Ortega Waterfall in Cleveland National Forest by Lake Elsinore.
I’ve been willing to hike many, many miles to see waterfalls but here, at Ortega falls, you only have to walk (I wouldn’t call it a hike) a very short distance from the turnout/parking lot to be met by lots of clear running water and multiple falls. I’d say it took about 10 minutes only because we stopped to take photos.
As soon as you park you’ll hear the playful and roaring sound of water rushing down the rocks and there will be no doubt as to which direction to go even with the sign gone.
A spooky and haunted history surrounds this area. Not only have many bodies been hid here along the road (some by serial killers), but legend has it that a clown… a CLOWN!! haunts this highway. Many locals claim to have seen him and it is said that he appears to be a statue, but as you move closer to take a look he moves further and further away. Don’t get too close though… they say he can mess with your soul.
Dead Man’s Curve and Blood Alley are just a few of many nicknames Ortega Hwy carries. It is said to be the most dangerous road in the state and many accidents happen here, so needless to say, be really careful.
We decided to get to the falls from Lake Elsinore. It’s a beautiful drive up a winding mountain road and it’s fairly short. The falls are not marked, but Google Maps will get you to the turnout where you can park.
Most people head onto the right path from the parking area which will take you to the largest of the three falls (the middle one). We went to the left to start at the bottom and after trying a few intertwined, rugged and at times steep paths, we were faced by what seemed like endless sets of incredible cascades and pools scattered in between large boulders and rocks.
Numerous mini waterfalls tinkled softly leaving the impression that nothing exciting had happened above them, but the roar from above gave away that secret; inspiring us to want to climb our way to the very top.
The lowest of the three falls:
The waterfall in the middle is about 35 feet. (pictures right below here) Climbing up the rocks to each level is not terribly hard. It can be done by kids and dogs with a little help here and there.
After the largest waterfall you can climb further up to a smaller one. The water is much deeper and the rocks in the water seemed more slippery there. But this area is quieter and a perfect spot for resting.
Being that Ortega falls is so close to the highway and easily accessible, there is, sadly, a lot of graffiti. Some more interesting than other. Some spots have been painted over a few times but that task appears to be an endless battle. No red balloons…
The waterfall at the top:
One more climb and you’ll be above the falls. From here you can find many small and not so traveled paths back to the parking lot. You may feel a bit lost at times but you will get there!
There are numerous colorful treasures other than graffiti surrounding the waterfalls
We didn’t get to see any clowns, but had an amazing day rock climbing and exploring all the many pools Ortega falls has to offer.
A few tips…
– Wear shoes with a good grip. It can be slippery
– Winter and spring are the best times to go to see the falls. This area is known to be dry the rest of the year, but still fun for rock climbing.
– Don’t be afraid to go barefoot. The water is amazing