Popular hike a headache for residents, law enforcement

Hikers walk along Winding Way on their way to and from the Escondido Falls trail on a recent weekend. The increasingly popular trail has proven a headache for homeowners and local authorities. 

Escondido Falls is considered one of the most beautiful hiking spots in Malibu, but for residents of Winding Way it’s a spot that also has a less attractive side. 

As the journey through Escondido Canyon Park has grown more popular through hiking blogs and social media, the nearby neighborhood is being crowded by hikers. The hike itself is also trickier than it looks. Hikers are sometimes injured, and last year 12 emergency rescues took place at the Falls, more than any other location in Malibu. 

Winding Way resident Jonathan Kaye said the issue has been around since he bought his house in 2006. But problems have increased in recent years as the spot has been increasingly publicized. 

“Our neighborhood is expecting larger crowds this year and our main concern is about safety,” Kaye said in an email. 

Safety becomes an issue for hikers starting at the Pacific Coast Highway, long before they get to the park. 

Parking on PCH near Paradise Cove was recently restricted because it was found that the highway there was not wide enough to allow cars to be legally parked, Kaye said. 

“Now that parking is being limited at Paradise Cove, we expect parking on PCH to be more congested at Winding Way,” Kaye said, citing cars he’s found sitting in exposed spots. 

“I feel it’s only a matter of time before an accident occurs.” 

Parking and traffic regulations are enforced on the Pacific Coast Highway and the parking lot by the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department, said Sheriff ’s Department Malibu liaison Lt. James Royal. 

“We do have traffic issues in the Winding Way area, large numbers of cars come in on the weekends,” he said. 

The Winding Way Homeowners Association even contracted the sheriff ’s department to have additional resources on Fourth of July in addition to the department’s normal presence, Royal said. 

“We do regular patrols,” he said. “We issue citations in the area.” 

But Winding Way itself is a private road, and sheriffs don’t generally patrol there, Royal said. 

The path to Escondido Canyon Park continues on East Winding Way. The street lives up to its name. 

“Winding Way is a twisting road and there are a lot of blind turns,” Kaye said. 

And people going to the park don’t always travel it safely. 

“I’ve seen groups walking across the whole road and families pushing baby carriages around,” Kaye said. 

Kaye says residents encourage visitors to stay off the paved street and stick to a dirt trail. 

East Winding Way also leads visitors past the front of residences. 

The majority of them are friendly and respectful, Kaye said. 

“But we do have our share of vandalism, trespassing, graffiti and car break-ins.” 

The hikers’ ultimate goal is still the Falls, which have proven to be an issue. 

Even though the Falls are in Escondido Canyon Park, which is property of the Santa Monica Mountain Recreation and Conservancy Authority, they are actually located on private property.

“I think a lot of people think it is within park boundaries,” Dash Stolarz, public affairs director for the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority, said of the waterfall. 

“It’s a problem, but there’s nothing we can do. We can’t cite people on private property. We do everything we can to stop people from trespassing.” 

Stolarz said the conservancy has repeatedly put up fencing and signage to discourage hikers from accessing the waterfalls. But some hikers tear down the barriers, exposing the Falls, she said. 

“That’s where the injuries happen,” she said. 

The Malibu Search and Rescue Team, an all-volunteer organization made up of Sheriff ’s Department reserve sheriffs and citizen volunteers, conducted 12 rescues at Escondido Falls in 2012. 

That was the largest number of rescues in any single location that year, said Search and Rescue Capt. David Katz. 

This year there have been five rescues; the most recent occurred last week, and involved a pair of stranded hikers. 

Altogether, it’s noticeably more rescues than in the past few years, Katz said. 

Escondido Falls is made up of a lower falls and a larger upper falls. Injuries on the lower falls can range from dislocated shoulders to broken arms, legs or shins, Katz said.

“The upper falls tend to be either stranded hikers or head injuries and back injuries,” he said. 

The most serious injuries require an airlift by helicopter. 

The increased popularity of the park means that a wider group of hikers is ascending the falls, and not all of them might be up to the challenge. 

“A lot of times the people that do fall are not necessarily experienced hikers and climbers,” Katz said.

Which is not to say that experienced hikers are not sometimes injured on the wet rocks too, he said.

“These climbs up the waterfalls are vigorous climbs,” he said. “Climbing up is always way easier than going back down.”