Little Falls, Big Adventure

To celebrate the Cesar Chavez holiday, my roommate and I decided to take advantage of the beautiful Thursday weather and go for a hike to some waterfalls near Lopez Lake.

This was my first visit to the falls, so the drive there was half the adventure.

Little Falls Trail

After driving past quintessentially central coast vineyards and around Lopez Lake, we turned right onto a skinny road called Hi Mountain Road, then headed past the end of the lake, turning left onto Upper Lopez Canyon Road- an even skinnier, windier drive. This road traveled up and around the hills for about six miles. The view from here was absolutely spectacular (and a bit frightening!)

Eventually the road took a steep turn downhill and we kept driving until we hit a turn in the road. We found that at this point the straight path was actually private property and not the right road to the falls. Instead, we had to turn right and begin the next part of our journey- on unpaved paths.

For a while we drove through lush, green tree canopy shading the road. Horses caroused the ranches on either side of the road, and we rolled down the sunroof and hummed along to mellow tunes on the radio.

Crossing four little streams gave way to bouts of laughter as water splashed up next to my car. At that point, we thought that was the extent of any water-crossing adventure for the day.

…That is, until the road hit an actual creek- we bounced along over the rocks and water, screaming and laughing even more. This happened at least four more times, each time an adrenaline rush leading to fits of laughter on the other side. The creeks were a couple feet deep, some wider than others. (One creek we literally had to drive upstream to get to the other side of the road.)

sign marking the beginning of Little Falls hiking trail

About 1.5 miles of off-roading later, we saw a sign on the right of the road that read “Little Falls,” so we pulled over, jumped out of the car, and began the second part of our adventure.

One of the creeks we crossed

The hike itself was fairly easy, and not very long. We splashed through about four  ankle-deep streams, cooling off our feet in the crisp water, and then found our first little waterfall. It was tall but delicate, and ran down the slate rock in such a way that it made the most tranquil sound while falling into the small pool below.

The second waterfall on the hike

We turned left and trekked up a steep path following the creek on our left below, until approaching a the top of a bigger waterfall. This one was powerful, and plunged into what looked like a fairly large pool about 35 feet below. Further upstream, little waterfalls fell into tiny ponds, all traveling towards the larger waterfall.

To our right, massive walls of slate rock towered above us, the white rock contrasting the dense greenery surrounding the falls.

The entire hike was relaxing and full of nature. We saw salamanders, California poppies, bugs bugs bugs, and incredible geography in the rock structure.

This hike was not even the extent of what the falls offers, and I am excited to come back and explore deeper into the trails, including Big Falls, which is a couple more creek crossings down the road.

Driving Directions:

To get here from San Luis Obispo, we took the 101 South, exited at Grand/ 227 in Arroyo Grande, and turned left heading on the 227. This took us around Lopez Lake until we turned right onto Hi Mountain Rd. Further down, turn left onto Upper Lopez Canyon Rd. Then the real adventure begins. The pavement ends after about six miles, and after some creek crossings and about 2 miles, you will see the sign for Little Falls.

Some tips:

  • bring bug repellant!!
  • there is no phone service here, so don’t rely on phones for navigation
  • a car with 4-wheel-drive is highly recommended
  • wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet
  • there is a lot of brush, so wear clothes that will protect you (like long pants)

Happy exploring!


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