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A Hike To Escondido Falls In Malibu, California

A Hike to Escondido Falls in Malibu, California

My expectations were low as I headed off on a hike to Escondido Falls in Malibu. After all, I was in southern California – a place at least in my mind associated with lots of people and very little in the way of wilderness.

Fortunately I was wrong. It seems that some of the canyons accessible from the Pacific Coast Highway offer some pretty decent hiking. I took a few hours and hiked to Escondido Falls in beautiful Escondido Canyon Park, just 17 miles west of Santa Monica.

But first I had to find the trailhead and once again the GPS and I were fighting. Eventually I turned it off but not before driving up a road that led to this view.

"Lost on the way to Escondido Canyon"

Lost on the way to Escondido Canyon – somewhere near Malibu

The Escondido Falls Trailhead

In actuality it’s very easy to miss the trailhead – especially when it doesn’t feel look the sort of wild trailhead in the middle of the woods that I’m used to. It’s just off the Pacific Coast Highway at the corner of East Winding Way, not far from Solstice Canyon and just past Latigo Canyon Road.

The signed parking lot at the base of East Winding Way is small. My understanding is that it can get very busy so arrive early unless you want to add considerable mileage to your hike by parking somewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Starting on the trail to Escondido Falls

The first 0.75 mile of trail is actually along East Winding Way, a residential road leading to very large properties. It’s actually kind of fun checking out the local real estate. One place had a security guard by the road.

You'll pass by this home and others of similar size on the hike to Escondido Falls

You’ll pass by this home and others of similar size

High end California real estate on the way to Escondido Falls

More of the high end real estate you pass

Directions to the falls

Once you’ve past the last of the homes look for a dirt trail descending down on your left. Signage was missing when I was there. In the spring, I read that the fields are covered with fennel and mustard. Now it’s all brown but the bird life was fantastic and I regretted that my bird lover husband wasn’t with me.

"trail directions"

The trail heads down the slope just around the corner on the left

After you cross a small creek turn left and hike along a mostly level path all the way to Escondido Falls. In spring wildflowers along the trail would be abundant but in December only a few are blooming. However, the trees with their masculine looking branches will stop you dead in your tracks.

Massive trees but I don't know what type on the way to Escondido Falls

Massive trees but I don’t know what type

"Huge trees with masculine trunks"

Huge trees with masculine trunks

The easy walking trail to Escondido Falls

The easy walking trail to Escondido Falls

Unfortunately in December the waterfalls are not running. That doesn’t mean the hike isn’t worthwhile. It is for the sense of solitude and peace it brings.

"It's still lush around the falls even though they aren't running"

It’s still lush around the falls even though they aren’t running

If you are sure-footed and don’t mind scrambling, then continue up from the first waterfall on a slippery path of rocks and dirt. There are ropes in several places to keep you from sliding down. This section is not good for little kids but older ones would love the challenge.

"rope for hiking up a trail"

One of the ropes in place to help you up and down

"The higher you go the prettier it gets"

The higher you go the prettier it gets

"Looking out towards the Pacific Ocean from the Upper Falls"

Looking out towards the Pacific Ocean from the Upper Falls

"Looking up where the non-existent waterfall"

Looking up at the non-existent waterfall

"Escondido Falls when it's flowing is a great place to cool off"

Escondido Falls when it’s flowing is a great place to cool off – Photo credit: Eric Chan on Flickr

The Upper Escondido Falls are about three times taller than the lower falls. In total the two falls are 200 feet tall. Visit early in the spring, when the falls should be at their best. All told the hike from the parking lot to the Upper Escondido Falls is 3.8 miles return with 400 feet of elevation gain.

The parking and the hike to Escondido Falls is free. Dogs are allowed but on a leash only. These falls can get very busy in season though in December I saw only five other people.

Further reading on things to do in California

For information on all things California visit the California Tourism website. It’s packed with great information.

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 23 Comments
  1. Looks like an amazing and beautiful trail. I like the fact that you get to a waterfall where you can cool off. There are various trails in the Kimberleys where you can do that. I would just swim in my hiking clothes and then be much cooler for the return walk!
    Have a wonderful Christmas and thankyou for stopping by my blog this week.

    1. @Jill I would have enjoyed seeing the falls running at full force but it’s still a lovely hike that makes you feel a million miles away from LA. I like the sound of your hikes/swims in Australia – as long as there are no salt water crocodiles nearby.

  2. First off, I consider the Pacific Coast Highway to be the most beautiful drive in the entire world. Ok, I haven’t been around the entire world. I was so hoping for waterfalls with the title, Leigh! You did bring a fantastic lesson to mind for me with living up here in the Sierra Nevada mountains in that there is usually always water and hence waterfalls. I would love to stand under them like that lady is doing (in the summer of course). And I’m soooo envious of all those vibrant green and yellow colors which we do NOT have here right now! Thank you again for taking us along another one of your great adventures, our friend! 🙂

    1. @Mike The PCT is pretty darned amazing especially considering its length. I love a waterfall where you can actually swim around in it; getting under it is even more awesome. I have no green in Calgary either so its a real treat to get a dose of green in the winter months.

  3. This reminds me of my hike to Yahoo Falls in Kentucky. It is supposed to be the tallest falls in Kentucky, but it was only dripping. I will have to go back in spring. What kind of birds did you see?

    1. @Ted I saw all sorts of birds that were flitting around and singing but none stopped long enough for me to even get an inkling of what they were – and I had no binoculars with me.

      This hike is worth doing year round but definitely optimal in spring.

  4. You have an amazing ability to stay on track and find the prettiest wilderness. Don’t see how you manage to find the trails. Do you just use the GPS or are there specific maps, apps and books you would recommend?

    1. @Mette I do read guidebooks and try and take advantage of any local knowledge I have. I never use a GPS in the wilderness – map only. There are loads of guidebooks out on the Rockies so I use those to get ideas when I’m home.

  5. Wonderful photos, Leigh. A reprieve from unusual winter Canadian winter conditions. Wishing you and yours a special and joyous Merry Christmas followed by a prosperous and Happy New Year. Thanks for sharing your adventures.

  6. I can only imagine how this place surprised you after the low expectations you had. Truly amazing landscape. The trekking path looks very challenging though.

  7. I am still laughing at the photo of ‘the home’ you passed. I kept thinking it was a hotel and hoping you’d tell us about it! Great post, Leigh! Hope you are having a super Arizona Christmas and New Years!

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