Big Falls

When you are done exploring, return to the main trail and continue upstream.  After a few more crossings, the trail traverses the east-facing canyon wall until it meets the creek again, 1.3 miles from the trailhead.  From here, remain on the left side of the creek for another 1/4 mile, passing several smaller cascades and pools until a spur trail on the left descends to the base of 80-foot Big Falls.  Test the water in the pool beneath the falls - if you dare - and return to the trailhead the way you came.

Distance: 3 miles round-trip

Time: 1.5 hours

Highlights: This trail leads to the most impressive waterfall in southern SLO County - Big Falls, in the Santa Lucia Wilderness north of Lopez Lake. 

Similarities/Differences:  Unlike Rancho Alegre’s Waterfall Hike, this trail does not require a long approach before you enter the canyon.  The mileage and elevation gain are much less, but the two waterfalls along Big Falls Creek are much more spectacular than the falls at Rancho Alegre, as long as you are hiking during peak springtime flows. 

Elevation Gain: 350 feet

Difficulty:  Moderate

Trailhead: From Highway 101 in Arroyo Grande, take the Grand Avenue/CA-277 Exit and head east.  After 1 mile, take a right onto Huasna Road at the junction with Highway 227.     In 1.5 miles, stay straight at a fork to go onto Lopez Road.    Continue for 8.1 miles, then take a right onto Hi Mountain Road, just before the Lopez  Lake entrance station.  Drive 0.8 miles to a road fork and bear left onto Upper Lopez Canyon Road.  Drive 6.4 miles to the end of the paved road, then turn right and drive an additional 3.7 miles of dirt road, crossing Lopez Creek 13 times.  Park where the road dead-ends in a pullout across from two waterfalls.  

Directions:  Take the trail from the north side of the pullout and rock-hop across Lopez Creek.  The route heads north through a sycamore and oak forest following and often traversing Big Falls Creek.  The pools seen along the way are home to newts and wild rainbow trout.  In 1/2 mile, bear left on a side trail before crossing the creek to reach a circular pool at the base of 40-foot Lower Big Falls.  A rough path leads up the hillside on the right side of the falls to a series of rock pools. 

Credit: Photos by Joe Ramirez -

- click on map to enlarge -