Bonita Canyon Falls (San Gabriels)
- Location: Eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains north of Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga and south of Lytle Creek. From I-15, take the Sierra Ave. exit. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and head northeast for 6 miles (Sierra becomes Lytle Creek Road.) Six miles from the highway, look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road (if you reach South Fork Road, you’re too far.) A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 per day or $30 for the year) is required for parking here. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: San Bernardino National Forest/Lytle Creek Ranger District
- Distance: 1.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 500 feet
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Difficulty rating: PG
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: Devore
- Recommended gear: hiking poles
- More information: Great trip report with photos and accurate play by play here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 5
It seems too good to be true: a 150-foot waterfall just a mile off the road, only a few minutes from the north edge of the Inland Empire. Bonita Canyon Falls is in fact very real, but unfortunately its easy access has made it the victim of a lot of trash and graffiti. This is a hiking blog, not a morality blog, so I’ll spare the sermon and assume that my readership will take the high road and not further ruin what could have been, and may someday become, one of So Cal’s best waterfall hikes. In fact, with two hard to reach (and thus hard to measure) tiers above the main one, Bonita Canyon Falls is said by some to total over 500 feet, making it taller than Big Falls in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
Besides the graffiti and trash, the other catch is that navigation and terrain can be tricky. Although it’s a viable year-round hike, check with the Lytle Creek station before doing it. If the water is high, the creek crossing at the beginning can be treacherous; if the water is low, the waterfall’s flow might not be all that great. Snow can be an issue here too.
From the parking area, make your way down the embankment to the creek. As of this writing, the best place to cross is slightly upstream, where a huge fallen log spans the water. Some may be nervous crossing the creek here, but the log is close enough to the water so that one can use hiking poles for balance.
On the other side, head left and make your way along a semblance of a trail, leading through some trees to the wide-open flood plain. The exact route you take here will probably vary, but a good strategy is to work your way across to the south wall, where you can pretty easily follow a course along the rocks. If you are wearing boots or shoes with good ankle support, you’ll be fine.
At about 0.8 miles from the start, look for a a dirt path heading uphill to the left. After passing a painted over sign, the trail winds its way up into the canyon, going over and under trees. When in doubt, try to stay as close to the water as possible. There are a few spots that are tricky, but navigation and terrain aren’t too much of an issue here.
Before long, you’ll see bottom of the main waterfall, and then the whole thing comes into view. A short climb up some rocks will bring you to a spot where you can sit on a boulder and enjoy the waterfall.