Sheltered in a cool, shady canyon a few short minutes from the 'burbs of Altadena and Pasadena, Millard Falls comes alive at about this time of year with runoff from the "front range" of the San Gabriel Mountains. The popular hike to the falls, only 1.4 miles round trip, can range from an easy boulder hop (assuming a low flow of water in the canyon bottom) to near impossible in the aftermath of a torrential downpour.
To get to the starting point, take the Lincoln Avenue exit from Interstate 210 in Pasadena. Drive two miles north on Lincoln to Loma Alta Drive, turn right, go 0.6 mile east, and look for the obscurely marked, narrow paved road on the left signed "Chaney Trail." You'll pass a sturdy gate, open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Continue steeply uphill to the top of Sunset Ridge, then down into Millard Canyon, where the road ends at a trailhead parking lot (a National Forest Adventure Pass must be posted on your car here).
On foot now, go upstream, past a vehicle gate, and through Millard Campground (a walk-in camping facility). Continue up the canyon, boulder-hopping much of the time, beneath spreading oaks and straight-trunked alders, until you reach the base of the falls. Part of the 50-foot cascade is blocked from view by several large boulders wedged like chockstones high above. During the arid majority of the year, water dribbles down the rock face by way of several serpentine paths. In the rainy minority -- perhaps January through April or May of this year -- the flowing water has enough vigor to carry air bubbles and spray along with it.
It's difficult to take a photograph that does justice to this cool, dark, pleasant place -- especially in winter when the canyon bottom is perpetually shaded.
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.