Escondido ("hidden" in Spanish) Canyon conceals one of the natural treasures of the Santa Monica Mountains: a shimmering waterfall leaping more than 200 feet over a broken cliff. Only during times of rare flood do the falls resemble anything thunderous, but even during an average rainy season the intricate dribblings of water are fascinating to ponder.
Public access to Escondido Canyon has only recently become available, and the current way of getting there might change sometime in the future. The starting place, in the western part of Malibu, is relatively easy to find. At a point on Pacific Coast Highway 1.7 miles west of Latigo Canyon Road and 1.2 miles east of Kanan Dume Road, turn north on Winding Way and look for a trailhead parking lot immediately on the left. This is where you must leave your car, because Winding Way is a private road with no parking available. The round trip to the falls measures 3.4 miles and takes an average hiker two hours or less.
On foot, follow the shoulder of Winding Way (signed as a public-access trail) for 0.8 mile to a summit, passing palatial new houses perched on rounded hilltops and ocean-facing slopes. Continue 0.1 mile past the summit, then follow a narrow trail descending to the left. After another 0.1 mile you cross Escondido Canyon's stream amid oaks, sycamores, and willows. Turn left when you reach the trail on the far side, heading upstream. After the fifth stream crossing, the trail sticks to the east bank and you soon catch a first glimpse of the upper cascades of the multitiered falls dead ahead, its white noise audible over the whisper of the nearby stream.
At the trail's end, a faint sulfurous odor in the air is juxtaposed against the sweet sight of feathery ribbons of water draped across a travertine outcrop, which forms the lowest tier of the falls. Don't attempt to climb on or around the falls; just enjoy the soothing ambiance of the scene before heading back to the starting point the same way.