Switzer Falls Hike

Switzer Falls Hike

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Hike Video
  • Switzer Falls Trail Maps
  • How to Get to the Switzer Falls Hike
Distance4 miles (6.4 km)
Hike Time2-3 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)690 feet (210m)
Highest Elevation3,250 feet (991m)
Fees & PermitsParking Fee
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park Website (?)Angeles National Forest
Park Phone626-574-1613
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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.

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When you see the sign for Switzer Picnic Area from Angeles Crest Highway, drive down the hill.
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It’s a steep downhill drive with two-way traffic, so go slow and be cautious.
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The lower parking area is big but does fill up as the day goes on.

There are primitive bathrooms in the parking area.

You’ll need a National Parks Pass or Adventure Pass to park here.

Switzer Falls Parking Map
The Switzer Falls trailhead is where you first enter the lower parking lot.
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There are (obviously) picnic benches here too, some down by the Arroyo Seco stream. It’s a nice place for a snack after your hike.

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.

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La Sportiva Spire

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: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

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.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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 March 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 Elevation
The trail to the falls is mostly downhill, and you have to hike back out. But the gradients are forgiving and gradual.
Switzer Falls Hike 3d Map
The trail starts on the left, winds it’s way down the valley along the Arroyo Seco, and then does a switchback down to the falls at the end.
Click To View Map

Switzer Falls Hike Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

Switzer History

Switzer Land Lodge 1920s
Here’s what Switzer’s Trail Camp looked like in the 1920s. Today you’ll only see the lower wall. Photo Homestead Blog

Switzer Falls Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

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Head to the beginning of the lower parking lot where the bathroom is and make the left to start the hike.
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The trailhead is easy to spot with a bridge over the Arroyo Seco and trail signs.
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After the bridge there are some more picnic areas and bathrooms. Keep straight on the trail, which is paved.
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Pretty soon the shaded path becomes more of a trail and follows the Arroyo Seco.
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The trail crosses the stream several times. Each crossing has a few ways over, so pick your path and find the trail on the other side.
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A few of the crossings have trail markers on the other side to confirm that you’re in the right place.
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Keep your eyes open for ruins from the old resort days.
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There’s one larger stream crossing that can get a little tricky. As earlier, you can cross any way and the trail comes together on the other side.
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One last small stream crossing and you’re almost at Switzer’s Camp.
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Here you are, Swtizer’s Camp. This is roughly the same view as you saw earlier in the historic photo.
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There’s not much left after the area was demolished in 1943, but they couldn’t kill the old wood-burning stoves. People still use them, which is pretty awesome.
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Right after the trail camp there’s a sign pointing the way down to the right. Cross the stream one last time and start climbing.
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Right after you cross the stream and start climbing, the trail splits. The main route to the lower falls is up to the right. If you want to hike to the top of the upper falls, you can take the less travelled trail to the left. It takes you above the upper falls, so you need to exercise caution. People have gotten very hurt there.
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There’s a little climb as the trail winds along the river gorge.
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The views from the trail in this section are incredible. Much of this area was burned in the 2009 Station Fire but is recovering well. The river gorge stretches in front of you as you continue to hike the Gabrielino Trail.
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When you first start on this stretch of trail there’s an old fence. Shortly after the fence starts, look down to your right to see the upper falls. You’ll probably be able to hear them.
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A short while after that, before you reach the next junction, keep your eyes open for the ruins of an old chapel on top of a hill.
Switzer Chapel
The chapel was built in 1924 and included a pipe organ and stained glass windows, all hauled up the cliff by hand. The chapel held 200 people and was a popular wedding destination. You can hike up to the ruins from the trail above the upper falls. It’s about a 200ft scramble but it’s doable.
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Eventually you’ll reach this trail split. We’re going to leave the Gabrielino Trail and head down to the lower falls on the left.
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The ridge-line trail descends toward Bear Canyon and Arroyo Seco.
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When you get to the bottom continue straight to the lower falls. There’s a trail back to the right to Bear Canyon Campground (more later).
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At the bottom there’s a sign pointing you toward the falls. From here you’re going to be heading upstream on the Arroyo Seco.
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This section goes over and through the stream much like the first part of the hike. There are multiple ways to cross and cross back. Just keep heading upstream.
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There it is, (lower) Switzer Falls!
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The pool at the bottom of the falls is great to soak your feet in or even take a dip.
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From the falls you just go back the way you came. It’s a great hike, give it a try. See you out there!

Optional Extensions

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.

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Just before you reach the lower falls there’s a small trail up to the right.
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When you get up above the falls, you have to walk along a narrow ridge. There’s usually a rope to hang onto.

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.

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You’ll see this trail sign when you head back from Switzer Falls.

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.