How in the world does a peaceful, quiet spot get named Massacre Canyon? According to this article, it stems from a legendary battle fought between two rival tribes, centuries ago. The destination of this hike is a 12-foot waterfall, the very spot where, according to the story, the Ivah tribe was trapped and massacred by the Temecula tribe.
Present day Massacre Canyon can trap the unaware – despite the unimpressive statistics of the upper trail (0.7 mile each way with 400 feet of elevation gain) the route is notoriously unstable as it clings to the side of the steep cliff. The closely pinched in walls of the canyon also make it dangerous at night. Injuries and even fatalities are not uncommon.
The route described here is the most user-friendly option for hiking in Massacre Canyon; a short, simple out-and-back jaunt to the waterfall with a few stream crossings. From the parking area, either run across Gilman Springs Rd. or duck underneath the overpass, crawling down to the stream on a use trail. If you opt for this, you will immediately get a sense of the trash and graffiti that inundate this area – hopefully Massacre Canyon won’t meet the same fate of Sapphire Falls.
Despite the vandalism, Massacre Canyon is a beautiful spot, especially if the stream is flowing. The towering walls help create a sense of isolation. As you head up canyon, you’ll reach a Y-junction where the upper trail heads right and the route to the waterfall heads left. You pass by the ruins of a stone building and a cave on the opposite side of the stream. Closer to the falls, the vegetation becomes thicker. Cottonwoods provide shade as you make your way through knee to waist-high ferns (watch out for a few stray poison oak plants).
Only 0.3 mile from the traffic on Gilman Springs Road, you arrive at the waterfall, in the back of a small, sandy-floored grotto, surrounded by towering rock walls. Hikers experienced with rock climbing can scale the wall with a rope and continue exploring the upper reaches of Massacre Canyon. For casual hikers or families with kids or dogs, this is the turnaround point.
Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.