Family-friendly day hike to Cooper Canyon Falls


Cooper Canyon Falls via the Burkhart Trail from Buckhorn Campground

Date Hiked: July 3, 2009
Best Season: Autumn Spring Winter
Check Trail Conditions: Angeles National Forest (626) 574-5200
Notes: This hike had been closed after the 2009 Station Fire, but reopened in May 2011.
  • Distance: 3.0 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 800 feet
  • Route Type: Out and back
  • Trail Type: Dirt and gravel
  • Difficulty: Moderate

On the Friday of Fourth of July weekend, Jeff, the kids and I took a beautiful little day hike out to Cooper Canyon Falls in the Angeles National Forest.

The four of us on the Burkhart Trail.

The four of us on the Burkhart Trail.

Jeff and I try to tackle long hikes the weekends that he doesn’t have the kids, but we are always on the look out for fun short scenic hikes to do on his kid weekends — in particular, hikes that involve water.  The shorter 3 mile hike to Cooper Canyon Falls via the Burkhart Trail (there’s also a 7 mile version), fit the bill perfectly for a warm holiday weekend.

The trailhead, located at a 6,450 elevation, is accessible from the Buckhorn Campground and descends 800 feet into a wet canyon.  This high up, the temperatures are sunny and cool.  And although portions of the trail are fully exposed to the sun, these are equally interspersed with much welcomed portions heavily shaded by pine trees and ferns.  For most of the hike, the canyon creek is visible and audible — including a small waterfall and swimming hole near the campground.

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The Burkhart Trail trailhead off Buckhorn Camp.

But, the payoff is at the end of the hike, a shady grotto tucked deep into the canyon, which is fed by the 25-foot high Cooper Canyon Falls that flow into a little pool.  The trail itself — which is part of the Pacific Crest Trail at this point — doesn’t actually go down to the falls.  And there really aren’t any other easy footpaths leading down to them either.  Instead, you access the falls by rappelling a short distance down into the grotto using a knotted climbing rope tied off to a tree and left behind by other hikers.

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Kellie rappelling down to the waterfall grotto.

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Hunter takes his turn down to the falls.

Although the falls were pretty sparse by this time, and the pool didn’t exactly tempt us to take off our shoes and wade in, this shady calming oasis provided a great little respite.

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Cooper Canyon Falls, you can see how wide they can get.

The climb down to the falls is easy sailing, but you pay for it on the 800 foot climb back up to the campground.

As evidenced by the quantity of write ups one can find on the web about this hike, it appears to be one of the most popular hikes in the area — particularly on a long holiday summer weekend.  The trail was very crowded.  Too crowded (annoyingly crowded).  But, the scenery is beautiful, and the kids had a good time.  So, it was worth it.  I wouldn’t mind doing the hike again in the spring, when the creek and falls are more full.

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Pine trees and ferns dot much of the Burkhart Trail.

One word of caution.  Cooper Canyon Falls aren’t actually located on Cooper Canyon Trail.  When climbing down to the falls, stay on the Burkhart Trail, taking the right fork when it intersects with Cooper Canyon Trail.  We learned that the hard way, getting a bit to cocky to double check our map.  But, we only wasted about 15 minutes in each direction, and it did bump up the mileage on our hike.

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Looking out at Edwards AFB from eastbound Angeles Crest Highway.

And if this beautiful little hiking spot isn’t incentive enough for you to head up there, the breathtaking drive along Angeles Crest Highway should do the trick.  Especially now that the full east-west stretch of the highway, closed since winter 2005, was recently opened. We accessed the highway from I-210 in La Canada, and drove the full stretch across to Wrightwood and the I-15.  What a breathtaking drive!  And you get to see both Catalina Island and Edwards Air Force Base in the same roadtrip.

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  1. Jeff says

    Yeah, putting Cooper Canyon Falls on Burkhart Trail instead of Cooper Canyone Trail was a nasty little trick that wasn’t well described in the trail guide. And you really have to look for the cutoff on the left side to find the path to the falls. During the day on a weekend, you’ll probably hear enough people down there to figure it out, but by the time we got there, it was empty and easier to miss the path. If we’d had more time, perhaps we could have constructed our first cairn for future hikers!

    A fun hike, regardless, but yeah, I’d like to go in the spring when the falls are bigger and when we have more time to play in the pools.

    And since the hike is almost right in the middle of Angeles Crest Highway, it really was a great excuse to drive the full length, going in from the west and leaving in the east, making the journey as enjoyable as the destination!


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