Distance: 5.55 miles round trip
Elevation Change: 626 feet
Temperature day of hike: 60 degrees in the shade
Directions: Take PCH to Winding Road. There is limited free parking at the bottom of Winding Road and tons of street parking on PCH. For GPS directions, use 27807 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA 90265.
Sasha: We know we said we were going to be doing a hike once a week, and probably on Sundays, but since we were both lucky to have extended holiday breaks and this challenge is all about exploring in 2015, we decided to start the year off with our second hike on January 1. On our first hike, we discussed what we would be excited to encounter through the year, and Abby mentioned wanting to see a waterfall or two. So despite sage advice from T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili, we decided to kick off 2015 chasing waterfalls in the middle of a severe drought. Five minutes of Internet research later, we found Escondido Falls in Malibu.
The drive up the PCH was stunning, per us, and we were excited that the weather seemed to be on par with that of our first hike. The route to Escondido Falls took us further north than Topanga, a few miles past Pepperdine to Winding Road, which is just before Paradise Cove. While there is parking at the base of the trail off Winding Way, it is extremely limited, so be prepared to park on the PCH and make the harrowing walk against oncoming traffic to the beginning of the trail.
After risking our lives on the walk from PCH to our starting point, we were disappointed to find the beginning of the hike was a 3/4 of a mile mild climb up Winding Road, which was well-populated with lots of couples walking dogs and young families congregated at the base. We sped up to pass the groups of kids and dog owners (who seemed unconcerned with cleaning up after their dogs so tread carefully), on the wide road and continued on up past several mansions with amazing views of the ocean. After passing a beautiful house with stables to our right, we started a short and fast decent to Escondido Canyon Park, where the trail to the hidden falls actually begins.
Abby: We got to the gravel part of the trail where we were met with loads and loads of horse shit. Literally. I didn’t intend for any sort of pun there, but I feel like there is one. Anyway, you definitely have to be cognizant of where you are stepping on this trail, as it is everywhere. The trail is about 2 miles of flat ground so it’s hard to consider this an actual hike, but as Sasha mentioned, we were hopeful to see a waterfall after having some rain in Los Angeles. When we approached the springs, we were both surprised and disappointed. Surprised that there was a little bit of a fall, but disappointed that we hadn’t really worked out and this was the end of our planned hike.
After looking around, and swinging on the random tree swing by the fall, Sasha remembered that she had read there was an extension of the hike, but it meant that we had to do some serious rock climbing. We looked at each other begrudgingly, and decided we were going to try.
Sasha: We noticed an unmarked narrow and steep path to the right of the water trickle, and thought we heard voices from that direction so we headed that way. The path was not at all obvious, but after a short climb we saw a yellow nylon rope that was clearly tied to help hikers scale the limestone wall. Abby and I were pretty nervous about this as the limestone was covered in loose sand and gravel that was extremely slippery so were grateful our Pop Physique classes taught us to lunge and squat in more ways and directions than we knew possible. I highly recommend wearing treaded footwear if you attempt this section, which takes you up 150 feet in 1/10th of a mile. Don’t be embarrassed to use all four limbs as necessary to avoid falling off the mountain. There were several points when we threw our water bottles ahead of us because we needed hands and feet to scale boulders or make it up a particularly vertical section. There aren’t ropes throughout this section, so use sturdy roots or boulders for stability – you’ll need them.
After scaling a few more boulders, we followed voices to a large open area and the upper falls. In wetter years, it looked like we would have run straight into a pool with a lush waterfall, but there wasn’t much water given the drought. There were a few groups picnicking and chatting around the falls, and we were excited to take a few minutes to catch our breath now that the sandstone climb was over.
Abby: While it wasn’t the most impressive waterfall, it was really exciting to see it and feel as though this hike wasn’t a total wash. I am full of unintentional puns today, it seems. We noticed that there were people scaling down the side of the mountain after having climbed to stand behind the waterfall and decided we needed to try that. I have to admit; this was pretty intimidating for me. I am not a rock climber and I am prone to breaking bones, so climbing up the side of a wet, mossy mountain was a little trepidating. Sasha went first, and made it look easy. I followed and made it without hurting myself. My father called me this morning, and was shocked that I did this, if that tells you anything. At this point, as terrible as I am at Pop Physique I am feeling quite grateful for the classes as my legs were used to moving this way.
Sasha: I’m not really sure that we were prepared to climb back down from the upper falls but we didn’t bring camping equipment and there was no cell service, so we really didn’t have a choice. What felt steep and dangerous going up felt impossible and downright terrifying going down. We spent about half this section on our butts, doing a version of a spider climb down the mountain. When we finally made it back to the yellow rope, a snooty kid remarked there was an easier way down if we had veered to the left, but we sure as hell weren’t going to climb back up the steep section after making it so far down. We tossed our water bottles over the edge to the lower falls and completed the last bit of the climb, using a conveniently placed tree to scale down to safety.
While we had been disappointed by the first section of the trail, the comparably boring walk back to Winding Road and up PCH to the car was a nice way to unwind and stretch out after the rock climbing to and from the upper falls.
Abby: While the beginning of the “hike” left little to be desired, I have to admit that I am feeling quite accomplished from the rock climbing and waterfall portions of the trail. If you’re willing to walk the miles to the trail, and the two flat miles (watching your step) of trail leading up to the climb, it’s an adventure worth taking.
- The second waterfall after the rock climbing is beautiful
- Easy to navigate to lower falls
- Most of the trail is shaded, so it probably stays cool in hotter months
- The horse and dog feces covering the flat trail
- If you’re looking for steep inclines, there aren’t any unless you climb
- Pets allowed on trail
- Trails are very narrow in the climbing sections
- Lots of people on the trail
- Definitely bring water, it’s a dry course
- Wear shoes that you can climb rocks in, if you decide to take the second half
- Watch where you are stepping
- Pay attention on the way up, as it’s not clearly marked
Holy Shit View Factor: 6/10 On your way to the trail, you have a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean, but along the trail you don’t have a view.
How Good Your Ass Will Look Afterwards: 4/10 The flat road at the beginning doesn’t do much for your back side, but if you decide to climb the rocks, you get a nice little workout.
Post hike grub spot: We didn’t have lunch, as we had evening plans, but Paradise Cove is a block away, and they let you take food and drink on the beach, which is a nice way to relax after the climb.
Tracking the hike: For this hike, we decided to use MapMyHike to track our trip. It was our first time playing with the app, so we’re not really sure what it’s capable of yet, but we’re excited to play with it to track our distance and elevation and to map our hikes.