Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set
Summary for Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set Hike
Moderately strenuous Adventure Hike – Read Adventure Hiking Page
Magnificent alpine canyon featuring perennial stream, old growth pines and cedars, and spectacular waterfalls – but rough ride to trail head. Mostly on good trail, but then boulder hopping off trail up-stream required 1/2 mile to reach bottom of first fall. Optional dangerous scrambling and short segment of Class 5 climbing to reach bench between bottom and middle fall.
This is one of my absolute favorite hikes in all of Southern California. The remarkably beautiful canyon of the Middle Fork Lytle Creek seems to be a piece of the Eastern Sierra transported to our area, with its stunning alpine scenery, old growth pines and cedars, and truly spectacular waterfalls. This hike takes you from the trail head on a steep climb over a ridge, then drops you into the lovely alpine canyon, passing through some magnificent forest, before going off trail after 3 miles to boulder hop .5 mile up a deep dramatic gorge to a fabulous triple tier waterfall over 200′ in total height. Note that Lytle Creek has three separate forks, and drains a large area of the tallest mountains in the San Gabriel range.
It’s not usually very crowded either, probably in large part due to the punishing unpaved rocky road that tortures you and your car for over 3 miles. High clearance vehicles are advised – although I know for a fact it’s been done in a Prius, I would not recommend it. Once you find the easy to miss Middle Fork Road turnoff from Lytle Creek Road, follow it for a mile or so until the pavement ends, then travel all the bumpy way to the trail head and parking lot at the end of the road. It’s well worth the effort though – the hike is stunningly beautiful and you’ll be happy you experienced this wonderful adventure.
Directions to Trailhead for Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set Hike
Map of Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set Hike with Downloadable GPX File
Detailed Description for Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set Hike
Once at the parking lot, display your adventure pass, and use the thoughtfully placed restroom if necessary before your hike. The trail head is signed at the far end of the lot.
You will now proceed up the trail that ascends the ridge ahead. Note that ahead there is also a lower trail that branches off to the left – this follows the creek and goes to the Stonehouse wilderness trail camp, so you will want to stay on the upper trail.
The hike may seem less appealing than advertised after a while, as you climb the shadeless chaparral covered ridge, but stay your course. After 1 mile or so you will crest a ridge and see the gorgeous alpine canyon ahead and below. The trail will soon drop into the canyon.
Now you descend into the lovely canyon with its inviting shade and the melodic creek singing sweetly to your left. Continue on as the trail dips over some side canyons and crests some small ridges.
After about 2.5 miles the trail goes directly through a lovely cedar grove with some massive trees, and a small perennial spring that softly burbles. It’s a tranquil and spiritually enriching place. This cedar grove is also a good marker that you are very near the gorge you will soon be traversing. Continue on the trail, and after about another .2 mile the trail crosses the creek for the first time. There is another wilderness trail camp here on the opposite side of the creek called Third Stream Crossing (apparently this was the third stream crossing on an old trail, hence the name, but on the current trail it’s the first stream crossing).
Anyway cross the creek and stay to the left, following the use trail that leads into the entrance to the steep walled gorge that should be apparent now to your left. Another stream flows here and you should see and hear it almost immediately.
You will now pick your way up the wild stream bed in this glorious alpine gorge as best you can. There is nothing highly technical here but you should choose your path carefully, especially if the water flow is high, as it may be in winter or spring. You will encounter several small waterfalls and some attractive pools, but stay focused on the majesty ahead.
After .5 mile or so into the gorge you will catch sight of the beautiful lower tier of the waterfall which is the object of your quest. Below the fall is a large pool that is only about 3′ – 4′ deep, so be careful if you decide to take a dip. The water is also cold, – extremely cold in the winter – but refreshing on a hot summer day.
Warning! Note that if you decide to proceed to the bench between this tier and the second tier above, you will be traversing unstable and dangerous terrain. There is also a short section of exposed Class 5 climbing to cross from the rocky ridge to the right of the fall and down to the bench. Do not attempt this if you are not an experienced off trail adventurer and have someone on your team who can evaluate situations like this and advise as to how to safely traverse this dangerous and potentially fatal climb.
If you have decided to proceed, climb the loose and unstable scree slope to your right, heading straight up and then to the left towards the rocky ridge there.
You will see the granite ridge with some trees – climb up and over carefully. Now you will be able to see the upper tiers of the waterfall and the section of granite you must traverse if you desire to reach the base of the second tier.
Be advised once again that to traverse across now is a Class 5 section because a slip across the 15′ granite wall you must cross could result in a fall of over 100′ and would likely be fatal. It’s advisable to tie a rope here for safety, and have experienced climbers make the traverse.
However, if you do persevere and make the adventurous crossing, you will now experience one of the greatest places in the entire mountain range and one of my favorite places anywhere. It’s an extraordinary spot between the two massive waterfalls, and offers generous areas of granite on which to rest and enjoy their wonderful voices. You can also stand under the fall in the shallow pool and cool off, then relax on one of the polished slabs in the sun.
You will enjoy this magnificent location tremendously, and will have experienced a true wonder of our natural world. Once you have enjoyed this magical wonderland, carefully climb back down to the stream, and then retrace your steps back down the Middle Fork Lytle Creek to your vehicle.
Video of Middle Fork Lytle Creek to Lower Fall Set Hike
Below the magnificent triple tier waterfall on 6/29/2014. Note that the 2013-2014 rainy season was exceptionally dry, but the flow in the falls was still relatively plentiful.
Below the spectacular waterfall on 3/17/2013, with a substantially greater flow.