Saturday, January 14, 2012

Hike 2012.003 -- Middle Fork Lytle Creek Waterfalls

Hiked Saturday, January 14.

Today's hike had more wrong turns than pretty much any hike I ever took before. I had trouble finding the right road, then I had trouble staying on the trail, then I had no idea where to find the waterfalls. This was a combination of less than obvious signage and me not paying enough attention when I was walking or when I printed out the trail descriptions I found on-line (then left the printouts in the car).

The trailhead is supposed to be at the end of Middle Fork Road. From the Foothill Freeway (I-210), take I-15 north to Sierra Ave., exit, then turn under the freeway. After passing a few gas stations, the road turns into Lytle Creek Road. About three miles later, the ranger station is on the right. You'll need to stop there for a wilderness permit. Also, if you don't have an Adventure Pass or equivalent, you'll probably need to buy one, here. It definitely seems required if you park in the first flat area after you start on Middle Lytle Creek Road, and may be needed if you park at the actual trailhead at the end of the road (haven't been to the trailhead in a while, so I don't know if it's signed as requiring an Adventure Pass as of February 2015 or not).

Didn't measure the mileage, but I think it's only about 2 miles past the ranger station that you reach Middle Fork Road. I think it's the first road after Sycamore Road, and there's a brown sign on the left side of the road pointing you the way. The sign says it's 3 miles to the Middle Fork trailhead.

Middle Fork Road is narrow and squeezes between numerous houses. It's paved here, and continues to be paved for about 1/2 mile, until it passes a church. Then it becomes dirt, and rough. About 1/2 mile after the pavement ends, there's a spur to the left that heads to a small parking lot. If you do not have a high clearance vehicle, or at least a short wheelbase, moderate-clearance vehicle, you might want to park there.

I pushed on about 1/2 mile further, but the going was slow.

When I drove back home, my odometer said it was 1.5 miles back to Lytle Creek Road, so I'm estimating I walked 1.5 miles each way (3 miles roundtrip) just to get to the trailhead.

At the trailhead were about ten cars. Most were high clearance pick-up trucks or SUVs. One was a Geo Metro. Two were VWs. My Saturn has a longer wheelbase and less clearance than any of those, so I figure I made the right choice by stopping when I did.

There's a pit toilet at the trailhead. There are also two trails, although only one appears on the Tom Harrison "Mt Baldy and Cucamonga Wilderness Trail Maps" and the map they had at the display near the start of the trail. Because the map and interpretive signs were near the higher of the two trails, I took the higher one. According to the sign there, it is .5 miles to Stonehouse and 2.3 miles to Third Stream Crossing.

I recalled that the waterfalls were supposed to be near Third Stream Crossing, though I did not recall the specifics, and I forgot to bring the printouts with me. D'oh!

May or may not have seen Stonehouse, if that's just the name of the walk-in campground on the lower trail. Of course, I shouldn't have, had I managed to stay on the high road.

Unfortunately, after .6 miles, I moved off the high trail and on to the low trail. It's a 4-way, "X" intersection where the trails split. I just kept walking straight, because I didn't even notice the full split. A bright orange tie was along that route, so I boobishly walked forward.

I should have made a right turn here to stay on the high trail. A left turn would have put me at the nearby overlook.

Going down led me closer to the creek. Unfortunately, there are a lot of downed trees this way, due to a recent fire. That meant lots of places to lose the trail, and I did lose it a few times on this lower route. This resulted in a fair amount of bushwacking and backtracking before I managed to find a use-trail that took me back to the high trail.

Progress sped up considerably once I was back on this trail. Still, I didn't know exactly where I was supposed to go. I eventually crossed the stream and climbed steeply, reaching a few switchbacks. A check of the map indicated I was clearly past Third Stream Crossing, so I turned back around, and checked out the two canyons ahead of where the trail had turned, thinking perhaps this might be the way to the falls. However, after several hundred yards of travel, it became clear that the waterfalls (which were supposed to be quite close to Third Crossing) were not this way.

Next, from Third Stream Crossing, I headed "downstream," eventually, finding another stream coming in from the right. I headed up that way, encountering many cascades along the way. The steep walls of this canyon convinced me I was on the right track, and, sure enough, I soon saw a waterfall in the distance.

Getting there required crossing the stream several times, stepping in a few inches of water and on some extremely slippery rocks. If the water were flowing higher, this would be a much harder waterfall to get to.

The lowest of the two falls I could see was comparable in height to Eaton Canyon Falls, so I estimate it is about 30 feet in height. The second falls were too far away to get a good estimate, though it seemed shorter.

I have read that there is a third falls above that one, but could not easily and safely get to a position of seeing it.

All told, according to my map and estimates, I walked 3 miles on Middle Fork Road to get to the trailhead and back, 1.2 miles roundtrip to get to the trail split, about 1.5 miles to get both ways between the split and remerger, 1.6 miles roundtrip to get from there to Third Stream Crossing, and about one mile total on my excursions up and down the various canyons (including the one with the falls) leading into Lytle Canyon. That's about 8.3 miles total walking for the day.

Were I to do the hike again, I would be careful to stay on the high trail. Shortly after passing a little circle of oak trees (eleven trees, growing in a tight circle), the trail climbs steeply through manzanita, reaching a nice view spot. A massive but fractured granite structure forms the opposite canyon wall.

You would then descend the trail, and either look for a faint use trail that heads into the canyon immediately east of the granite structure, or continue to where the high trail finally crosses the main portion of Lytle Creek (Third Stream Crossing, not signed). Once on the south side of Lytle Creek, head east, keeping the stream on your left. When you run into another stream coming in from the right, turn up along that creek. Follow it up a few hundred yards until it dead ends at the base of the first waterfall.


  1. omg....that waterfall was way to hard to climb...But getting to that waterfall was wayyyyy worth it.... :)

  2. Glad you made it! It was a tricky hike for me, but it's one I would do, again.

  3. My wife and I have tried 2 times to find this waterfall. We can't seem to get there. We got all the way to a stream and a big boulder that was spray painted with "This way <---" on it but the way it was pointed was a bit deceiving and the people we were with gave up on us so we didn't continue any further. Were we even close to it? There was a little pile of 4 rocks stacked on top of each other which I think means we were at 4 miles? We had passed a huge empty river bed that had another pile of 3 rocks (3 miles). I am determined to find this waterfall!

  4. We've tried 3 times to find the waterfall. We cant seem to get there. Help! :-(

  5. Uh, oh. I think I may have gotten myself turned around as I wrote the directions near the end. Now, I'm thinking for my alternate directions, you'd have to cross to the southside of the creek, then head east to reach the fork with the waterfall.

    Thanks for pointing this out!

  6. I started hiking that entire range when i was twelve yrars old, it was easy to loose the ranger,back in those days you only needed a permit for middle fork trail I know places back in those mountains nobody knows it's easy to not be found if you didn't want to be..there are some great places off the sides of the tunnels on Mt. Baldy road as well, There are about 16 small waterfalls behind the second tunnel we use to raise our beer sitting on top of the second tunnel toasting the cars as they passed under us... while hiking those ranges, ted nugent Tahi stick and yukon jack, shorts and a jacket were all we needed lol!! that was back in 1974 all of it has given the most excellent of memories... these days I live in north dakota I would love to go back and live in crestline....

  7. After 3 hours, we couldnt find the water falls. Anyone have the coordinates? I cant seem to find it in any of the trail maps... :(

  8. I'm sure the coordinates are out there. For the falls I went to, you need to get to about where the trail crosses the creek, but do NOT stay on the main trail when it starts climbing out of Lytle Canyon. Either head downstream from the crossing to the next canyon on your right, or cut across early, as described in the write-up. Once you get into the side canyon, it's no more than 1/2 mile. Can't turn within the side canyon, so you can't miss it.

  9. Hiked out here again at the end of 2012:
    Some changes in scenery. The field of boulders visible on this hike were largely washed away and/or covered in sand, so I know where they were, but it looks completely different, now.

  10. I had a great hike to Ice House Saddle. Came across a Big Horn sheep and found bear tracks in the snow. On my next trip I will head down stream at 3rd stream crossing, find the side cyn, and check out the waterfall. Thanks for the information.

  11. Happy to share. Glad you can use the info!

  12. I have been to these falls (there are 3, stacked upon one another) over 50 times. Like Skyhiker said, once you cross the creek the last time before trail ascends, backtrack down along the creek until it forks with another and then follow that up canyon.
    It is possible to rock scramble/climb to the second fall and it's awesome. If you keep going up the slope you can get to a vantage point where you can look down at all three. Above that, about 1/2-3/4 mile up the trail, there is another double set of falls. You really have to know where to drop down as it is trailess. I've seen many bighorn sheep in this area. Very majestic.