The hike to Newton Falls is located inland from the Malibu, Pt Dume and Zuma Beach area, in the Santa Monica Mountains.
This is an out-and-back mostly easy hike featuring two waterfalls. It covers about 4.5 miles (about 2-2.5 hr hike) for the main trail only, and 6.5 miles total if you include the side trails to the two waterfalls. It takes about 3-4 hours for the full 6.5 mile hike.
Take the trailhead immediately heading out of the parking lot. You can't miss it. The beginning of the trail gets into a very shady section which, after some rain, gets very green and spotted with moss. The new sprouts of growth coming out of the trail sides were such a bright chartreuse color we couldn’t believe it. It was also nice to see fern plants growing strongly along the way.
Several hundred yards into the hike you will see one of the few trail signs. It points to the “Backbone trail” with an arrow to the right. This is the way to go for the main part of the hike, but I recommend you take the fork to the left which is a spur trail down to Lower Newton Waterfall, and then return back here when you’re ready to continue the main hike. There aren’t any signs or markers pointing to the waterfalls.
After you make this turn, after only about 10-20 yards, there’s a large oak tree to your left. Duck under its branches and explore the creek area above the falls. It’s got some interesting large flat rock formations. You can peek over the ledge to see where the waterfall hits below, but be careful as there’s nothing here to keep you from falling over the edge.
Then come back to the spur trail and follow it down to the lower creek. Once down there you walk back towards the waterfall and enjoy the scenery. It isn't easy to explain how to get down here. You have to keep exploring the various little trails that jut off left from the main trail towards the sounds of the creek and waterfall. Eventually, you will find an approach to your liking to get down there. Some of you may not feel brave or skilled enough to get down to the creek, so be it. Be your own counsel on this matter.
Once you’ve experienced the waterfall and this area, reverse your tracks and get back to the Backbone trail sign, and take the right fork this time (take a left at the sign when approaching from the lower falls). This is the main Backbone Trail that winds through the canyon.
After a short while you will look out past the mountains to the south and you will be able to see the Pacific Ocean in the distance. This is the only section where there is an ocean view.
The trail goes in and out of shade, but the majority of the trail is exposed to the sun.
For the most part the creeks that go through the canyon are not close to the main trail. You can hear them more than see them. However, you will soon get to a sturdy bridge that takes you across one of the larger creeks, and the trail is very shady here as you progress along.
As you get out into the open again you will see some spacious vistas across the canyon to your right as well as some interesting sandstone rock formations in and on top of the hills.
It’s in one of these interesting formations that you will see the Upper Newton Waterfall cascading out of the rock face. It’s far away, but if you look carefully you will see the waterfall (see top photo this page).
The turnoff to the Upper waterfall is about 2.5 miles from the start of the hike. Unfortunately there are no trail signs to the waterfall, and there isn’t a standard dirt trail that takes you there. You have to wonder why the rangers can’t put a simple sign on the trail. I wonder if they don’t want hikers going to the waterfalls for fear of injuries, rescue operations and lawsuits.
So, of course, we missed the turnoff to the falls because we had no clue where to turn. Instead we walked about a quarter of a mile beyond the turnoff and wound up at a posted trail intersection. This is where the Backbone trail intersects with the Zuma Ridge Trail. Seeing this, we knew we had gone too far and headed back.
On the way back we met up with a very helpful hiker with a lot of experience in this canyon and he drew a map for us on the ground with his hiking pole.
It’s going to be a challenge to communicate to you where the turnoff is but I’m going to give it a try.
The helpful hiker told us to watch for the place on the trail where the creek passes over the trail. Now, there are several such points so it’s not that easy to find. What you do is turn off the main trail by the creek and travel along the well worn grass trail that winds along the left side of the creek heading toward the waterfall.
It will help to find this spot where the creek crosses the trail if you pay special attention to where such occurs on a part of the trail that curves a lot, somewhat between an L shaped curve and a hairpin curve. This may help you distinguish the correct creek and grass path. I think it will help you to pay special attention to the part of the slideshow on this page that shows where this turnoff is and what it looks like.
Once you find the grass trail just follow it alongside the left of the creek. The creek will eventually curve strong to the left and you stay on the left side. After about 50-100 yards you will want to pick a good spot to cross the creek and get to the other side of it, as this is necessary to get up to the waterfall. The trail on the other side is even worse as you have to sometimes walk through plants and tree branches to continue.
One thing to remember on this other side of the creek, don’t try to follow the creek up to the waterfall, you will have better access if you walk towards the hill or mountains at the same time you are heading to the waterfall. Our helpful hiker told us the hike up the rocks is easier here.
To get up close and personal with the waterfall you have to scale the rocks here. I didn’t do it at the time I took the slideshow because I had sore knee ligaments and I could feel them starting to buckle as I started climbing the boulders. So I had to leave this part of the adventure for another day.
There were some hikers in front of us getting up there quite fine, and a few of them were just regular novice-intermediate type hikers, so you don’t have to be a pro to try this. You do, however, have to be honest with yourself about your physical abilities and skills. When hiking around waterfalls the boulders get wet and can be very dangerous, so make an honest assessment of your physical abilities before you take on this challenge.
Once you’ve finished exploring and taking in the sights, head on back to the main trail the way you came. Then turn left on the main trail and you’re heading back along the Backbone trail which will of course eventually get you back to the beginning trailhead and parking lot.
Note: In the summer months there may be no creeks or waterfalls, so don’t expect them in dry seasons. The time to come here is after some good rains in the cooler months.
I hope you enjoy this hike!
Get onto Kanan-Dume Road south from the 101 freeway, or north from PCH. There are three tunnels on the road marked T-1, T-2, and T-3. T-1 is the closest to the trailhead, and also the closest tunnel to PCH. Just north of the T-1 tunnel, on the west side of the road is the parking lot for the trailhead (see slideshow). Park in the parking lot or alongside the road. The trail is marked as the Kanan trailhead to the Backbone Trail.