Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hike 2011.099 -- Bonita Canyon -- San Bernardino National Forest, CA

Hiked Thursday, December 29.

Read this post on "Nobody Hikes in L.A." about six weeks ago. Hadn't ever heard of this waterfall before, discovered that it required no off-pavement driving, and figured it was a place I would have to visit soon. Well, today was "soon."

Took the Foothill Freeway (I-210) east, to I-15. Then, I-15 north about five miles, to Sierra Avenue. Exited, turned left, under the freeway, and drove north, past a gas station and a few other retail structures. After less than 1/2 mile, Sierra turns into Lytle Creek Road. I did not check my odometer to see how far to the Ranger Station, but I'd estimate it was at least another 4-5 miles of weaving road. The station is on the right side of the road, but is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Today being a Thursday, it was closed.

Nonetheless, out in front of the station was a bulletin board. On the bulletin board was a flyer for the Bonita Canyon hike. I took a picture of it for reference as I continued north on Lytle Creek Road. Approximately one mile after the ranger station, there's a sign on the left side of the road for Green Mountain Ranch. The flyer said to park just after that turnout, so I slowed to make a U-turn. Turns out the truck in front of me also made a U-turn and parked on the west side of the road.

So when I got out of my car, I asked the guy who got out of the truck right in front of me, "You heading to the waterfall?"

He asked, "What waterfall?" I showed him the shot I took of the flyer at the ranger station, and he and his son decided to join me on this walk in search of Bonita Falls.

We went under the locked green gate in front of Green Mountain Ranch, and walked across the bridge that crosses Lytle Creek. Lytle Creek isn't flowing very high at the moment, and crossing it directly would not be impossible. But walking across the bridge, well, that's as easy as possible.

The Forest Service flyer then instructs you to head north along the creek, walking parallel to the fence (staying on the east side of the fence, which is public property). After a few hundred yards, the fence ended, and we continued, sticking on the south side of the wash. Several trails crisscross the wash. A whole lot of large driftwood is also in this wash, which gives you an idea of how powerful the water must flow through here during thunderstorms of with the spring snow melt.

According to the flyer, after about 1/2 mile of heading south, there's another wash, heading in from the south. We could hear the sound of running water as we approached the half-mile point.

The easiest way to the falls is to keep the creek on your right. It's probably no more than 1/4 of a mile after you start your ascent that you are suddenly confronted by a HUGE waterfall. I couldn't help but mutter, "Wow" to myself, when I first saw it.

It seems amazing that such a sight is located in southern California. It's probably the tallest single drop of water I've seen in southern California (although I've never stood at the base of Thalehaha Falls, so I can't say for sure if Bonita is taller--it definitely had more water flowing).

Although we saw no one on our way to the waterfall, we were at the falls for no more than 5 minutes before two more hikers joined us. Perhaps 10 minutes later, a father and three kids came up. Then another family, no more than 5 minutes behind them. On the way out, we passed maybe four more people coming in.

So it would seem that, on a late December weekday, once the temperatures warm up a little, this place gets LOTS of visitors. L

Returning with very few stops back to the car took about 40 or 45 minutes, and is supposed to be about 1.8 miles in length.

After returning to my car, I drove back to the ranger station. There's a 1/2 mile nature loop that is mentioned there, but which clearly is not well-maintained. Several large downed trees (burned several years ago) laid across the trail. Several nice views from this perspective, however.

There's a much better-maintained native plants garden closer to the ranger station. Metal bear, lynx and coyotes hide among the plants, as do actual cottontail and many birds. Many (but not all) plants are signed, providing a good opportunity to try to learn or relearn more plant names and uses.

I walked the 1/2 mile look, took short extensions along the dirt road that runs near the loop, and walked all the paved walkways of the native plants garden 2-3 times. The goal was to racked up enough extra distance to make the day somewhere in the neighborhood of my arbitrary 3 miles to qualify as a day of hiking.

Because of the recent warm weather, parts of the red bud in the garden have been fooled into thinking it's March or April.

Although the actual beds of Lytle Creek and the accompany-ing washes are pretty barren, the area in general seemed very peaceful. It is also, unfortunately, extremely graffitied. Kind of takes away from the tranquility of the scene.

Fall foliage still remains in Lytle Canyon. The willow are yellow and the oak are rusted brown.

Here's a video of Bonita Falls; probably looks best in the small-screen version, because when you go full-screen, it just looks terribly pixilated.


  1. We discovered that hike last year on Presidents' Day, and it made our Top 5 Favorite Hikes of 2011 list (despite being so short) because of its scenic value and fun rock-hopping. We plan to take a group of friends along this winter.

    I highly recommend visiting the falls again AFTER we (hopefully get some good winter rains) this winter. If you look at our photos, the falls and the surrounding area are so much more majestic when blanketed in snow.

  2. Took a quick peek over there earlier. Great shots and write-ups. Mixing snow and ice with all those boulders could be problematic!

  3. Should note, it elicited an involuntary "Wow" from me when I first saw it, even with the low water flow!