Cooper Canyon Falls is a pretty nice hike by Southern California standards that flows year round and roars in April/May from snow run off. Burkhart Trail to get there is mostly shaded, lots of trees, and you follow a creek to a big waterfall at the end of the hike. It’s also not super crowded. Definitely one of my favorite hikes for So Cal.
- Distance: 4.6mi round trip
- Type: Out & Back
- Time: 2-4hrs (depending on route)
- Elevation at trailhead: Roughly 6,200ft
- Elevation Gain/Loss: -1,000ft
- Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
- Crowd Factor: Moderate
- Best Time: March-May
- Permits/Fees: No
- Water: Yes
- Big waterfall by Southern California standards
- Shaded/ tree cover
- Interesting terrain
- All the way down, all the way up
- Waterfall not directly on the trail
Directions to the Trailhead
Burkhart Trail starts at the end of Buckhorn Campground. You essentially just follow the road to the campground all the way down to the bottom/back and this is where the trail begins.
If you’re not using the campground or if the campground is closed, there’s a small parking area outside of the entrance to the campground as well as parking available along Angeles Crest Highway and then you can just follow the road down to the trail head.
What to expect along the trail
Burkhart Trail to Cooper Canyon Falls is deep within the Angeles National Forest. So deep that it might take you longer to drive there/back than it does for you to complete the hike. The nice thing about this is that it does reduce crowds a bit as most people will stop off early to hike Switzer Falls or Colby Canyon instead.
If Buckhorn Campground is closed, then you’ll need to walk down through the campground to get to the trail head. This is about a mile walk on a wide road. Note that there are also latrines and water spigots in the campground that you can use if needed.
The trail starts pretty similar to most southern California trails – sunny and surrounded by dried grasses/bush, but you’ll quickly start to find some tree cover. One of my favorite things about this trail is that it weaves between many sequoia trees which offers a pretty good amount of shade.
The trail descends into the canyon the entire way down…the entire way.. which means you’re going to be hiking up the entire way to get back (the whole 1,000ft of elevation). You can see/hear a creek running along side the trail for some of the hike. There are also several instance where some water maybe running over or down the trail as well and it will become muddy.
The trail changes between going through wooded areas to carving along the side of the mountain, sometimes a cliff face, with a steep drop off to the valley below. There’s a good mix of wood shaded hiking and also hiking around rocks and boulders. All the while, going down, down down for 2.4mi.
There’s not much especially remarkable about the trail other than it just being pretty and it doesn’t have specific landmarks other than just before the water fall at the bottom. Here the trail intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail. There will be a sign that says “Cooper Canyon Trail” with an arrow to the left that goes across the creek. Do NOT take this detour if you’re looking for the fastest way to get to Cooper Canyon Falls. The waterfall is not along this trail – this trail leads to Cooper Canyon Campground is a wilderness campsite along the PCT(so you can camp here overnight if you want!).
If you go straight past this sign, Cooper Canyon Falls will be just around the bend, down in a ravine on your left. It’s pretty obvious since there’s a little post before a trail goes down the side of the ravine into the trees that you can then see the waterfall through. You can go down this trail to get to the base of the waterfall.
The last section of this little “side trail” to get to the falls is VERY steep. So much so that a rope has been tied to a tree to allow people to be able to get down safely.
It’s slow going and everyone needs to be patient and careful and take their time through this section to make sure that no one falls off the trail.
From here at the bottom, the 30ft waterfall is right in front of you – you can swim up to it if you want even though the water is super cold (snow cap run off). There are a few rocks around that you can sit on and have lunch if you’re lucky enough to find an empty spot.
If you’re interested in a detour or are looking for a place to camp overnight, if you go back to the junction with the PCT and follow this trail across the steam. From here it’s about another 1.5 steep miles to the Cooper Canyon Campground. There are two pit toilets and picnic tables at this campground, which is pretty well developed for a “wilderness” campground.