Tenaja Falls in San Mateo Canyon Wilderness

Tenaja Falls San Mateo Canyon Wilderness


From the issue Liquid Assets

Cinco Tenaja

Getting to a five-tier waterfall flowing in San Mateo Canyon Wilderness may sound remote, but 150-foot Tenaja Falls is reached in less than a mile, leaving plenty of time to enjoy this lesser-known waterwork in Riverside County. The hike greets with a creek crossing that's easily navigated thanks to large rocks and a concrete slab. Then it's on to a 275-foot climb up the side of a sagebrush-covered canyon. Views of the Santa Anas will keep you pumped en-route. The falls splash onto the scene halfway up the trail, cascading down a swath of orange granite. Continue as the path winds around the wall of the canyon. Leave the trail when it crosses the creek above the falls and make your way around the rocky slope to witness Tenaja's 30-foot upper falls. For a primo view, courageous types can follow an unmaintained footpath down to a pool beneath the second tier. Exploring more of Tenaja Falls requires advanced climbing skills or a bout of bad judgment (not recommended). Instead, find a piece of smooth granite and relax to the sound of gurgling waters. It’s a nice way to go with the flow.

Take I-15 to the Clinton Keith Rd. exit in Murrieta and head west. After 5 miles, stay to the right as the road becomes Tenaja Rd. After 1.7 miles, turn right to stay on Tenaja Rd. Go 0.7-mile and make another right to stay on Tenaja Rd. Continue 3.5 miles and turn right on Cleveland Forest Rd. Drive 4.3 miles up this narrow paved road to the Tenaja Falls trailhead on the left. Display a National Forest Adventure Pass and hike down the trail. Go straight across the creek, 0.1-mile from the start, and proceed up the trail on the left side of the canyon for 0.7-mile to the falls. Cross the creek and make your way down around the waterfall for closer views. An Adventure Pass may be purchased for $5 per day from Big 5 Sporting Goods at 25274 Madison Ave. in Murrieta. Dog-friendly!

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