right at the cliff's edge like this would have been foolish
That’s me looking down at the second main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon. Needless to say, if there had been more water in the creek, then sitting right at the cliff’s edge like this would have been foolish

The resulting increase in the stream’s volume made witnessing the remaining waterfalls of Upper Hot Spring Canyon more satisfying.

Anyways, experiencing waterfalls from their top is rarely a satisfying exercise, and this experience was no different.

As far as timing a visit to the Hot Spring Canyon Waterfalls, to give you an idea of the timing of the first waterfall, we made our visit in mid-January 2022 two weeks after the passing of an intense series of storms.

At least given those conditions, the remaining waterfalls had pretty good flow, but the creek didn’t have so much water that getting into the stream for a good view of the that second waterfall wasn’t as downright foolish.

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trail Summary

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_022_01152022 - One of the false trails that were prevalent in the initial part of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike. In this photo, the trail on the right was actually the false one, but typically most of the trails on the left go back to the Blue Jay or Falcon Campgrounds
One of the false trails that were prevalent in the initial part of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike. In this photo, the trail on the right was actually the false one, but typically most of the trails on the left go back to the Blue Jay or Falcon Campgrounds

For all intents and purposes, the hike to explore the Upper Hot Spring Canyon can be divided into two sections.

The first section starts from the Falcon Group Campground (see directions below) and ends at the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls.

The distance covered here is about 1.5 miles (or 3 miles round-trip) with about 300ft net elevation loss.

The majority of this hike is on a well-established trail though there was a noticeable lack of signage, especially around the false trails near the Falcon Group Campground.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_061_01152022 - The hike to Upper Hot Spring Canyon's first waterfall mostly hugged the right side of the creek on an established use-trail
The hike to Upper Hot Spring Canyon’s first waterfall mostly hugged the right side of the creek on an established use-trail

I’d imagine that this first section would be sufficient for most day hikers, especially if the appetite for rough and rugged adventures is not there.

For the second part of the hike, it continues where the first section left off just downstream of the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls.

The remaining 0.6-mile of the hike continued to follow some trails clinging to the embankments of the Hot Spring Creek, but the trail eventually disappears into the creek (or crosses it several more times) as the canyon walls close in.

This stretch contains more obstacles, including a pair of intermediate waterfalls, where it can get quite slippery on the rocky surfaces around these waterfalls.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_248_01152022 - The hike between the first and second main waterfalls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon involved more scrambling, especially as the canyon walls closed in towards the top of the second waterfall
The hike between the first and second main waterfalls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon involved more scrambling, especially as the canyon walls closed in towards the top of the second waterfall

Once at the second main waterfall, you’ll quickly see that further progress from this point forward is not feasible without technical canyoneering gear and a lot of experience.

Therefore, this is pretty much the turnaround point of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike, making for about a 4.2-mile round-trip hike with 425ft elevation loss in total.

Depending on your acceptable level of risk and preparation, most people may be content with just visiting the first waterfall while the more adventurous can continue further to reach the top of the second waterfall.

However, any further progress beyond that point is for the highly prepared and highly skilled (and maybe a bit crazy).

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_265_01152022 - This was the view of the rugged canyon from the top of the second main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon. It would require canyoneering gear and skills to go any further
This was the view of the rugged canyon from the top of the second main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon. It would require canyoneering gear and skills to go any further

Overall, Julie and Tahia spent maybe around 2 hours or less going to just the first waterfall and back, and from their point-of-view, I’d say the difficulty of this abridged hike would be more like a 3 or less.

On the other hand, my mom and I spent a little over 3.5 hours to get to the second waterfall and back, where the difficulty score is indicative of encompassing this part of the hike.

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trail Description – The First Waterfall

From the trailhead, there was immediately a pair of trails branching out of the pullout area.

We first went left, which then traversed an open area before going in and out of open terrain interspersed with lightly dense groves of prickly vegetation.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_049_01152022 - A vegetated section of the first part of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike, where we were going past a combination of trees as well as desert vegetation
A vegetated section of the first part of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike, where we were going past a combination of trees as well as desert vegetation

There were a handful of false trails, which can get confusing since there was a lack of signage.

Fortunately, armed with a GPS app, we were able to figure out that most of the false trails to the left went back to the Falcon and Blue Jay Campgrounds.

At around a quarter-mile from the trailhead, the trail then started to skirt alongside Hot Spring Creek (at least that’s what I think it’s called), which started off dry since we were at the headwaters of Hot Spring Canyon.

The trail pretty much stayed to the right of the creek as we went downstream with the exception of maybe one section where the trail was eroded, slippery, and narrow (there was an alternate path to the left of the creek bypassing that section).

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_067_01152022 - A section of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike where it was actually better to continue on the left side of the creek instead of the eroded and slippery ledge on the right side where we were at in this picture
A section of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike where it was actually better to continue on the left side of the creek instead of the eroded and slippery ledge on the right side where we were at in this picture

The further downstream we went, the more water was present in the creek.

Eventually, after about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, we then reached the first waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon, which was about a 15-25ft double-drop.

Because this waterfall was exclusively fed by a singular drainage near the headwaters of Upper Hot Spring Canyon, you really have to time your visit to see this one flow well.

In our experience, it didn’t even last two weeks before it already went from a good flow to trickling.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_162_01152022 - Closer look at the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls flanked by lots of graffiti
Closer look at the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls flanked by lots of graffiti

Nevertheless, this waterfall is the most accessible of the ones on this excursion, and the amount of graffiti around it is kind of a testament to how accessible it is.

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trail Description – The Second Waterfall

Beyond the first waterfall, a side tributary stream that actually carried more water fed Hot Spring Creek, and that made the creek itself persist with flowing water (though even this can dry up with a sustained dry period).

For the first quarter-mile, we were still able to follow a trail hugging mostly the right side of the creek with a few sections where we had to cross over to the left side.

However, we then reached the first intermediate waterfall, which was about a 5-10ft small falls, where we had to cross the creek upstream of the falls before carefully making our way down the right side of the creek past the falls.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_178_01152022 - Just because the first waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon may not be flowing well, that doesn't mean the rest of the waterfalls in the canyon won't be as disappointing thanks to this feeder creek coming in just downstream of the first waterfall
Just because the first waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon may not be flowing well, that doesn’t mean the rest of the waterfalls in the canyon won’t be as disappointing thanks to this feeder creek coming in just downstream of the first waterfall

The rocks here were definitely worn smooth, and we really had to be careful about slipping and falling here even when it was dry.

Beyond this waterfall obstacle, we crossed to the left side of the creek and then descended towards another crossing where we did a bit of leap to cross a deep part of the creek.

From there, we then skirted the banks of the creek before crossing over to the left again, and this ultimately took us alongside a second intermediate waterfall, which was a sloping cascade.

Beyond this cascade, we then kept to the left of the creek before the trail eventually forced us to go to the right side of the creek as well as coinciding with the creek itself given that the canyon walls had closed in by this point.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_210_01152022 - Mom approaching the next pair of crossings of the creek shortly after the first intermediate waterfall. This area was quite slippery (especially on the return)
Mom approaching the next pair of crossings of the creek shortly after the first intermediate waterfall. This area was quite slippery (especially on the return)

Needless to say, this would not be the place to be under heavy rains or when the creek had been swollen given how slippery smooth the rocks are here.

Eventually after about 0.6-mile from the first waterfall (or maybe another 0.2-mile from the last of the intermediate waterfalls), we then approached the brink of the second Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls.

As tempting as it was to continue to cling to the ledges to the right of the waterfall, the slope of that ledge tilted downwards to the dropoffs and the surface was way too slick for me to even entertain the thought of traversing.

In order to get the best view that I could get of this second waterfall, I crossed the creek one last time to get to the brink next to a tree that had some rappeling rope tied around it (evidence that it was an anchor for canyoneering down the falls).

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_280_01152022 - Looking down over the brink of the second waterfall and start of the very rugged Lower Hot Spring Canyon beyond
Looking down over the brink of the second waterfall and start of the very rugged Lower Hot Spring Canyon beyond

Needless to say, this should only be attempted if the waterflow is low because of how slippery and dangerous it was here.

And that is the essence of the catch-22 of visiting these waterfalls – where high flow would make for a good experience at the first falls but a treacherous experience for the second falls.

We experienced the opposite situation where we had a disappointing experience with the first waterfall but a better experience with the second waterfall (albeit still unsatisfactory from my experiences).

Authorities

Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls resides in the Cleveland National Forest near Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, California (the waterfall itself is actually across the county line in Orange County). 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.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_008_01152022 - At the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead, there were actually two paths that branch off from here.  The near-side one (left as you face the parking area) is the one you're supposed to take
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_011_01152022 - Initially the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike started off traversing an open area like this
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_017_01152022 - It didn't take long before we started to encounter unsigned forks like this where it can get pretty confusing regarding which way to go. We initially kept right here for the most part as most of the trails going left went back to the Falcon and/or Blue Jay Campgrounds
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_018_01152022 - Passing through some forested areas along the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_020_01152022 - The Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike was pretty much on a well-worn use-trail so we didn't have much difficulty following it aside from the false trails at the beginning
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_023_01152022 - Going by another false trail. In this instance, the one on the right dead-ended or disappeared so we had to go left
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_026_01152022 - Traversing some fallen tree obstacle in the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_029_01152022 - Continuing to follow the well-worn Upper Hot Spring Canyon use-trail en route to the first waterfall
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_036_01152022 - Initially, the creek that the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trail was following was dry or lacked consistent flow
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_039_01152022 - Eventually, the lower into Upper Hot Spring Canyon we went, the more persistent the water became though it was still no guarantee of a good flow for that first waterfall (which we'd find out later)
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_041_01152022 - Going past a section of the creek in Upper Hot Spring Canyon where it was actually dry so some parts had water and some parts didn't during our visit
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_045_01152022 - The trail skirting by another dry section of the creek in Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_065_01152022 - The group continuing along the Upper Hot Spring Canyon use-trail which skirted along the right side of the creek, which had water in this photo
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_077_01152022 - Looking back across the creek towards the slippery and eroded part of the trail on the right side of Upper Hot Spring Canyon as we continued in the initial section to the first waterfall
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_078_01152022 - Julie approaching the next crossing of the creek to continue the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike shortly after the eroded section bypass
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_079_01152022 - Continuing to skirt the right side of the creek on our way down to the first waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_083_01152022 - The Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike undulated between clinging to ledges above the creek and descending to the level alongside the creek itself
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_089_01152022 - This was one of the rockier and rougher sections of the first part of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike, but they were few and far between in the first 1.5 miles
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_092_01152022 - Although some parts of the first 1.5 miles of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike were narrow and rocky, it was by and large still tame and fairly straightforward
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_100_01152022 - The group continuing along the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike through mostly open terrain alongside the right side of the creek
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_104_01152022 - Tahia and Mom going past one of the more high vegetation segments of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_110_01152022 - Tahia traversing a dry tributary coming in from the right as we were getting closer to the first waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_127_01152022 - Finally approaching a dropoff where the first of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfalls should be
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_128_01152022 - Looking down across the top of first waterfall of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_132_01152022 - Looking at the upper drop of the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfall
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_140_01152022 - Julie carefully making her way down to the base of the first waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_142_01152022 - Another look across the upper drop of the first waterfall of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon, which was flanked by unsightly graffiti
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_146_01152022 - Close-up look at the first waterfall of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon flanked by lots of graffiti, which further exacerbated the disappointing low-flow conditions
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_149_01152022 - Tahia playing at the stagnant plunge pool before the first waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_160_01152022 - Another look at Tahia playing at the first waterfall of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon as seen from the far side of its plunge pool
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_180_01152022 - Mom continuing alongside the creek in pursuit of the second main waterfall in the Upper Hot Spring Canyon, where there was noticeably much more water in the creek at this point
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_182_01152022 - Beyond the first waterfall, the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike was considerably narrower, more overgrown, and rougher
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_184_01152022 - We also had to watch out for poison oak as well as ticks given the amount of overgrowth present in this section of Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_186_01152022 - Mom traversing more overgrowth and deadfalls on the way to the second waterfall in the Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_193_01152022 - Mom continuing to skirt the right side of the creek on our way deeper into the Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_196_01152022 - I couldn't help but notice how the rocks had white deposits left on them as the creek levels receded
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_207_01152022 - Mom approaching the first of the intermediate waterfalls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon, but even down here, there were unfortunate signs of graffiti
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_011_iPhone_01152022 - Context of Mom carefully going past the first intermediate waterfall among the very slippery rocks
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_213_01152022 - Looking back at the first of the intermediate waterfalls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon, where this one was probably about 5ft tall or so
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_228_01152022 - Shortly after the first intermediate waterfall, we then had to find our way to the next crossing of the creek
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_230_01152022 - Mom approaching an obstacle where we had to hop across the creek among slippery rocks
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_234_01152022 - This was the second intermediate waterfall that we encountered in Upper Hot Spring Canyon, and even this attractive cascade had some tagging nearby
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_242_01152022 - Mom continuing along deeper into the Upper Hot Spring Canyon in pursuit of the second waterfall
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_244_01152022 - Context of Mom clinging to the ledges as the Upper Hot Spring Canyon walls were closing in
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_247_01152022 - Mom continuing along the canyon walls where we were getting squeezed between the canyon walls and the overgrowth within the Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_251_01152022 - Mom finally approaching the top of the second waterfall within Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_252_01152022 - This was as close to the brink of the second waterfall that Mom was willing to go
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_261_01152022 - Although it looked like it might be possible to cling onto the sloping ledge to the lower right of this picture, that downward slope combined with the slippery rocks made that a death wish
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_262_01152022 - Looking over the brink of the second of the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls from the right side of the creek
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_264_01152022 - Looking directly down over the brink of the second Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_285_01152022 - Looking down over the brink of the second Upper Hot Spring Canyon waterfall from the left side of the creek
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_289_01152022 - Close-up look at some kind of rope or webbing wrapped around a (dead) tree next to the brink of the second Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls. Clearly, this was being used as an achor for rappels over the second waterfall and beyond into the Lower Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_298_01152022 - Following Mom back up the Upper Hot Spring Canyon after having our fill of the second waterfall's top
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_307_01152022 - Continuing upstream along the Upper Hot Spring Canyon as we were done visiting the second waterfall
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_340_01152022 - Mom approaching the second intermediate waterfall obstacle in Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_341_01152022 - Mom climbing up past the second intermediate waterfall as we made the return hike from the second Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_343_01152022 - Mom approaching the next crossing of the creek, where it was tricky to stay upright given how slippery the rocks were there
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_344_01152022 - Looking back at the hop across the creek between slippery rocks, and this was where Mom took a little bit of a spill
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_347_01152022 - Mom about to climb up past the first intermediate waterfall on our way back up to the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_358_01152022 - Mom noticed blood later on in the hike, which came from that spill she took earlier on
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_362_01152022 - Continuing to make our way back up towards the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_370_01152022 - Mom about to climb up past the first waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_374_01152022 - Looking down at this couple sitting by the first tier of the first Upper Hot Spring Canyon Waterfall, which made me think that perhaps it was taller than the quoted 15ft in cumulative height
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_386_01152022 - Mom still making her way back to the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_406_01152022 - Mom avoiding the steep eroded ledge on the left side of this picture on our way back to the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_419_01152022 - On the home stretch leading back to the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead as the scenery opened up again
Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_423_01152022 - Traversing the final open section before reaching the Upper Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead


Although Upper Hot Spring Canyon Falls is accessed from the Ortega Highway, it’s actually closer to the Lake Elsinore side of the route so I’ll only describe the directions as if we took the I-15 south.

Heading south on the I-15 from its interchange with the 91 Freeway in Corona, we drove about 14 miles to the Lake Street exit, then we turned right to go onto Lake Street.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_003_iPhone_01152022 - It can get pretty tight on the nearly single-lane road leading to the Blue Jay and Falcon Campgrounds
It can get pretty tight on the nearly single-lane road leading to the Blue Jay and Falcon Campgrounds

We then followed Lake Street (becoming Grand Ave) for about 6 miles before turning right onto the Ortega Highway (Hwy 74).

Then, we followed the Ortega Highway for about 6.5 miles before the turnoff for the Long Canyon Road on the right.

After about 1.6 miles on Long Canyon Road, we then turned right onto the NF-6S05 Road, which is paved but pretty much single-lane supporting bi-directional traffic.

We then drove the remaining 1.2 miles to an unsigned trailhead parking area (with maybe room for about 5 cars) on the left just past the turnoff for the Falcon Group Campground.

Upper_Hot_Spring_Canyon_Falls_006_01152022 - Context of the limited trailhead parking for the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike
Context of the limited trailhead parking for the Upper Hot Spring Canyon hike

Overall, this drive took us on the order of about 90 minutes (though it could be longer depending on traffic and where in LA you’re coming from).

If you want to go up via San Juan Capistrano, we’ve covered that route in other write-ups like for Chiquito Falls as well as Ortega Falls.

The turnoff for Long Canyon Road is to the left of the Ortega Highway roughly 2.4 miles north of the Ortega Oaks Candy Store.

Just to give you some geographical context, Lake Elsinore was about 34 miles (under an hour drive) northeast of San Juan Capistrano, about 46 miles (an hour drive) north of Escondido, 47 miles (about an hour drive) east of Irvine, and 70 miles (about 90 minutes drive) southeast of Downtown Los Angeles.

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Long video showing the first waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon as I descended from the top to the midpoint


Scrambling down from the middle to the bottom of the first waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon


Back and forth sweep of a pleasing intermediate waterfall on the way down to the second waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon


Back and forth sweep of perhaps the most pleasing of the intermediate waterfalls between the 1st main falls and the 2nd main falls in Upper Hot Spring Canyon


Back and forth sweep of the 2nd main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon showing the mountains in the distance as well as the most of the falls that I'd be able to see from the right side of the creek


Upstream to downstream and then back again sweep of the most pleasing spot to see the 2nd main waterfall of Upper Hot Spring Canyon safely


Focused look at the 2nd main waterfall in Upper Hot Spring Canyon from the most pleasing safe viewing angle

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Tagged with: blue jay campground, falcon campground, ortega highway, riverside county, orange county, lake elsinore, san juan capistrano, ortega oaks candy store



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.