Walking through this gully in the San Gabriel mountains, it is hard to believe I am still in drought-stricken Southern California.
Right from the start of this hike to Switzer Falls, I can hear the sounds of running water and birds declaring their contentment with this hidden nature enclave.
The trail starts from the Switzer picnic area in the Angeles National Forest and is about half an hour's drive from downtown Los Angeles.
The drive to the park on the Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) is a delight. The winding road has many vista stops that overlook the valley below with surreal scenes of Los Angeles in the distance.
Tip: To park a car anywhere in the Angeles National Forest you will need an Adventure Pass. You can get one for a day or for a year. In most places there is no way to purchase a pass, so you need to get one ahead of time. See the website here.
Once you are on the trail, the Arroyo Seco stream is never too far. You actually have to cross this stream many times along the way.
Some reviewers called this hike easy, but I think we should call it moderate. The first stretch of trail slopes down very gently tricking the hiker into thinking it too easy, but soon you will start ascending to the top of a ridge then dropping down into another gulley with a steep incline.
Tip: Wear waterproof hiking shoes. You have to cross the stream multiple times and in some places, you have to wade through the water.
All those climbs and drops make for a great workout and they all offer great views along the way, but always remember that you still have to repeat all that in reverse when it's time to head back.
At the highest point of this hike, you are above the tree line and you can get glimpses of the waterfall way below in the ravine.
Tip: There is a parking lot at the entrance to the picnic area (on Hwy 2). Skip that one and go all the down for a better spot. If that one is full, try the other parking lots placed up higher on the drive. The top lot is your last resort.
Depending on the time of year, the waterfall itself may not very impressive. During Summer and Fall, It could be a short cascade down a rocky slope with a small shallow pool. After winter storms, expect a much more robust waterfall, with several pools and a strong stream.
Having said that, it is still worth a trip any time of the year and it is still a miracle that we have any waterfalls at all in Southern California.
Tip: There is a side trail that will take you to the upper fall with a larger pool. I did not attempt this hike myself and I don’t recommend to the casual hiker, but if you really want to try it read the details here.
At the waterfall, you can enjoy a picnic or just sit and relax before your journey back. If you are lucky, you will have the whole waterfall and gulley to yourself. Although this trail is popular, there are times when the waterfall area is totally empty and quiet.
Trailhead address: Switzer Truck Trail, Altadena, CA 91001
Length: 4 miles round trip
Time: 1.5 to 2.5 hours depending on your stops