About Whitney Canyon Falls
Whitney Canyon Falls is one of those waterfalls where you can experience very little of it or a lot of it depending on your risk tolerance.
Indeed, we found that this adventure can be both fun and scary at the same time as a result of the rough scramble required to climb up its cascading drops comprising the overall waterfall.
Perhaps what was more perplexing to us was that finding the Whitney Canyon Trailhead was quite easy as it was pretty much right off the freeway near Newhall (see directions below).
In fact, we were late to the party, so to speak, and we have to credit AllTrails for making us aware of this spot.
Nevertheless, even though many people have done this hike, we’ve informally surveyed random people we’ve encountered on the trail who have said that they didn’t make it up to the waterfalls that you see pictured above.
I suspect it was the somewhat sketchy scrambling that caused most hikers to not make it up to the falls, and I also suspect it was that scrambling that caused this falls to go unvisited by us until now.
Another aspect of this falls conspiring to stay hidden from most people is that its flow is highly seasonal and short-lived.
Indeed, you really have to time a visit to this place for right after a series of storms, and the fire-scarred trees here were stark reminders of how hot and dry it typically gets in the Newhall Pass area.
Hiking to Whitney Canyon Falls
As for the hiking logistics, the trail starts off in the jurisdiction of Whitney Canyon Park, but it actually enters the jurisdiction of the Angeles National Forest in the far western end of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Interestingly, I saw signs saying that this place is part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy though the actual Santa Monica Mountains Range further south facing the ocean over Malibu and Pacific Palisades.
Regarding the hiking trail itself, according to my trip logs, we walked about 3.6 miles round-trip to do the out-and-back route.
Of that distance, about 2 miles of it (one mile each way) was mostly flat and on a very wide unpaved road (Whitney Canyon Road) with plenty of shade from both the Whitney Canyon walls as well as the trees flanking the path.
In the 1.5 miles (or 3/4-mile each way), the trail narrowed as the canyon itself closed in.
The path eventually dropped down to the creek both following and crossing it a few times, and the crossings were quite shallow and easy to stay dry during our visit.
However, the last quarter-mile or so (1/8-mile each way) involved scrambling up some steep and slippery intermediate waterfall obstacles with some mild dropoff exposure (or at least risk dropping into a waterfall’s plunge pool).
It’s this last part that makes this hike deceptively challenging despite how easy the initial maintained trail was.
Overall, it took us around 2.5 hours to do the hike as a family, including all the picture taking and pausing.
Whitney Canyon Falls Trail Description
From the Newhall East Park and Ride, which also doubled as the Whitney Canyon Trailhead, we descended down past the unpaved overflow parking area before going onto a wide open Whitney Canyon Road.
Across the valley and stream appeared to be some kind of residence or working facility, which was private and off limits.
Along the wide open path, we benefitted from the shade provided by the north-facing walls of Whitney Canyon as well as the low angle of the morning sun in Winter.
We encountered a few trails (both legit and false) to our right, but we kept left to remain in Whitney Canyon as the other paths may go up to the Santa Clara Trail (we noticed mountain bikers going up in that direction).
At around 0.4-mile from the start of the hike, we spotted some kind of reflective pond that I suspect to be man-made (though I know not what its purpose was).
Beyond this pond, after another half-mile, we encountered another trail junction, where we kept left to remain in the canyon (as the path on the right was a continuation of the Whitney Canyon Road).
Not long after this fork, we encountered a pair of white walls besides the trail.
I wasn’t sure if these walls were some kind of retaining wall or leveler (or both) to act as some kind of foundation for a structure that may have once been here.
At least I did notice that there were some piles of deadfall, which indicated to me that this area was actively maintained regardless of whatever the purpose of those walls were.
As we hiked further away from the deviation with Whitney Canyon Road, the trail narrowed as it started skirting ledges while the canyon started closing in.
Eventually, the trail dropped down to the creek, where we then followed the creek as well as crossing it a few times (most of the crossings were trivial and easy to stay dry).
Ultimately the obvious trail part of the hike pretty much ended at the first waterfall obstacle roughly 1.7 miles from the parking area.
Whitney Canyon Falls Scrambling Description
From the first waterfall obstacle and beyond, it was pretty much a choose-your-own-adventure stream scramble with the hardest parts involving climbing up or alongside waterfalls and cascades.
The first obstacle was actually one of the more difficult ones, which I suspect would be why people tend to turn back at this point.
You see, the most obvious-looking path was to the right of the first waterfall, and it was there that we had to cling to a slippery and sloping wall with not much of a ledge to put our weight on since it was slippery down there, too.
It turned out that it was slightly easier (though less obvious) to go up the rock face to the left of the waterfall, and in hindsight, that’s probably what we should have done.
After getting up and over the first waterfall, the trail then followed the creek before encountering a second waterfall obstacle.
At this landmark, we had to cling to a slippery slope to the left of the waterfall to proceed, but at least it wasn’t as sketchy as getting up and over the first obstacle.
Next, after a little more hiking alongside the stream, we then approached a rocky series of cascades, which I’m calling the Lower Whitney Falls.
Depending on how much water is going over this section, it could be very difficult or moderately sketchy (it was the latter on our visit).
It involved crossing over the waterfall twice, but there were two ledge clinging parts where we had to be REAL careful or less risk falling 5-10ft or so.
The sketchiest part was clinging to and scaling the uppermost of these lower waterfalls, but it was also from this obstacle that I noticed the main waterfall upstream as well as a couple more hidden tiers up above it.
After scaling the last of the lower waterfalls, we were then on a somewhat flat part where we could look right at the trio of tiers making up what I’m calling the main part of Whitney Canyon Falls.
Although there were a couple more tiers further upstream, continuing to scale and scramble past these main falls looked like it was for folks with mountain goat climbing capabilities.
We saw one person do it, but no one else tried it, and it was definitely beyond my risk tolerance and comfort level to even attempt!
Once we had our fill of the views of this part of the falls, we then went back the way we came, which involved going back down the same sketchy obstacles we took on the way up.
Whitney Canyon Falls resides in the Angeles National Forest though the hike begins at Whitney Canyon Park in Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County, California. It is administered by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MCRA). For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Whitney Canyon Falls is accessed from the trailhead at the Whitney Canyon Park in Newhall (which itself was within Santa Clarita).
The parking area is straightforward as it sits just east of the Newhall Ave exit on the Antelope Valley Freeway (Hwy 14) just to the north of the I-5 and Highway 14 junction.
You can easily use your favorite routing app or software to navigate to the following address:
20303 Newhall Avenue, Santa Clarita, California 91321.
For some context, Santa Clarita was 37 miles (45 minutes drive) southwest of Palmdale, about 110 miles (under 90 minutes drive) south of Bakersfield, and 33 miles (about an hour drive depending on traffic) northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
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