Jeremy Pope
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Celebrate Summer by Hiking to These California Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Dreams of summer often conjure images of sun-soaked beaches and seaside vacations. California has plenty of both, but the Golden State has more to offer than just coastal bliss.

For many LGBTQ travelers, there’s a desire to experience the unexpected, to explore the unknown. For communities full of creativity, full of individuals unwilling to find satisfaction in the ordinary, a successful summer celebration may require more than the traditional vacation spots. For these travelers, the breathtaking waterfalls of California await.

Paradise Falls
1-hour drive from Los Angeles

Paradise Falls sits nestled in Wildwood Regional Park, part of the Arroyo Conejo Creek that runs through Thousand Oaks.

Hikers who want to get straight to the 40-foot falls can enjoy a 2.15-mile in-and-out trail. But the 2.55-mile loop trail is well worth the extra steps—hikers can catch some shade and a brief respite at Indian Cave, a vestige of the Chumash tribe and a feature unique to the park.

The trail is great for all skill levels, with a complete loop taking only about an hour and 15 minutes. The trail is free to use and welcomes dogs and bikes, leaving local adventurers few reasons to stay indoors this summer.

Temescal Canyon
20-minute drive from Santa Monica

For hikers wanting to catch a glimpse of the ocean while on the trail, the Temescal Canyon Loop is a perfect destination. With an elevation change of 860 feet, it might deter the more casual hiker, but the 2.6-mile loop is still quite manageable, often only taking only an hour and a half to complete.

Situated along the Santa Monica Mountains, the trail offers picturesque views with refreshing ocean breezes. There are two falls: one seasonal waterfall just below the wooden footbridge at the base of the canyon, and another, larger fall that can be reached with a slight off-trail detour—perfect for snapping some nature photographs, cooling off and enjoying a light lunch.

Etiwanda Falls
1-hour drive from Los Angeles

This all-year trail is located near Rancho Cucamonga and accessible to any skill level. The in-and-out trail is 3.4 miles and contains ample opportunities to learn about the San Bernardino National Forest and the North Etiwanda Nature Preserve, not to mention the stunning nature photo ops.

Keep an eye out for slippery rocks near the East Etiwanda Creek, which feeds the moderate falls. Once completed, you’ll be glad you spent a summer afternoon along this popular and scenic route.

Black Star Canyon Falls
1-hour drive from Newport Beach

The Black Star Canyon Trail is not for the faint of heart. The nearly 7-mile trail includes more than 1,000 feet of elevation change—definitely a quad-buster. The hike can take up to five hours or more, depending on your speed (or how often you choose to stop and enjoy the view), but the falls are worth the effort.

The 65-foot falls are most exciting during the rainy months, but even in the off season, the Black Star Canyon Falls remain a rewarding hiking destination. Because of its difficulty, the trail isn’t as busy as some other California falls treks, making it a treasure of the Limestone Canyon Regional Park. If you’ve tested your mettle against any of the easier trails on this list and feel ready for a challenge, Black Star Canyon Falls will make a fitting entry to your hiking bucket list. 

Escondido Falls
40-minute drive from Santa Monica

This is one of the Los Angeles area’s most popular falls and for a good reason. The majestic, two-tiered falls offer easy access to the 50-foot tier, while more daring hikers can reach the 150-foot falls further up.

The 3.8-mile out-and-back trail makes for a decent day hike, with most hikers usually completing the round trip in under two hours. Making it to Lower Escondido Falls is simple for most visitors, but the views from Upper Escondido Falls make the added challenge all the more satisfying. Some hikers even choose to climb behind the falls, enjoying the refreshing water and the fresh mint that grows in the moss. However, attempt at your own risk—the rocks are slippery, and the falls are sure to soak you.

Wherever your summer adventures take you, you won’t regret making some time for these outdoor waterfall excursions. Make sure to plan carefully, pack plenty of food, water and sunscreen, and invite a friend, family member or loved one along. Trade in your sandals for some hiking shoes and see what these gorgeous California trails have to offer.

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