One of the most dramatic natural phenomena in the area, Tenaja Falls is a five-tiered waterfall that has a drop of over 150 feet, leading to a spectacular result for those who make the trip here. You can choose to either hike to the falls or there is horseback riding options available for something a little less strenuous. If you happen to be here in the winter months then the falls are fuller than at other times of year and visitors liken the sound of the water hitting the rocks to a special kind of music.
Tenaja Falls is a 1.5 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Murrieta, California that features a waterfall and is good for all skill levels. The trail is primarily used for hiking, nature trips, and bird watching and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
Tenaja Falls pours over a sandstone staircase in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness of the Santa Ana Mountains. Even though the waterfall’s setting is picturesque and remote, the hike to the waterfall is a short and easy, following Tenaja Falls Trail for 1.5 miles round trip with 275 feet of elevation change. Totaling 150 feet in height with multiple tiers, this Southern California waterfall might not compare with the beauties in Yosemite National Park, but visit during the early, rainy months of the year and Tenaja Falls is an undeniable thrill.
Tenaja Falls Trail head is located on Tenaja Truck Trail, which delves into a remote part of the Santa Ana Mountains in Riverside County called San Mateo Canyon Wilderness. Spot a kiosk at the trail head with a map of Tenaja Falls Trail and more information about the surrounding wilderness, part of the Trabuco Ranger District of Cleveland National Forest.
Begin up Tenaja Falls Trail (5W04), passing a self-registration station. Day hikers are asked to register for survey purposes but do not need to carry permits. Wilderness permits are only needed for overnight trips. The hike’s first and only trail junction is 125 yards from the trail head. San Mateo Canyon Trail parts to the left toward Fisherman’s Camp, which is 2 miles away. Proceed straight on Tenaja Falls Trail, following the sign that reads, “Tenaja Falls – 0.7 miles.”
Walk another 50 yards up the trail and hit San Mateo Creek. A slab of concrete can be used to walk across the creek. If water levels are high (which will be good news for the waterfall), look around for a place to rock hop across – being sure to avoid any poison ivy. The slab in the trail is a concrete ford, hinting at the trail’s previous function as an old road. Read more here…
To reach the Tenaja Falls trail head in the Cleveland National Forest, go west on Clinton Keith Road from I-15. Turn north (right) to Tenaja Road, then right on Rancho California Road (FS 7501) for about 5 miles to the Tenaja Falls Trail head. The road to the trailhead is lightly paved but does have some rough patches & potholes. Most cars should be fine reaching the trailhead on FS 7501, but a truck is a better option if you want to play it safe. It is a single-lane road to the trailhead, so drive slow and very carefully. The single-lane road meanders north to Tenaja Falls through some very scenic areas in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness. The Falls are visible from the trailhead parking area. A Forest Adventure Pass is needed to park at the trailhead.