Tenaja Falls Trail Guide
- 7.5 miles - Moderate Effort
- Or: 1.5 Short Route to Falls
- 3 Hours (Total)
- 1,000 Total Feet of Climbing
- Max Elevation of 1,590 feet
- Leashed Dogs Allowed
Nestled deep in the remote San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, the Tenaja Falls Trail takes you to majestic Tenaja Falls, a cascading waterfall that plunges 150 into the scenic canyon. In this guide I'll show you two ways to get to the falls. You can either do the short 1.5 mile (total) "roadside attraction" route, or you can take the 7.5 mile scenic and relatively easy route through Fisherman's Camp and along San Mateo Creek. Which ever way you go, you're in for a treat, because the scenery is incredible and the vibe is off the beaten path.
- Short Hike (1.5 miles) to Tenaja Falls Video & Directions
- Scenic Hike (7.5 miles) From Fisherman's Camp Video & Directions
- Parking for Tenaja Falls
- Insider Tips & Recommendations
When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.
Tenaja is pronounced TEN-A-HA and is the word for a rock basin that holds water.
Short hike or Scenic Hike?
Tenaja Falls is in a remote spot, so if you can make the time to do the longer hike, I'd recommend taking the scenic route. You'll find solitude, unspoiled beauty, and a mellow trail.
|Short Hike||Scenic Hike|
|1.5 miles||7.5 miles|
|1 hour||3 hours|
|Waterfall||Waterfall + Scenic Canyon|
|Uphill||Downhill + Flat + Uphill to Falls|
|All Fitness Levels||For Those Who Can Walk 3 Hours|
How to Get to Tenaja Falls
The trip to Tenaja Falls is half of the fun. From the last turnoff onto Tenaya Truck Trail, you'll be on a single-lane (paved) road that winds through the hills and has some major potholes, so you have to go slow.
You no longer need a parking pass for either trailhead.
Parking for Short Hike
If you want to do the short hike, use this trailhead address:
Tenaja Falls Trailhead, Forest Rte 7S02, Murrieta, CA 92562
Parking for Scenic Hike
If you want to do the longer, scenic hike, use this trailhead:
Fisherman's Camp Trail (5W11), Forest Rte 7S02, Murrieta, CA 92562
Gear for the Hike
- If you're doing the short hike, you can get away with casual or fitness clothes.
- For the longer hike, proper hiking gear will serve you best.
- I'd go with long pants; there can be ticks and poison oak. I use insect repellant and have never had a problem with a tick.
- A trekking pole or two will help you push aside overgrowth and can help with stream crossings.
- On both routes, you have stream crossings. In all cases, you can hop across rocks to cross, but if it's been raining or particularly wet beforehand, your feet might get wet.
Top Spring 2023 Gear Picks
Osprey Stratos and Sirrus 24 Daypack ( Amazon | Sirrus REI | Stratos REI )
Garmin Mini 2 Satellite Communicator ( Amazon | REI )
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles ( REI | Amazon )
As a hiking guide, I test lots of hiking gear. On my picks page, I'll show you all of the gear that I actually use. I don't accept paid promotions or talk about the stuff that doesn't make the cut. It's just the gear that works best, so you don't have to waste your money.
All My March 2023 Top Gear Picks
Tenaja Falls Trail Maps
The trails are generally well-marked and easy to follow, with the only tricky parts being the stream crossings. I'll show you what the hike looks like in the directions below, but just know that the stream crossings can look different when the water is running.
Both hikes are an out-and-back routing. Hike to the falls, and then head back the way you came. If you do the scenic route it's an easy 1.5 mile walk on the road back to the Fisherman's Camp Trailhead, giving you a total distance of 7.5 miles. If you go back on the trail that you came up, it comes out to about 8.5 miles total.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
Free Nav Tools: GaiaGPS - AllTrails
Guides to Help You Navigate
- San Mateo Creek, which you hike along, runs 22 miles from the Santa Ana Mountains and out to the ocean through Camp Pendleton. It's one of the only waterways in Southern California that has not been channelized (aka paved over with concrete).
- The San Mateo Canyon Wilderness came into existence through the California Wilderness Act of 1984, and protects this land from development. This wilderness area is 38,484 acres, which, for comparison, is about 40% the size of the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area. It spans Orange, Riverside, and San Diego Counties and is generally known as "the wildest part of the Santa Anas." Here's the interesting history of Wilderness Areas.
- Today the area is protected, but in the past it was ravaged by gold miners and ranchers. You can still see some private ranching plots that date back over a hundred years when you first enter Cleveland National Forest on Tenaya Truck Trail.
Tenaja Falls Trail Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Skip down to the spot marked "Short Route Start" if you're not taking the scenic route.
Short Route Start
From here, just continue back the way you came. If you took the scenic route, you can cut some time and distance off the way back by exiting to the short route parking lot and then just hiking along the road for about 1.5 miles.
And Wait, There's Helicopters!
When I arrived at the falls on this day, I met Don, who follows my guides and said hello. He had just seen a rescue helicopter that flew right up to the top of the falls. The pictures are pretty cool and Don was okay with me sharing them, so here they are (and thanks Don!).
This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).
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