Maybe our love of waterfalls has something to do with the negative ions released as water thunders onto rock. Or maybe the droplets released into the air surrounding falls simply refreshes and renews us—another example of how nature restores our bodies, minds and hearts.

For whatever reason, we’re just crazy about waterfalls.

And I mean crazy.

Hike smart and safely enjoy the beauties of nature. The trail to Holy Jim Falls is a favorite of avid hiker Everett Rice.
Hike smart and safely enjoy the beauties of nature. The trail to Holy Jim Falls is a favorite of avid hiker Everett Rice.

Hikers, and a whole lot of non-hikers, read the raves and reviews about waterfalls online then make a beeline for them. Often they set out in sandals or poor footwear, without proper preparation, and without telling anyone of their intentions or itinerary.

As a result, increasing numbers of waterfall-bound hikers are going from Yelp to “Help!” These new or inexperienced hikes end up needing rescue, getting injured and even killed along the way to waterfalls and by poor decisions made when they make it to the base of waterfalls.

Trailmaster John McKinney (top R) has led hikes to lovely Eaton Canyon Falls, which should not be climbed but safely admired from the pretty pool at the bottom.
Trailmaster John McKinney (top R) has led hikes to lovely Eaton Canyon Falls, which should not be climbed but safely admired from the pretty pool at the bottom.

A safe visit to a waterfall is not complicated: Enjoy the view of a waterfall from the bottom, take inspiration from the scene and take the trail back. Do not climb the slippery stones to try to get to the top of the falls.

(Exceptions: Some waterfalls have good side trails that the hiker can follow to safe vista points at or near the top of them.)

Recently after yet another round of lost and injured hikers heading for waterfalls in Southern California’s mountains, The Trailmaster was asked by several Los Angeles radio stations, including KPCC, to comment about why visiting a waterfall can be a fatal attraction.

As diplomatically as possible, “John McKinney, author of the newly published ‘HIKE Smart’, explained how to safely hike to and enjoy nature’s beauties.

I no longer assume hikers will know the right thing to do when arriving at a waterfall and am blunt with my warnings in my latest trail guides. Here’s a passage from HIKE the San Gabriel Mountains regarding waterfall safety:

To reach Eaton Falls, continue straight up Eaton Canyon wash. Rock-hop across the creek several times as you walk to trail’s end at the falls. (Don’t climb the falls; people have recently been injured and killed doing this.)

And here’s what I had to say about Tokopah Falls in HIKE Sequoia & Kings Canyon: As you near the falls, traverse boulder-strewn terrain on a well-engineered length of trail, then lift your eyes to behold Tokopah Falls. (Please don’t scramble up the steep and slick rocks in order to see more of the upper falls. You could slip and die.)

Simply put, a waterfall is beautiful, a hiker fall is anything but.

Hike on.