Los Angeles is suddenly awash in waterfalls

A temporary waterfall   alongside Highway 39 after recent heavy rains
Temporary waterfalls like this one now flow alongside Highway 39 after recent heavy rains in the Angeles National Forest.
(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

Recent storms have transformed Southern California’s usually bone-dry wildlands into brilliant green landscapes, snow-capped mountains and something even more breathtaking: seldom-seen waterfalls.

After heavy storm systems brought rain and snow to Angeles National Forest, drivers along Highway 39, north of Azusa, were gifted with the rare sight of temporary waterfalls cascading down the rocky cliffs.

On Wednesday morning a pair of spontaneous waterfalls, dozens of feet high could be seen just south of the San Gabriel Dam, cascading into the San Gabriel River. Drivers pulled over to take pictures, including a Times photographer who captured images of several waterfalls along the highway, which winds through the forest to Crystal Lake.

A two-photo composition shows a tall waterfall at the entrance of San Gabriel Canyon.
(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

The road has since been closed to traffic north of Azusa as Caltrans workers clean up a rockslide, meaning these images may be the only way to see the waterfalls before they dry up.

Some places in Southern California have up to six feet of snow. The San Gabriel Dam has received more than 10 inches of rain over the past week, according to meteorologist Carol Smith of the National Weather Service in Los Angeles/Oxnard.

Forest visitors take photos of a temporary waterfall   along Highway 39.
Forest visitors take photos of a temporary waterfall along Highway 39.
(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

That was apparently enough to bring to life long-dry waterfalls, she added.

“We’ve had a lot of big storms, so it’s all kind of adding up,” Smith said.

Satellite photos from NASA Earth Observatory show snow from winter storms covering Southern California mountains.

March 1, 2023

The winter storms have dropped so much precipitation that some parts of California are no longer facing drought conditions. Some parks, including Yosemite National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, have closed indefinitely due to the extreme weather conditions and resulting damage.

Access to Angeles National Forest remains limited by several road closures due to mudslides and rockslides, said Dana Dierkes, a public affairs officer for the forest. On Wednesday, an avalanche occurred on Mt. Baldy. Residents in mountain communities are struggling under the heavy snowfall, with some trapped in their homes.

Dierkes cautioned visitors not to attempt to chase waterfalls.

A watefall pours onto a roadway as a car splashes through a puddle.
Highway 39 has since been closed to traffic north of Azusa.
(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

“There are still many roads into the forest that are closed or have very limited access at this time,” Dierkes said.

Times photographer Raul Roa, who photographed the waterfalls before the road closure, said he has never witnessed anything like them in more than 30 years visiting the forest. Waterfalls were pouring down in places where he’s only ever spotted faint water stains.

A long and meandering waterfall   cascades hundreds of feet down the mountain.
A long waterfall meanders through heavy brush as it cascades hundreds of feet down a mountain in the Angeles National Forest on Wednesday.
(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)

“Even from some 100 yards away, the sound of the water crashing onto the rocks as it tumbles down the hillside is loud and intense,” Roa said. He estimated that some of the waterfalls were at least 100 feet high.

It’s a great time to hike Southern California’s waterfall trails, from Eaton Canyon Falls to the Grotto at Circle X Ranch.

Feb. 10, 2023

“This was obviously a very rare year as far as the winter is concerned,” Dierkes said. “The amount of snowfall that we got and the repeated storms has brought a very unusual weather phenomenon to the Angeles National Forest and the surrounding mountains.”

Two tall waterfalls appeared just south of the San Gabriel Reservoir on Wednesday
Two tall waterfalls appeared just south of the San Gabriel Reservoir.
(Raul Roa/Los Angeles Times)