Difficulty PG13 Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Dogs allowed General information: Waterfall hikes Rating: 7-8 San Gabriel Mountains Season: Fall/Early Winter Season: Late Winter/Spring

Third Stream Falls


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Third Stream Falls, San Gabriel Mountains, CA
Third Stream Falls

Third Stream Falls

  • Location:  Eastern end of the San Gabriel Mountains near the town of Lytle Creek.  From I-15, take the Sierra Ave. exit. Turn left at the bottom of the ramp and head northeast for 6.5 miles (Sierra becomes Lytle Creek Road.) En route, stop at the Lytle Creek Ranger Station to pick up a free wilderness permit (required for the Cucamonga Wilderness). Turn left onto Middle Fork Road and follow it 2.8 miles to its end. The road soon becomes a rough dirt road similar to the one leading to Holy Jim Falls, so high clearance vehicles are highly recommended. Park at the end of the road in a small dirt lot. 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: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, terrain, navigation)
  • Best season: October-June
  • Dogs: Allowed
  • Cell phone reception: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Water: Can be filtered from creek
  • USGS topo map: Telegraph Peak
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here; video of the waterfall here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 8
Middle Fork Trail Head, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
0:00 – Middle Fork Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Lytle Creek cuts several deep and dramatic gorges on the eastern slope of the San Gabriel Mountains. The creek’s middle fork features a multi-tiered waterfall. Unofficially named Third Stream Falls after the nearby trail camp, it is not as well known as San Antonio Falls, Bonita Falls or the other nearby waterfalls in the eastern San Gabriels, perhaps due to its remote location. Thankfully, this has also saved it from the trash and graffiti that often plague easily accessible waterfalls, Bonita in particular.

Middle Fork Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
0:12 – First swtichback, take a hard right (times are approximate)

Navigation to the waterfall can be a little tricky, but it can be done by keeping a few key landmarks in mind. Begin by hiking the signed Middle Fork Trail, which leaves the parking area and ascends steadily. (An older trail, now blocked off, follows below, closer to the banks of the creek.) At 0.4 miles, make a hard right and zig-zag up to a junction where you’ll stay right and follow the trail as it hugs the north wall of the canyon. It is eroded in a few spots so take appropriate care.

Middle Fork Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
0:18 – Stay right and follow the canyon wall

Almost one mile from the start, you enter an attractive grove of black oaks and Douglas firs. The trail crosses a tributary (dry as of this writing) and continues on the opposite side, reaching a junction with the older trail (1.3 miles.) Soon after, you pass a sign indicating the Cucamonga Wilderness boundary.

Middle Fork Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
0:30 – Crossing a tributary of Lytle Creek

Beyond the sign, the trail continues along the steep north wall of the canyon, passing by more erosion and wash-outs and entering into another grove of black oaks. Upon leaving this woodland, the narrow trail climbs steeply to an overlook. Here you may be able to see the walls of another steep canyon coming in from the south; this is your destination.

Middle Fork Trail, Cucamonga Wilderness, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
0:42- The trails rejoin before the wilderness boundary

The trail descends gradually through a grove of redwoods before meeting Lytle Creek, 2 1/4 miles from the start. Beyond is Third Stream Crossing Trail Camp, so named because were one to have followed the original trail, this would be the third time crossing the creek. After the camp, the trail continues its ascent to Icehouse Saddle.

Lytle Creek, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
1:07 – Lytle Creek (head downstream)

To get to the waterfall, however, you will leave the Middle Fork Trail here. Consider leaving a trail duck or some other sort of marker to indicate this spot. Depending on the water level, the easiest route may be to either head downstream through the actual creek, or to cross it and make your way across the south bank. Either way, you will soon (0.1 mile) reach the mouth of the large tributary on the south side of the creek. Turn right and head upstream, at first following a semblance of a trail on the right side of the canyon, then rock-scrambling for about one sixth of a mile to the base of the waterfall. Exercise caution on the slippery rocks.

San Gabriel Mountains, San Bernardino National Forest, CA
1:12 – Heading into the canyon toward the waterfall

The lower tier splashes about 30 feet down the rocks in a curve, into a decent size pool. Even if there is not much water, the utter solitude of this spot–only ten air miles from civilization–makes it an enjoyable place to rest. On the return trip, enjoy great views of the San Bernardino Mountains to the east.

Third Stream Falls, San Gabriel Mountains, CA
1:25 – Third Stream Falls

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.


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5 comments

  1. This is a great hike! Also, in addition to the adventure pass, you do need to file a free wilderness permit at the ranger station since this hike does take you into the Cucamonga Wilderness area.

    1. That’s true – I provided a link to the ranger station in the directions so folks can check the availability of permits. Happy hiking!

    1. My guess is it’s probably clear. With the warming trend we’ve had lately, I’m guessing that not much ice or snow is left at the medium elevations of the San Gabriels. The accidents that we’ve been hearing about lately in this area have been higher up (8,000 feet plus) for the most part where ice and snow accumulate in greater quantities. You may be able get more up to date information from the ranger station.

      1. I was just up in this area on Presidents day. I only hiked the the wilderness boundary and then back along the stream, but there was no signs of Ice anywhere near the area. The road up Middle Fork did seem a bit rougher than normal, so I’d definitely make sure you have a vehicle with good clearance (4×4 probably isn’t necessary, just the ground clearance).

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