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Switzer Falls Hike Featured
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Los Angeles Hikes

Switzer Falls Hike

  • 4 miles - Moderate Effort
  • 2-3 Hours (Total)
  • 690 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 3,250 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

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.

In this Guide:
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Hike Video
  • Switzer Falls Trail Maps
  • How to Get to the Switzer Falls Hike

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.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated May 2024)

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 Here To View

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

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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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.

Ken Fitzgerald on Switzer's Later History

Here's an email (shared with permission) from a reader whose family ran the resort for a while.

My grandparents (Edgar & Libby Swanson) began operating the resort (which had been neglected for years) in 1945, when my mother was 10 years old.  My two uncles were born while at the resort over the next five years. My father met my mother during his visits as a band member entertaining guests on the weekend in the lodge.  They (Leo & Norma Fitzgetald) ended up marrying in 1956... in the chapel.

With  parents married...  my grandparents moved up the hill to Mt. Wilson,  and operated that resort until 1965 when the Forest Service leased the land to MetroMedia (KTTV) and bulldozed the hotel, cabins and swimming pool.  My parents continued operating Switzers, raising the first three of my siblings there.  A horrible fire in 1959 made the Forest Service realize they could not protect the people at the resort.   The resort was forced to close, and the Boy Scouts were allowed to use the resort as of 1960.  It didn't take long to realize the scouts were vandalizing the property...  so the Forest Service bulldozed the cabins and lodge, and dynamited the chapel.

Three was a restaurant up where the existing parking/picnic area now are, called the "Inlet." My mother and brother walked the mile from the lodge to the inlet most days to catch the bus to school in La Canada.  There are retaining walls along the hike down from the parking area, that have my family's name scribed.   There is a spring 100 yards upstream from the lodge, where pipes carried the water downstream for the lodge.  And yes... lots of famous people visited the resort on weekend getaways from the city.  We still have the guestbook.

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
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!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.