Waterfalls in Malibu? You bet! In fact, the multi-tiered, 150 foot Escondido Falls are the highest waterfalls in the Santa Monica Mountains. This is an easy hike through oak-lined Escondido Canyon, just off Pacific Coast Highway in the middle of Malibu.
Second, the first 3/4 mile is actually on a residential road. Don’t complain. It is what it is.
Third, this is a very popular trail. Don’t expect solitude, especially at the waterfall.
And finally, while the trail itself is pretty easy, with nothing more challenging than rock-hopping at a few creek crossings, getting to the larger, more impressive upper tier of falls requires some boulder scrambling. I would be reluctant to take preteens, the elderly or anyone who doesn’t like climbing up and down boulders beyond the lower falls. You’ve been warned!
Getting to the trailhead is easy. There is a small lot at the intersection of Winding Way and Pacific Coast Highway, with overflow parking along PCH. The hike mileage begins at this lot.
For the first 3/4 of a mile, you’ll follow the “trail” alongside Winding Way. Keep in mind that residents do actually drive along this road, so stick to the trail on the shoulder. Like the sign says, please stay on the trail.
At .75 miles, you’ll see the actual trail into Escondido Canyon peel off to the left. Follow this trail down into the oak-lined canyon.
The trail through Escondido Canyon is easy, with a few fun creek crossings to keep it interesting. The trail is open to hikers, mountain bikes (I saw some tire tracks, but no bikers) and horses. Dogs on leash are also allowed.
There are some amazing, majest oak trees along the canyon trail.
Once you get to the lower tier of the falls, you’ll notice a strong sulphuric odor. These falls are nice, but the bigger falls are in the upper tier, which requires some scrambling to get to.
En route to the upper tier, take time to look back down over Escondido Canyon. You can see the Pacific Ocean and islands off the coastline.
Upper Escondido Falls has multiple tiers, and you may see people scrambling up behind the first tier, where they can take a photo from behind the falls. The falls are best viewed soon after rainfall, and slow to a trickle at other times.
Notes from the SoCal Hiker
This was a nice little hike. It was an easy drive from LA, and fun to be along the coast on a warm day. The trail was busier than I prefer, but mainly because it is so accessible. The hike to the lower falls was easy, but the scramble to the upper falls requires more. Some of the people I saw attempting it with older folks or younger children were really struggling, and I would advise against it.
I also saw quite a bit of poison oak along that segment, so keep your eyes open and watch what you’re walking into to!
The most disappointing thing about this hike? The trash. There were many plastic water bottles strewn around and near the falls. Please, pack it out. Leave no trace. And if you see some trash, pick it up.
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More Escondido Falls Trail Resources
These guides give other views, information and perspectives on hiking to Escondido Falls.
- Escondido Canyon Park – from the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy
- California Through My Lens – My buddy Josh hiked Escondido Falls and shares his perspective and some great photos.
- Post-hike Lunch – After the hike, you’ve earned lunch. Check out The Plate a few miles south of the trailhead in Malibu. Good food, organic ingredients, and hiker-friendly. Joan had one of their herbal iced teas (check the gallery for the details) and a garden burger. I had the turkey burger with sweet potato fries, washed down with an organic lager from a small brewery in Yorkshire. Perfect!
- Looking for more waterfall hikes? Here you go.