9 Best Waterfall Hikes In And Near San Diego, California

waterfall hikes in san diego
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When planning a trip to San Diego, there are certain things that you can expect to do while on your trip. Apart from it having great places to stay in, like some of the best boutique hotels, they also have other amazing attractions like several of the top hiking and trekking spots in San Diego. Certainly, your list should include visiting the world-famous San Diego Zoo, often considered the best zoo in the country, as well as SeaWorld San Diego. These attractions sit within Balboa Park, which also features several museums of interest, theaters, gardens, green walking trails, and the Gaslamp Quarter, where you’ll find plenty of nightlife fun. If you are looking to add a little something extra, consider traveling a short distance from San Diego and taking a walk on the wild side, well, more or less. There are numerous hiking opportunities just outside the city, many of which lead to breathtaking waterfalls that really shouldn’t be missed. To find out more about some of the best waterfall hikes in and near San Diego, be sure to read on.

Travel Advisory

Trip101 recommends assessing the risks before hitting the hiking and trekking trails. Please be especially aware of the difficulty levels, the locations’ ground conditions, as well as the seasonal risks.

1. Cedar Creek Falls

Cedar Creek Falls
Source: Photo by Flickr user Kristina D.C. Hoe... used under CC BY-SA 2.0

When you’ve had your fill of the city tours and ubran life, check out this stunning trail in the area. Located within Cleveland National Forest, Cedar Creek Falls is a popular hiking destination outside of San Diego. The hike from the trailhead to the falls is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km), and is over fairly challenging terrain, making this trail best suited to more experienced hikers. A permit is required for all hikers, and it is recommended that you purchase one well ahead of your planned arrival.

Cedar Creek Falls

Address: Co Hwy S7

Website: Cedar Creek Falls

Price: 6 USD

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2. Three Sisters Falls

One of the most popular waterfall hikes near San Diego, the Three Sisters Falls is best seen after a heavy rain season. The falls derive their name from the three main drops that make up its entirety. You’ll come across the falls after 2 miles (3.2 km), making the total hike about 4 miles (6.4 km). Conditions on the trail can be very hot in the summer, so be sure to pack enough water and sustenance to keep you in prime condition during your excursion.

Three Sisters Falls

Address: Boulder Creek Rd, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070

Website: Three Sisters Falls

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3. Kitchen Creek Falls

The Kitchen Creek Falls is located in the Cleveland National Forest along the Pacific Crest Trail. These falls are perfect for those who are beginner hikes, as the terrain that must be crossed isn’t as tough as other trails. It can still get very hot here in the summer, so use precaution if that is when you plan on hiking; bringing plenty of water is a must. The hike to the falls is about 1.8 miles (2.9 km) for a total of 3.6 total miles (5.8 km).

Kitchen Creek Falls

Address: Pine Valley, CA 91962

Website: Kitchen Creek Falls

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4. Oak Canyon

Located within Mission Trails Regional Park, Oak Canyon features a seasonal waterfall that you are sure to love discovering. As you hike San Diego’s hiking trails with waterfalls, you’ll realize that some of them are relatively flat. Oak Canyon, for example, only has 300 feet (91 meters) of total elevation gain, making this trail a good one for beginner hikers. You’ll follow Oak Canyon Trail approximately 1.6 miles (2.5 km) before reaching the falls.

Oak Canyon

Address: 1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119

Website: Oak Canyon

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5. Harper’s Creek Falls

Harper’s Creek Falls sits approximately 2.75 miles (4.4 km) down the East Side Trail within Cuyamaca State Park. This is one of the less known waterfalls in the area, making it a great option for a beautiful waterfall hike. The best time of year to visit Harper’s Creek Falls is in late winter or early spring, when the waters are flowing.

Harper’s Creek Falls

Address: 14592-14674 CA-79, Julian, CA 92036

Website: Harper’s Creek

Hours: Dawn - Dusk

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6. Los Penasquitos Falls

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Wilson44691 used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

If you’re looking for easy hikes in San Diego with waterfalls, then definitely check out Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. Los Penasquitos Falls makes for a picturesque scene tumbling over the volcanic rocks of the canyon. To get to the falls, you’ll hike a loop trail that is a total of 6.8 miles (10.9 km) round trip and easy enough to traverse for most hiking skill levels. The dog-friendly attraction is open all year round.

Los Penasquitos Falls

Address: 12020 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129

Website: Los Penasquito Falls

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7. Horsethief Canyon

Horsethief Canyon is located within the Pine Creek Wilderness area of Cleveland National Forest and derives its name from its prior use as a haven for thieves to hide stolen horses before heading for the Mexican border. This trail is of moderate difficulty, with a total hiking distance of 3.3 miles (5.3 km). As with many of these trails, the waterfalls are seasonal and best seen during the late winter and early spring.

Horsethief Canyon

Address: Mountain Empire, CA

Website: Horsethief Canyon

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8. Green Valley Falls

For travelers looking to experience the beauty of waterfall hikes near San Diego, but aren’t interested in hiking a great distance, Green Valley Falls is the waterfall you’ll want to visit. The hike to the falls is only about ¼ of a mile (0.4 km) over easy to walk terrain, but the scenery leading up to and including the falls is simply spectacular. Green Valley Falls consists of two sets of waterfalls that are about 0.1 miles (0.16 km) apart.

Green Valley Falls

Address: 11842 California 79, Descanso, CA 91916

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9. Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls
Source: Photo by Flickr user Bill Rand used under CC BY 2.0

Located within Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which happens to be the largest state park in California, Maidenhair Falls can be found approximately 2.5 miles (4 km) down one of the park’s trails. After trekking through desert terrain, you’ll come upon what can only be described as a green oasis within the park, which is where you will find Maidenhair Falls. The falls themselves are about 18 feet high (5.4 meters) and derive their name from the maidenhair ferns that grow around them.

Maidenhair Falls

Address: 200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

Website: Maidenhair Falls

Opening hours: Dawn - Dusk

Price: Free

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Enjoy San Diego's great outdoors

#conservationlands15 Social Media Takeover, August 15th,  Bucket List
Source: Photo by user Bureau of Land M... used under CC BY 2.0

While you’ll find no shortage of things to do within San Diego’s city limits, be sure to think outside the box (or the city limits) when planning your trip to the area. There are plenty of solo activities and group activities that the city has to offer. Consider planning a hike in the area, where you can see the beautiful countryside and stellar waterfalls. These are just a few of the best hikes in San Diego with waterfalls that you’ll encounter, so be sure to check them out!

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Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
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Amber has enjoyed being an office manager at a geotechnical engineering firm for seven years and has a Bachelor's degree from Tarleton State University in Marketing. When not working or wrangling...Read more

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