Allison Gulch Falls

Angeles National Forest, California, USA

About Allison Gulch Falls


Hiking Distance: 10.2 miles round trip (about 3.6 miles round-trip of scrambling)
Suggested Time: allow at least 7 hours

Date first visited: 2022-05-06
Date last visited: 2022-05-06

Waterfall Latitude: 34.23701
Waterfall Longitude: -117.76521

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Allison Gulch Falls is perhaps the most elusive of the waterfalls on the famed Bridge to Nowhere hike.

In fact, its drainage doesn’t even show up on the big map of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness displayed at the Heaton Flats (about a mile from the trailhead), and this is why I suspect the majority of hikers to the Bridge to Nowhere miss it.

Allison_Gulch_215_05062022 - Allison Gulch Falls
Allison Gulch Falls

Nevertheless, as you can see from the picture above, this is a very tall waterfall (I’m guessing somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-100ft or so) dropping into a narrow and secluded gorge at a dead-end within the rugged Allison Gulch.

That said, even if you knew where to find waterfall on a map, it is still elusive for a good reason, and in this write-up I’ll break down why this is the case as I explain how to access it.

Where Is Allison Gulch Falls?

Allison Gulch Falls resides in Allison Gulch, which is one of many side tributaries that feeds the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.

By the way, this fork of the river is the very reason why the Bridge to Nowhere hike is also more formally known as the East Fork Trail.

Allison_Gulch_066_05062022 - The last crossing of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River before Allison Gulch
The last crossing of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River before Allison Gulch

The Allison Gulch tributary comes in from the east side of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, and the waterfall itself is nearly 2 miles away from the main river (actually 1.8 miles according to my GPS logs).

It’s actually below the legendary Allison Gulch Mine, which used to be in use between the start of World War I and the end of World War II.

You can see its location within the context of the overall Bridge to Nowhere hike in the directions map here.

Fortunately, the gulch is one of the deeper reaching side gulches that can be explored without the need for technical gear to scale otherwise impassable obstacles like cliffs.

Allison_Gulch_227_05062022 - A mining relic (I think it's a cart) within Allison Gulch, which is a reminder of the legendary Allison Mine that once operated intermittently between 1915 and 1942
A mining relic (I think it’s a cart) within Allison Gulch, which is a reminder of the legendary Allison Mine that once operated intermittently between 1915 and 1942

However, it is not an easy scramble as the trail disappears into a jumble of boulders, overgrowth, and debris (from landslides, deadfalls, branches, and fallen leaves).

How To Access Allison Gulch Falls?

In order to access Allison Gulch Falls, you basically have to hike the first 3.3 miles of the East Fork Trail (otherwise known as the Bridge to Nowhere hike).

Therefore, the directions are the same as that popular hike.

Now, since Allison Gulch is not signed, the key landmark to look out for is a cliff with a swan-looking pattern on it, which is appropriately named Swan Rock.

Bridge_to_Nowhere_043_04012022 - Context of the East Fork Trail and Swan Rock, which is a pattern on a cliff that looks like a swan situated near the mouth of Allison Gulch
Context of the East Fork Trail and Swan Rock, which is a pattern on a cliff that looks like a swan situated near the mouth of Allison Gulch

This occurs nearly 3 miles from the trailhead or about 0.4-mile past the sign marking the Sheep Mountain Wilderness boundary.

Swan Rock can be seen towards the end of nearly 2 miles of dry hiking beyond the graffiti wall and ruins.

The mouth of Allison Gulch is situated at some dam ruins just beyond the pair of crossings of the San Gabriel River.

The East Fork Trail briefly climbs up among the dam ruins and makes a short traverse of the side stream coming from Allison Gulch before an unsigned spur use-trail leaves the East Fork Trail to the right to go into the gulch itself.

Devils_Gulch_Falls_495_01212022 - Looking back across a small cascade adjacent to some dam ruins at the mouth of Allison Gulch
Looking back across a small cascade adjacent to some dam ruins at the mouth of Allison Gulch

It typically takes around 90 minutes to cover the 3.3 miles or so to get from the East Fork Trailhead to the mouth of Allison Gulch.

Of course, it can take less time if you’re efficient with your hike and choose the correct paths that minimize the amount of river crossings and headscratching moments.



Trail Description – The Allison Gulch Falls Scramble

We’ll pick up the trail description from the mouth of Allison Gulch since the Bridge to Nowhere hike is well covered in the literature.

So after leaving the East Fork Trail to go into Allison Gulch, I managed to follow some use-trails on the north side of the stream through Allison Gulch.

Allison_Gulch_073_05062022 - Following a very faint use-trail that I'd imagine was once part of the Allison Trail eventually connecting with the Allison Mine Trail
Following a very faint use-trail that I’d imagine was once part of the Allison Trail eventually connecting with the Allison Mine Trail

However, this use-trail quickly degenerated into a barely-discernible path where it didn’t take long before the path disappeared into the stream.

From this point forward, I pretty much stream scrambled upstream within the bouldery chaos surrounded by lots of debris from things that have managed to fall into the gulch over time.

Progress was pretty slow-going as my focus now turned from following a defined path into route-finding and trying to find the easiest way forward whenever I would encounter one obstacle after another.

During my early May 2022 visit, it pretty much hadn’t rained much since the end of 2021 so the stream in Allison Gulch went through stretches of alternating between being below the surface and above the surface.

Allison_Gulch_079_05062022 - At around 10 minutes into Allison Gulch, I pretty much lost the trail at this point, and it was now a slow stream scramble the rest of the way
At around 10 minutes into Allison Gulch, I pretty much lost the trail at this point, and it was now a slow stream scramble the rest of the way

Even though this was an uncomfortable and messy scramble, I could imagine how much more difficult this scramble would be if the stream had more water (where it would remain above the surface for longer stretches).

At around 0.6-mile from when I left the East Fork Trail (roughly 40 minutes in), I encountered a seemingly out-of-place mining cart.

The cart reminded me of the presence of mining in this gulch in a bygone era.

At around 1.1-mile from the mouth of Allison Gulch (or about 1/2-mile from the first mining relic), I noticed another mining relic (that looks like the axle of some kind of vehicle).

Allison_Gulch_096_05062022 - This was another mining relic where I wasn't sure if this was an axle of some kind of mining machinery. This was situated near the faint Allison Mine Trail
This was another mining relic where I wasn’t sure if this was an axle of some kind of mining machinery. This was situated near the faint Allison Mine Trail

I noticed this relic after getting past a messy deadfall jumble preceded by litter, which took me another 40 minutes beyond the first relic or about 90 minutes from the start of the scramble.

Given how difficult it was to even get to this point, these deposits was evidence that some people do go into this gulch, and some of them do not practice leave no trace wilderness ethics.

Upon looking around this second mining relic, I noticed that someone placed an orange or pink ribbon on a tree up a barely discernible trail climbing steeply out of the Allison Gulch.

It’s here that I believe the old Allison Mine Trail would continue up to the infamous Allison Mine itself.

Allison_Gulch_005_iPhone_05062022 - I noticed that someone tied a ribbon marking the barely discernible Allison Mine Trail, where it steeply rises out of Allison Gulch
I noticed that someone tied a ribbon marking the barely discernible Allison Mine Trail, where it steeply rises out of Allison Gulch

However, I knew that it was not easy to find and access that mine so for the purposes of getting to the waterfall, I just stayed in the gulch and continued my slow scramble upstream.

The further I went, the more the canyon closed in, which meant the stream started to become more persistent while deadfall obstacles were even more prevalent.

I had to be especially careful where fallen leaves concealed gaps or loose soil in the stream banks.

So I had to look for rocks that weren’t loose to avoid ankle and/or leg injuries (which you don’t want to happen in here).

Allison_Gulch_105_05062022 - The further up Allison Gulch I went, the more I had to pay attention to my footing as fallen leaves conspired to conceal ankle-breaking gaps and loose soil
The further up Allison Gulch I went, the more I had to pay attention to my footing as fallen leaves conspired to conceal ankle-breaking gaps and loose soil

Finally after nearly 2 hours from the start of the Allison Gulch scramble, the canyon closed in at a secluded and narrow dead end right where the hidden Allison Gulch Falls spilled into.

Underscoring the ruggedness of this hike, I did notice that someone had left behind a climbing glove next to a tree standing by some dead cacti before the waterfall.

There was a shallow pool at the base of the falls so this is really more of a waterfall to look at as opposed to swim in, but there’s a very high likelihood you’ll have this place to yourself.

Once I had my fill of this place, I then went back the way I came, which took me another 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the East Fork Trail.

Allison_Gulch_133_05062022 - Finally making it to the secluded Allison Gulch Falls
Finally making it to the secluded Allison Gulch Falls

Once on the East Fork Trail, the rest of the hike was a piece of cake, especially compared to the rough and messy Allison Gulch scramble.

According to my trip notes, I spent about 7 hours on this excursion, which would be enough for most people.

However, as crazy as this sounds, I did entertain the thought of combining this hike with the Bridge to Nowhere and Devils Gulch Falls in a very long day.

And if you do decide to pursue this challenge, I’d highly recommend starting with Allison Gulch Falls, then see what time it is when you return to the East Fork.

Bridge_to_Nowhere_010_iPhone_04012022 - The East Fork Trail (aka the Bridge To Nowhere hike) is a piece of cake compared to the Allison Gulch scramble
The East Fork Trail (aka the Bridge To Nowhere hike) is a piece of cake compared to the Allison Gulch scramble

If you make it back to the East Fork Trail by 1pm, then you have the rest of the day to pursue the other waterfalls.

However, you’ll want to make it back to the trailhead before it gets dark let alone have enough food and water for the whole day.

Authorities

Allison Gulch Falls is in the Angeles National Forest within the Sheep Mountain Wilderness near Azusa in Los Angeles County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit the Angeles National Forest website or Facebook page.

Allison_Gulch_006_05062022 - Looking towards the gate at the end of the road and start of the Bridge to Nowhere hike as seen in early May 2022
Allison_Gulch_011_05062022 - Wildflowers still in bloom alongside the East Fork Trail despite a noticeable lack of rain throughout the winter and spring months of 2022 (a bad sign as far as drought and water shortages are concerned)
Allison_Gulch_012_05062022 - Close-up look at some other wildflowers blooming alongside the East Fork Trail
Allison_Gulch_013_05062022 - Looking towards the wide basin through which the East Fork of the San Gabriel River flows as seen from the East Fork Trail
Allison_Gulch_014_05062022 - On the familiar East Fork Trail as I made my way to Heaton Flat
Allison_Gulch_016_05062022 - Some old dam infrastructure and some signage (one concerning the invasive New Zealand Mud Snail) along the East Fork Trail beyond Heaton Flats
Allison_Gulch_018_05062022 - Continuing past more evidence of dam infrastructure near Heaton Flat
Allison_Gulch_021_05062022 - The East Fork Trail skirting by the East Fork San Gabriel River along this rocky stretch
Allison_Gulch_023_05062022 - During my May 2022 visit to Allison Gulch, this first interlude with the East Fork San Gabriel River had noticeably less water than it did a month ago so it was actually possible to get past this interlude without getting the feet wet
Allison_Gulch_026_05062022 - The everpresent yucca or yucaipa plant though this one had a curiously purple stem growing above the stabbing plant itself
Allison_Gulch_027_05062022 - Approaching the first legitimate crossing of the East Fork San Gabriel River. In the past, it's here that we have incorrectly stayed by the river instead of keeping to the left to go up a much easier ledge trail leading to the graffiti wall.
Allison_Gulch_028_05062022 - With Allison Gulch being the third time that I've been on the East Fork Trail in 2022, I now better understood how helpful (yet confusing at the same time) the arrows were. This rock was painted just beyond that first legit crossing of the San Gabriel River
Allison_Gulch_031_05062022 - Looking back at the context of the ledge trail, which was above the lower trails down by the river (that we had taken in the past)
Allison_Gulch_032_05062022 - More spray-painted arrows keeping me on the East Fork Trail between the first and second legitimate crossings of the East Fork San Gabriel River
Allison_Gulch_036_05062022 - Continuing along the easier ledge trail on the East Fork Trail as I was nearing the graffiti wall during my May 2022 visit
Allison_Gulch_040_05062022 - Descending to the graffiti wall and the next crossing of the East Fork San Gabriel River
Allison_Gulch_042_05062022 - Looking along one of the three graffiti walls with some people further upstream either taking pictures of trying to figure out where to go next
Allison_Gulch_043_05062022 - Checking out the familiar ruins nearby the trio of graffiti walls on the East Fork Trail
Allison_Gulch_044_05062022 - Making good progress with the East Fork Trail as I was still benefitting from the long morning shadows
Allison_Gulch_046_05062022 - Approaching the end of the morning shadows as I proceeded further along the East Fork Trail en route to Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_050_05062022 - Pretty much weaving in and out of the long morning shadows as I continued to quickly make my way along the East Fork Trail towards Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_051_05062022 - Arriving at the boundary of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness across this bridge at the mouth of Laurel Gulch
Allison_Gulch_055_05062022 - Starting to see the familiar Swan Rock, which means I was getting close to Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_056_05062022 - Focused look at Swan Rock
Allison_Gulch_063_05062022 - Approaching the next crossing of the East Fork San Gabriel River after the long dry hiking beyond the graffiti wall
Allison_Gulch_065_05062022 - About to cross the East Fork San Gabriel River near the mouth of Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_067_05062022 - Somebody set up orange ribbons near the dam ruins at the mouth of Allison Gulch, which I noticed on my May 2022 visit (not sure if I noticed it before)
Allison_Gulch_070_05062022 - Now following some very faint trails leading deeper into Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_072_05062022 - Still following this faint trail while ducking under low hanging branches within Allison Gulch. Little did I realize that this trail wouldn't last much longer
Allison_Gulch_074_05062022 - Continuing to follow a faint use-trail along the northern banks of the stream within Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_076_05062022 - Approaching where the Allison Gulch Trail started to disappear and become a messy stream scramble the rest of the way
Allison_Gulch_080_05062022 - Within Allison Gulch, its stream kind of went in and out of being above the surface, and in this spot here, the water was stagnant and full of algae
Allison_Gulch_083_05062022 - Around 40 minutes into Allison Gulch, I encountered this interesting mining relic, which seemed out-of-place. I believe it used to be some kind of old cart or perhaps a furnace or something
Allison_Gulch_084_05062022 - Continuing to make my way up Allison Gulch with an undefined or overgrown trail as it was pretty much a choose your own adventure at this point
Allison_Gulch_086_05062022 - When it's slow going like it was in Allison Gulch, you take small victories where you can, and I noticed these blooming purple wildflowers during my scrambles
Allison_Gulch_088_05062022 - Approaching another messy jumble of dead falls as I was going around this stagnant pool in Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_089_05062022 - Ascending another jumble of boulders and deadfall as I slowly ascending my way upstream in Allison Gulch. Imagine how much harder this scramble would be if there was enough water in Allison Gulch to be a cascade here!
Allison_Gulch_091_05062022 - Looking against the morning sun as I continued to slowly find my way upstream among the boulders and foliage in pursuit of Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_092_05062022 - Still slowly making my way up among the boulders within Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_093_05062022 - Traversing another narrow spot of boulders, deadfalls, and stagnant water in Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_094_05062022 - After a while, you get used to chaos and you try to find any hint of order as you convince yourself that you don't have that much further to go to reach Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_095_05062022 - Even with such a rugged and long-gone trail within Allison Gulch, there was still shameful acts of littering which further hinted to me that people do come here even if they're not the type that practice wilderness ethics
Allison_Gulch_097_05062022 - Roughly 80 minutes into the rough Allison Gulch scramble, I encountered this ribbon that seemed to mark the continuation of the Allison Mine Trail, which I opted not to do in my pursuit of Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_004_iPhone_05062022 - Another look up at the faint trail leading up to the Allison Mine from within Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_099_05062022 - Approaching another bouldering obstacle on the way up Allison Gulch somewhere beyond the Allison Mine Trail departure point
Allison_Gulch_100_05062022 - Broad look at the messy bouldering involved within Allison Gulch somewhere in the last 3/4-mile of the scramble
Allison_Gulch_102_05062022 - Approaching some fallen trees that I had to get over while slowly making my way up to the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_104_05062022 - Finally starting to see where Allison Gulch narrowed into a tight gorge, and I knew at this point that I must have finally made it to the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_108_05062022 - Traversing this narrow gap in the chasm fronting the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_109_05062022 - Someone had put some kind of wire around this tree fronting the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_111_05062022 - At last the Allison Gulch Falls, which seemed to be hanging onto its flow in May 2022, but may not be flowing much longer given the megadrought (going on about 2-3 years since the 2019 deluges), especially since 2022 had record low rainfall
Allison_Gulch_113_05062022 - Looking up towards the top of the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_117_05062022 - Someone had left behind this climbing glove by a tree fronting the Allison Gulch Falls during my May 2022 visit
Allison_Gulch_127_05062022 - More angled look at the secluded yet tall Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_139_05062022 - Broad look up towards the top of the elusive Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_147_05062022 - Fast-exposed look up towards the top of the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_152_05062022 - Looking downstream at the narrow chasm from in front of Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_159_05062022 - Looking right up at the Allison Gulch Falls right from its small plunge pool
Allison_Gulch_184_05062022 - Another look up towards the top of Allison Gulch Falls from its small splashy plunge pool
Allison_Gulch_187_05062022 - Bright look up at the context of the top of the Allison Gulch Falls as seen from its plunge pool
Allison_Gulch_188_05062022 - Close-up look at the small plunge pool right at the base of Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_192_05062022 - Angled profile look up towards the top of Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_197_05062022 - More contextual look at the small plunge pool beneath Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_198_05062022 - Another look at the wire tied around some trees before the Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_194_05062022 - Broad look towards the top of Allison Gulch Falls as I started to pull myself away
Allison_Gulch_200_05062022 - Looking back at Allison Gulch Falls as I continued to slowly pull myself away from this spot
Allison_Gulch_204_05062022 - Broad look back at Allison Gulch Falls as I still fought myself to leave this place knowing there was an early Mother's Day dinner to attend later in the evening
Allison_Gulch_206_05062022 - Last look back at Allison Gulch Falls before having to make the rough scramble back out of Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_217_05062022 - Trying not to make a misstep as there were leaves covering gaps between the boulders deep in Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_224_05062022 - I noticed this lizard doing push ups while I was making my way out of Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_226_05062022 - By the time I was scrambling out of Allison Gulch, the midday sun was beating down on the area making the scramble even hotter and more uncomfortable
Allison_Gulch_229_05062022 - More bouldering downstream in Allison Gulch as I made my escape
Allison_Gulch_230_05062022 - At this point in the scramble, I had a hard time figuring out where I needed to go next. I eventually decided to scramble to the right and duck under some branches before finding a faint use-trail leading me out of Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_233_05062022 - It's hard to see Swan Rock in this picture, but I knew at this point that I had finally made it out of Allison Gulch
Allison_Gulch_236_05062022 - Looking down at the East Fork San Gabriel River, which was a sight for sore eyes after the rough adventure to get to Allison Gulch Falls
Allison_Gulch_249_05062022 - Noticing more lizards that on the way out along the East Fork Trail
Allison_Gulch_260_05062022 - Closeup look at some flowers on a sprouting yucaipa plant along the East Fork Trail
Allison_Gulch_261_05062022 - Context of a huge flowering yucaipa plant along the East Fork Trail
Allison_Gulch_263_05062022 - Finally making it back to the Heaton Flat where I noticed someone decided to set up camp at the picnic area here
Allison_Gulch_265_05062022 - This map sign of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness where the Bridge to Nowhere is in the center of it did not show Devils Gulch nor Allison Gulch, and I'd imagine that's why people generally don't even bother to look for it
Allison_Gulch_268_05062022 - Finally back at the East Fork Trailhead to end my Allison Gulch adventure
Allison_Gulch_040_iPhone_05062022 - My day pack took quite a bit of abuse on the Allison Gulch Falls adventure in early May 2022


Allison Gulch Falls shares the same trailhead as that of the popular Bridge to Nowhere hike, which begins at the East Fork Trailhead.

You can easily route to the East Fork Trailhead as it’s well-represented on routing apps like Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, and more, but I’ll reproduce the directions old school below…

Drive_to_East_Fork_Trailhead_014_iPhone_01212022 - Passing through downtown Azusa towards the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon where the Azusa Ave becomes the Hwy 39 (San Gabriel Canyon Road)
Passing through downtown Azusa towards the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon where the Azusa Ave becomes the Hwy 39 (San Gabriel Canyon Road)

Driving to the East Fork Trailhead is pretty straightforward so we’ll pick up the driving directions from the Azusa Ave exit off the I-210 Freeway.

Heading north on Azusa Ave, we followed it for just under 12 miles as it passed through downtown Azusa and into San Gabriel Canyon, where the road became Hwy 39.

The mountainous road skirted by the west side of the San Gabriel Reservoir before we turned right at the East Fork Road, right before a bridge near the headwaters of the reservoir.

From there, we followed the East Fork Road for a little over 5 miles before keeping left at the next turnoff (the road on the right went towards Glendora and Baldy Village).

Drive_to_East_Fork_Trailhead_026_iPhone_01212022 - Approaching the bridge over the head of the San Gabriel Reservoir, which was where the East Fork Road left the Hwy 39
Approaching the bridge over the head of the San Gabriel Reservoir, which was where the East Fork Road left the Hwy 39

Once onto the turnoff to stay on the East Fork Road, we then followed it to the end for the remaining 3/4-mile before reaching the parking area for the East Fork Trailhead.

Unfortunately, there is limited parking at this lot, which causes people to have to resort to parking alongside the road, especially on the weekends.

I can’t advise on what’s legal or not as far as roadside parking is concerned so the best advice that I can give regarding the parking situation is to either show up early or don’t come on the weekend unless you want to wait for a spot to open up.

Overall, this drive should take roughly 30 minutes (spanning the 210 Freeway exit and the end of the East Fork Road).

Allison_Gulch_005_05062022 - The parking situation at the East Fork Trailhead on the day that I pursued the Allison Gulch Falls
The parking situation at the East Fork Trailhead on the day that I pursued the Allison Gulch Falls

Because this is National Forest Land, you’re supposed to display your National Forest Adventure Pass as well as to fill out a wilderness permit (self-help kiosk next to a building across from the parking lot entrance).

For some geographical context, the city of Azusa is about 24 miles (less than 30 minutes drive without traffic) east of downtown Los Angeles, about 43 milees (over 30 minutes drive without traffic) north of Irvine, and 39 miles (over 30 minutes drive without traffic) west of Riverside.

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Downstream to upstream sweep from the foot of the falls before panning up and down and then back up at it


Slow deliberate downstream to upstream sweep of the falls before scrambling to the foot of the falls for an even closer bottoms up sweep

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Tagged with: bridge to nowhere, east fork san gabriel river, los angeles county, east fork trail, san gabriel river, san gabriel mountains, river crossings, devils gulch, rattlesnake canyon



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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