A few months ago I walked up Snyder Trail from Paradise Road in search of a path to the waterfall in Lewis Canyon, but to no avail. Upon reaching the transmission tower, where the power lines cross over the trail, and having found no sign of a pathway, I turned around.
On the way back down Snyder Trail, I came to one of the many bends in the singletrack and noticed that there was actually an old roadcut leading east down into Lewis Canyon, which I had missed on the way up. Having never hiked the trail, I hadn’t noticed the road before, as I had always been flying by on my mountain bike at top speed in front of or behind several other friends racing downhill.
The route looked promising and I eagerly started following it. There was evidence of its use by others, but it was quickly consumed in old growth chaparral and apparent that it was obviously not routinely traveled. I pressed on nonetheless thinking it was, indeed, an old route to the falls, though all evidence of use quickly disappeared altogether. I believe it is the old road cut made by George Owen Knapp, which led to the bathhouse he purportedly built in the canyon somewhere near the waterfall.
I figured the road had to have led to the falls at some point and that it would just require some bushwhacking. I continued on wrangling my way under, over and through the brush but it soon became apparent that reaching the creek bed would require far more effort than I cared to exert. At that point I called it off entirely and that was that for the day.
This last Tuesday I made another effort and ventured up Lewis Canyon creek from the bottom, where it crosses Paradise Road. The lower reaches of the creek were bone dry, but I soon heard a faint trickle of water. I figured that in August, even with this season’s record rainfall, any waterfall wouldn’t be flowing with much force.
The small crick is relatively easy to follow and open enough to pass through without too much effort, but the usual sort required when rock hopping and pushing aside branches here and there in a tight drainage.
I passed over several modest waterfalls before coming to the main attraction. Twice I had to crawl up the steep banks and out of the creek bed in order to get around the falls. There are two large falls, one right after the other, and the worse detour was in getting around the lower fall to reach the foot of the main fall. It took more effort than I cared for and I ended up on my hands and knees in several places, as I pushed my way through the dense brush.
After taking a looksee at the main fall for a bit, I crawled up through the slough of the creek bank and around the top of it, and then followed the drainage up the canyon for about a hundred yards.
The water disappeared underground just after the main fall and the riparian canopy that shrouds the lower canyon in dense shade soon thinned and the temperature rose dramatically. Though the hiking was easier, in that the creek turned into bare boulders and sheets of sandstone without all the vines and trees found lower down, I turned around thinking there likely wasn’t much more worth seeing up yonder.
On my hike back, traversing along the steep slope of the bank, about twenty to thirty yards above the creek, I stumbled across an old trail. The level cut of it was clearly visible against the slope of the hillside and there were a number of faded plastic ribbon-tape strips tied to branches here and there marking its course.
It quickly disappeared into the thick underbrush, though, and I decided not to push my way through trying to follow its course. I had no idea where it led and it was much hotter and more work once I was out of the canyon bottom. So I slid my way through the organic litter back into the creek and on down to my truck at Paradise Road.
I saw this sort of plastic irrigation tubing in several places. Marijuana growers will set one end in the creek concealed by rocks and with a screen of some sort to filter out debris. The line is then run slowly up out of the creek down canyon, buried beneath dirt and leaves, and to the grow site, where it waters the plants through the natural force of gravity or fills reservoirs.
I came across two cement walls that ran across the creek in two different locations, which were apparently designed long ago to make use of the water flow in some manner. One of the cement barriers appeared to have some sort electrical infrastructure attached to it, as if it was made to harness the force of flowing water to generate power. Or, perhaps more likely, the degraded infrastructure was used to power a pump of some sort that drew water from the creek for use elsewhere.
This seems to be confirmed by the presence of the machine shown in the photo above, which I found in the creek and consists of a flywheel on one end and a small gear on the opposite side. Behind the rusty hunk of iron I saw a telephone pole-like timber that still had some braces attached to it for holding something. I was unable to locate any trace of the bathhouse built by George Owen Knapp near the big waterfall.
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Do you get paid to hike?
Hello there. No, I don’t get paid for any of this. It’s entirely a labor of love.
Great follow-up to the Knapp piece, Jack. Wellhouse Falls is no joke; it’s push to get to and you’d barely know there was ever a road. Awesome pics.
Thanks for the article and photos. I grew up on Paradise Road and had hiked to the falls a few times. While the Coyote Fire in September 1964 made it more accessible, the mudslides on November 9, 1964 covered or washed away a lot of remains. Then in January 1969 mudslides again damaged the area including washing out the culvert and Paradise Road. Great history.
There have been a few illegal Marijuana Gardens in Lewis creek during the eighties and nineties when I was working as a Law Enforcement Ranger. I made a couple of arrests and also talked to a few others to stop their growing in the area. It is an unfortunate use of our National Forest. Growing Marijuana takes a lot of water and using small springs takes that water away from the wildlife. Thanks for spot lighting wonderful historic places on or near the Los Padres National Forest.
Looked at the old road route into Lewis Cyn yesterday. Still very brushy, so much so that I only made it down to the first turn. The road is very badly eroded, 3 ft deep starting prior to the first turn. The road was a route to the falls, and appears on the San Marcos topo quad 1959. It is also visible on Google Earth, but you need to look at the 2002? historical images to see clearly. I suspect the route could be made passable for hikers with some aggressive brushing, as there seems to be enough of a outer margin intact. There has been some attempts at this in the past.
The path you may have seen on the canyon wall may have been connected to a private trail that comes out about 10 minute walk above the power line crossing. This may have been originally cut by marijuana growers as there were plastic pipes just inside the entrance. Did not investigate further as the trail was posted.
I was hiking with my pup down from Knapps today and decided to explore that area. I had always heard of the waterfall and seen where the “trail” goes off to east. It seemed to be an old road cut and I saw several places were drainage pipes, both concrete and rusted metal had been placed at some point…had to duck under some branches but overall easy to follow…until it dropped steeply off into the canyon! I didn’t feel prepared and no one knew we were out there, not to mention fresh bear tracks!!! I really want to see this one thru!