Cooper Canyon Falls is a beautiful waterfall that flows almost year round, but roars in April-May as the spring snow melts. The falls can be spectacular when you time your hike right, and I’m surprise more people don’t talk about this trail.
This hike includes a side trip to Cooper Canyon Campground — a wilderness campsite right on the Pacific Crest Trail — making this an easy hike to modify for an overnight backpacking trip. It’s not long, but it it has some great features and makes a great shake-down trip for testing your gear and getting comfortable with your pack weight before a longer trip.
Getting to the Trailhead
The trailhead is found at the very back of the Buckhorn Campground, about 33 miles back from La Cañada-Flintridge off Highway 2 in the Angeles National Forest (Google map).
Start at the Burkhart Trail and head down. Yes, this is one of those trails where the elevation gain is all on the way out. Some people prefer to get the vertical out of the way first, but that’s not really an option for this trip. But it’s worth it.
The trail descends down a mostly shady canyon with a babbling creek at the bottom. The Buckhorn Campground provides car camping, and a lot of people were exploring and playing in the creek not far from the trailhead. We soon left them behind as we traveled further down.
I was surprised to see a number of redwood trees — an unusual site in southern California.
At the 1.2 mile mark, the trail reaches a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. The falls are to the right only a few hundred yards down the trail. You’ll have to scramble down the embankment to reach them, and there was a handy rope to make getting down (and back up) a bit easier.
I was surprised to see fairly decent-sized fish swimming in the pool below the falls! The waterfall and creek were beautiful in spite of the drought. In wetter years as the snow melts, Cooper Canyon Falls are spectacular.
Here’s a shot from Kolby “The Hike Guy” Kirk taken during his 2011 hike on the PCT:
Doubling back to the junction, we took the PCT toward the Cooper Canyon Campground. This was about 1.5 miles up another canyon, and we ran into a group of PCT thru-hikers headed the same way. The campground itself feels quite developed, even though you have to hike back there. There are two pit toilets, picnic tables and plenty of area for tents — making it suitable for groups. And the creek runs just behind the camp area, providing a water source.
Personally I wouldn’t choose this camp for a quiet getaway, but for a group looking for an easy way to test the waters and give backpacking a try, this could be ideal. And it gives you a chance to actually backpack a section of the epic Pacific Crest Trail.
Cooper Canyon Falls Trail Map
Cooper Canyon Photo Gallery
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Cooper Canyon Tips
- No permits are required for the Cooper Canyon Camp. There are six, first-come, first-serve hike-in sites.
- Water is typically available from the stream at Cooper Canyon Camp, but should be treated. Flow may be low or non-existent in dry years during the height of summer.
- An Adventure Pass is required to park at the Burkhart Trailhead.
- After the hike, grab a burger and a beer at a favorite biker destination — Newcomb’s Ranch on your way back.
Cooper Canyon Weather Forecast
Tuesday 03/26 0%
Considerable cloudiness. Lows overnight in the mid 40s.
Wednesday 03/27 0%
Partly cloudy early. Mostly sunny skies with gusty winds developing later in the day. High 66F. Winds WSW at 20 to 30 mph.
Thursday 03/28 0%
Mostly sunny. High near 65F. Winds W at 10 to 20 mph.
Friday 03/29 0%
Sunny. High 67F. Winds NNW at 10 to 15 mph.