Aztec Falls is a short easy hike in the San Bernadino Mountains just outside of Lake Arrowhead, CA. The boulders with the waterfall at the end of the hike have paintings of a Native American headdress and a bow and arrow hence the name. The hike is a 1.3 easy to moderate hike in through the forrest that is an out and back trail near Cedar Glen. There is a waterfall cascading over some tall boulders with a few varying heights into a pool of water in the middle. The pool is deep enough to jump off the rocks and there are a few distances you can choose between 5-40 feet. The clear mountain water makes the landing area that is safe easy to spot however be careful depending on the season and check the depth of the water before jumping always. One of the main jumps is a 15 foot fall. Dogs are allowed on this hike but must be kept on a leash. This trail is fairly short especially for the avid hiker and is more of a nice nature walk in the mountains that leads to a day use picnic area to swim and cool off in the pools of water. When we hiked we brought a picnic lunch to enjoy on the big rocks and swam for the afternoon in the sun. There are also sandy embankments in various places surrounding the falls that are actually nice places to sit and lay out in the summer. This is a great day hike to do when staying in Arrowhead or Big Bear area. There is lots of small bouldering areas along the trail and different pools of water you can swim in along the creek. This nature hike follows a river dotted with different swimming holes and sand embankments to picnic on. The hike runs along the PCT trail and has lots of different ways to add extra mileage to the hike.
How to get there
Aztec Falls is about 5 miles north of Lake Arrowhead and is around a 15 minute drive to the trailhead from the city. Aztec Falls is 1.5 hours from Orange County, and 1.5 hours outside of Los Angeles and Pasadena. From Los Angeles and Pasadena you take the 210 until you exit off left to the 18 which is at the base of the mountains taking you up into San Bernadino. Coming from Orange County you take the 55 to the 91 before exiting to the 18 to head up the mountain. This is a really close and convenient day trip hike from the city.
Parking & Trailhead
A great place to park is by sprinters cabin day use area. In order to park without getting a fine you need a California Adventure Pass. There is a $5 fee to park at Splinter’s Cabin Trailhead unless you display a California Adventure Pass. The California Adventure pass is only $30 annually and gets you access to all the state and national parks and forests in the area granting access for hikes and parks. This will save you a lot of money and effort for your adventures! Read more about the pass below.
California Forest Adventure Pass
For all of your adventures hiking and camping and exploring parks and forest in California a California Forest Adventure Pass is required to park and be in the parks otherwise you are ticketed. You can pay day pass fees for different areas or parks but even at $5USD each, you will save a lot of money by investing in the pass annually which is only $30 a year. That means your pass is covered in only 6 hikes a year!
Valid for one year from the date of purchase, this pass is accepted at all of the following National Forests:
- Angeles National Forest
- Cleveland National Forest
- Los Padres National Forest
- San Bernardino National Forest
Price: $30 annually, BUY PASS HERE
- **There is a second vehicle pass option as well for if your family has two cars or you want to share with family or friends.
- This pass only allows you access to the National Forests, other activities such as camping and wilderness use, will most likely be additional fees.
- If you are someone who also visits other states and National parks and forest outside of California as well then it may be more beneficial for you to buy the America the Beautiful Pass. This pass is $80 annually to have access to all forests and national parks across the US.
The trail is open and best used April until September. The trail gets pretty packed and busy during the summer season as well as on weekends versus week days. This hike is perfect to do in the fall when California is still summer weather but all the tourists are gone and kids are back in school. The trail will be empty in still beautiful sunny conditions perfect for swimming.
Miles: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 239 feet
Type: Out and back
There are white arrows that are painted onto the rocks along the trail that you follow to go down to the falls. There is also a rope to help you maneuver down. The path is pretty straightforward. You don’t need to cross the bridge. Once you see the bridge go left onto the other trail. If you take the bridge you must get wet and that way takes longer. The other path is more steep at the end but overall a faster way. If you want to add some distance to the trail you can take Little Bear Creek Trail from Mackay Park all the way to the waterfall (6.35 miles out and back).
Dogwood Family Campground
This is a larger campground in the cool inland empire a great base camp for exploring the mountains as well as Lake Arrowhead. Camping here is by reservation only, as late as 24 hours or as early as 6 months. There are toilets, showers, water, and many trails that leave from camp itself in the area for hiking. The campground is open from the end of April through the end of October. Call 877.444.6777 for specific seasonal open/close dates and to make reservations.
Keller Peak Yellow Post Campsites
This is a campground in San Bernadino National Forest and is first come firsrt serve no reservations. There are no RV hookups and potable water. This is a quiet campground near Arrowbear lake near Keller Peak Lookout. This is a perfect overnight spot for a day trip exploring the mountains. The camping is free! There are no restrooms or drinking water so this is technically one of the National forests dispersed camping areas that is absolutely free a gem to find these days. There is a max limit of 8 people and two cars per site and 14 day limit stay. The campground is technically open all year however you can’t drive in you would have to hike in.