Tenaja Falls

Five tiers are spread out along a vertical drop of 140 feet into the floor of Tenaja Creek. The most popular is the top one, a rough oval about 20 feet long on its main axis and around ten feet deep. Water enters through a wedge-shaped gap in the wall above and tumbles 20 feet in two chutes to the main tank. The hole then spills over a would-be slide running 40 feet on a steep incline. Problem is the water below the slide is really only a basin which, along with the third pool below it, turns stagnant early in the season. By late May the plant goo index is off the charts.

Excellent views of the falls as you approach from the old Tenaja Road below. Used to be the road went all the way up to the fall. The designation of the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness closed the road in 1984. One of the state’s newest designated wilderness areas, it occupies a triangle of peace and quiet between the guns of Camp Pendleton, the roar of water craft on Lake Elsinore, and the urban din of southern Orange County.

Getting to the lower pools is sketchy; I used a rope and a visiting boy scout troop that was picking up garbage was happy to use my line to get up the slab between the top hole and the second pool. The scouts regularly remove litter. Still there’s plenty left behind. Despite the closed road, high visitorship means beer, boom boxes and litter.

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