Twisted live oaks and sycamores and pungent bay laurel trees highlight the brief trek up the L.A. coast's most easily accessible waterfall-bearing canyon. The goal is an 18-foot cascade tucked into an upper branch of Santa Ynez Canyon.
A maximum seasonal flow of water over the falls is likely during the next couple of months. Both the trail and the falls, however, may be rendered inaccessible if too much rain arrives at one time.
From Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, take Sunset Boulevard north 0.5 mile to Palisades Drive, and follow Palisades north for 2.4 miles into the Palisades Highlands housing development and to the street called Vereda de la Montura. Turn left and within a long block find the Santa Ynez Canyon trailhead on the right -- a narrow gate unlocked during daylight hours. There's abundant free curbside parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
After a short descent, pick up the trail going up along Santa Ynez Canyon. Before long, you're dodging stray branches of willow and bay trees, stepping across the soggy creek, and forgetting about the civilized world behind you. The California bay (bay laurel) trees here are commonly found in shady, moist canyons throughout coastal California. Crush one of the dark, elongated leaves and sniff it to get a whiff of the minty/pungent scent.
After 0.5 mile, the wide mouth of Quarry Canyon, site of an old limestone quarry, opens to the right. Stay left and go another 100 yards to a second canyon on the right. The main trail going straight leads to the Trippet Ranch headquarters of Topanga State Park. Take the lesser-traveled trail right (north) up the second canyon, which is actually the major fork of Santa Ynez Canyon.
After some foot-wetting creek crossings and a slippery scramble over some conglomerate boulders, you arrive at a grotto below the falls. With their orientation subject to deep shadow, the falls are difficult to photograph properly -- unless the day is cloudy-bright, in which case the lighting is fine. The cool, damp air here is always refreshing, whether or not the falls are whispering or hissing loudly.
On your return (utilizing the same way back), near the two canyon mouths mentioned earlier, you can look for the stone chimney of a burnt-out cabin and a sandstone boulder pocked by Indian mortars.
This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any detrimental experience.