Switzer Falls Hike
|In This Guide|
|Distance||4 miles (6.4 km)|
|Hike Time||2-3 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||690 feet (210m)|
|Highest Elevation||3,250 feet (991m)|
|Fees & Permits||Parking Fee|
|Park Website (?)||Angeles National Forest|
|Stay In Touch||Newsletter - Instagram - YouTube - Facebook|
The Switzer Falls hike is so much more than just a waterfall. In about 2 miles the trail to Switzer Falls takes you along a babbling brook, through historic ruins, on the side of a spectacular gorge, and then finally, to a pristine waterfall. Although I’ve listed the Switzer Falls hike as moderate because there’s a bit of climbing, overall it’s a very doable hike that offers many rewards for a small effort. It’s also a popular hike so it’s best done very early before the crowds show up.
How To Get To Switzer Falls
Use this trailhead address:
Switzer Picnic Area, Altadena, CA 91001
The Switzer Falls hike starts at the Switzer Picnic area, which can be a little tricky. When you see the sign for the picnic area from the highway, you need to drive all the way down the hill to the last parking area. If that parking area is full (it won’t be if you get there early) you can park in one of the lots in the upper areas.
There are primitive bathrooms in the parking area.
You’ll need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.
This hike is best done very early to avoid the crowds.
Gear for the Hike
You don’t really need any special hiking gear for Switzer Falls, you can get away with fitness gear if you want to. Every time I do this hike I see people in jeans and t-shirts. Personally I wear hiking gear including water-resistant boots that help on the stream crossings. Trekking poles will help too if you are not comfortable hopping across rocks and logs. The trail is mostly shaded so sun exposure is not a huge issue.
I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: Women – Men
On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
Switzer Falls Trail Maps
The hike to Switzer Falls follows the Gabrielino Trail for most of the way, and overall is very easy to follow. Some sections in the beginning and end involve stream crossings; often there are multiple options to cross. In general everything that splits apart joins together again.
Switzer Falls Hike Map Downloads
Download the Hike GPX File
View a Printable PDF Hike Map
- Hiking and enjoying the outdoors boomed in the 1880s and is known as “the Great Hiking Era.” Think John Muir, big beards, and skirts down to the ankle.
- Halfway on the hike you’ll arrive at what’s left of Switzer Trail Camp, started in 1884 by Commodore Perry Switzer, a Pasadena carpenter. At one point there were a series of these mountain resorts all through Angeles National Forest and hikers would often through-hike from one to another.
- The camp went through several owners and rebuilds, at one point being named “Switzer-land.” New owners added tennis courts, a dance hall, and even a chapel perched on a cliff above the Arroyo Seco (more on that in the directions).
- The depression and WW2 took the wind out of the sails of the great hiking era and many of these mountain attractions became abandoned ruins. The government demolished Switzer Camp and the chapel in 1943 because the ruins were deemed unsafe.
- Today you can still see some walls, stoves, and ruins of the old Switzer Camp. More about that later in the directions.
Switzer Falls Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Upper Switzer Falls
The taller 50′ Upper Switzer Falls are a short trip upstream from here. The only problem is that it’s not a “trail trail,” you have to climb up over the lower falls and then pick your way up the stream. If it’s doable by kids with vape pens, it’s doable by you.
Once you’re over the lower falls, follow the stream to the upper falls.There are some decent swimming holes on this stretch.
Please don’t cliff dive or do other stupid things here. Rescues are fairly frequent because of bozo behavior.
Bear Canyon Trail Camp
If you want to add another 3 miles (round trip) to the hike, you can continue down the trail to Bear Canyon Trail Camp. When you get back to the intersection at the bottom of the gorge, instead of going uphill back to the cliff-side trail, continue straight on the Bear Canyon trail.
It’s a nice trail that gets rough at times but is largely free of crowds. If you’re looking for some more miles and want to escape the crowds, it’s a nice extension. There’s also some decent swimming spots along the trail.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.