Apr 22, 2012

Big Falls, San Bernardino National Forest

California Waterfalls
Big Falls, Valley of the Falls Drive California
Big Falls is a high priority Southern California day trip. The 5-tiered waterfall is located in a beautiful mountain canyon filled with giant redwood trees. The park itself has a picnic area and plenty of gentle eddies in the river to swim and relax. The falls are located near the small mountain hamlet of Forest Falls California in the San Bernardino National Forest. The drive only takes about 30 minutes from the I-10 in Redlands and the hike is relatively easy. The falls are less than a mile from the parking lot. The hike requires a few easy stream crossings with a moderate elevation gain. The last 300 yards to the falls entails some tricky rock hopping, but you can keep your feet dry if you watch your footing. From the parking lot, you hike uphill, following small river trail for 1/2 mile. On a busy day, people will be swimming and having picnics at various spots on the river. You will see a tributary on the far side that feeds the river. Find a suitable place to climb down the riverbank and cross over to the other side. During a high flow, you may really want to keep a lookout for a good place to cross. Follow the small tributary creek up the narrow canyon. The path disappears at random places where you have to rockhop. The canyon is filled with giant redwood trees that leech water from the creek. There are a few absolute giants that look to be at least a few hundred years old. The creek leading to the falls cascades down through the canyon. Make sure to take some photos along the way. It’s one of the most picturesque areas I’ve ever been to in my life. It reminds me of Lothlorien from the Lord of the Rings. The canyon ends ½ mile upstream at the falls. The bottom tier is 70 feet tall and it usually has a heavy flow of water. It’s most impressive when the snow starts melting in the springtime.

If you’re adventurous, you can climb further up the mountain and see 3 additional tiers of the falls, but the climb gets more perilous as you get higher up. The upper tiers are completely secluded and as beautiful and serene as any place that you’re likely to visit in your entire life. I’ve never made it to the very top of the falls, and would highly recommend against trying it without the right gear and a good guide. A word of warning, the temperature at this elevation is very different from the bottom of the mountain. It can easily vary by 50 degrees. Storms can roll in extremely fast. You don’t want to get caught in a freezing cold rain storm half way up the side of a fully exposed mountain.

 To get to the falls from Redlands CA, take 38 North and follow it up the mountain for approximately 13 miles. Turn Right at Valley of the Falls Drive and Follow it another ten miles through the small town of Forest Falls. You can purchase supplies in Forest Falls. Valley of the Falls Drive ends just past Forest Falls at the parking lot for Big Falls. Ordinarily, the drive is quick and easy, but route 38 can be very busy on the weekends during the summertime. I’ve heard of traffic jams that wind all the way down the mountain.
Big Falls, Valley of the Falls Drive

Big Falls, Forest Falls California
Big Falls, Forest Falls California


  1. Hello,

    Pacific San Diego Magazine is featuring Big Falls in our June issue, in an editorial on the best waterfall hikes in Southern California.

    I happened to come across your website, and I'm wondering if you would be willing to share some of your images of the waterfall with us. You would, of course, be given credit for any images used. Please let me know if this something you'd be interested in, you can reply to my email address below.

    We would need high-resolution images (300dpi) and our deadline for this is Thursday, so we'd need to receive the images asap.

    Catlin Dorset
    Editorial Assistant
    Pacific San Diego Magazine

  2. Thank you for sharing your adventures! I can't believe there are so many beautiful hiking places with waterfalls in So Cal; and i've lived here all my life! Shame on me huh? Will be checking them out soon!


  3. By the way, would you recommend bringing kids on this hike? ages 2 and 4.

  4. The park itself is great for kids. There is an overlook for the falls and the creek is almost always calm enough to swim in. I don't you'll be able to lug a 2 year old up to the base of the falls though. The last few hundred feet are pretty tough.


    1. Fromt the 10, take the Orange street exit in redlands. Then, make a right onto Lugonia Street (route 38). Take 38 North and follow it up the mountain for approximately 13 miles. Turn Right at Valley of the Falls Drive and Follow it another ten miles through the small town of Forest Falls until the dead end at the parking lot.

  6. Hi! Thesev are some awesome pictures! Do you mind giving directions to the waterfall posted at the top of the page? I have been trying to find other pictures of that waterfall online, but no luck! Looks so nice! Thanks

  7. The directions are in the post. The waterfall in the picture is the bottom tier of big falls. They will probably be bone dry right now because of the drought.

  8. Are leashed dogs allowed on this hike?

  9. I'm not 100 percent sure if Dogs are allowed. There are always rangers in the parking lot. You could always call the forest service and ask them.

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