Escape triple-digit heat by enjoying a waterfall and cooler temperatures
Coachella Valley day hikers can enjoy a waterfall while escaping the desert’s summer heat at the base of nearby Mount San Gorgonio.
The 0.6-mile round trip Big Falls Trail (Trail 1E13) sits in the San Bernardino National Forest near Forest Falls. Temps there will be a full 20-25 degrees cooler than in Palm Springs.
Due to its easy access, the trail can be a very busy. Be sure to leave early – the parking lot usually is full by 9 a.m. Weekdays are best if you want a quiet experience.
The falls also is in a fee use area, so bring an Adventure Pass. If you don’t have a pass, pick one at the Mill Creek Ranger Station, which is on the way in Mentone.
To reach the trailhead, from the Coachella Valley take Interstate 10 west through the Banning Pass. Just pass Calimesa, exit onto Oak Glen Road, heading right/northeast. Turn left/north onto Bryant Street, then right/northeast onto Calif. Hwy. 38, and right/east onto Valley of the Falls Drive (aka Falls Road). After Rock Road, take the first left/north to the Big Falls parking lot. The trail leaves from the lot’s northwest corner. You’re at about 6000 feet above sea level.
The trail starts in a stony wash at the base of Mount San Gorgonio. This is Mill Creek, and usually it’s crossable via some rock hopping at this time of year. That may not be the case following a heavy rainfall or during the spring snow melt, however.
The trail turns right/north up a canyon cut out by Falls Creek. You’ll start gaining elevation, about 216 feet to the falls.
At 0.3 miles, you’ll reach the lower falls. You can wade through the cold, clear water of a couple of pools formed by the falls, but the ground will be rocky, so don’t do it in bare feet.
Big Falls drops about 500 feet over several ledges. Because of the creek’s course through the canyon, there’s really no way to see the entire falls. The main tier is around 150 feet high.
While water flow is heaviest in spring, the falls runs year-round, a rarity in Southern California.
With some bouldering over the next 0.2 miles, you can get to the base of the fall’s taller tier. A few years ago, however, this section was closed for being too dangerous following deaths when hikers slipped. Indeed, two people have died during the past three months from falls in this section, so don’t go beyond the lookout.
After taking in Big Falls, return the way you came to your vehicle. Once back at the lot, enjoy lunch at the picnic area near the parking lot. There are plenty of BBQ grilles there.
Leashed dogs are welcome on the trail.
- The Big Falls Trail runs up a canyon.: Rob Biignell
- The Big Falls Trail: Rob Bignell