10 Best Waterfall Hikes in San Diego

Copper Creek Falls

There aren’t many hikes in San Diego as rich with history as the Copper Creek Trail. The area used to be the site of copper mining in the early 1900s. The mines have long been blasted shut, yet remnants of San Diego’s history remain, such as the dam which was once used to clean the copper. Additionally, there are two waterfalls, which should move this hike even higher on your bucket list. The falls are best after heavy rainfall so plan your trip here accordingly.

Los Penasquitos Falls

The hike to Los Penasquitos Canyon is the ideal family-friendly, weekend hike. It can be accessed from a number of trailheads, ranging in length for longer or shorter treks. The reward is found in the rock-strewn canyon, a small waterfall gently cascading down the rocks year-round. While this hike is kid-friendly, watch your little ones on the slick rocks near the falls.

Three Sisters

Venture to Descanso, about a 45-minute drive from downtown San Diego, and you’ll find three of the most impressive waterfalls in the entire county. Three Sisters Falls is a no-joke jaunt, requiring a hike down a very steep path with ropes to rappel down. The hike out isn’t any easier, and can be best summed up as brutal on a warm day. However, the heavy water cascading down multiple open rock faces makes the journey well worthwhile.

Cedar Creek Falls

Recent improvements have made the hike to Cedar Creek Falls much more enjoyable. Renovations went into place to make this an easy to moderate trek downhill along a series of switchbacks to the staggering 80-foot falls. Also known as “Devil’s Punchbowl”, this 5-mile hike is perfect to visit after heavy rain when the falls are at their best. During droughts, the falls are nothing more than a trickle.

Kitchen Creek Falls

Whether you want to channel your inner Reese Witherspoon in “Wild” or simply walk the iconic PCT, the trail to Kitchen Creek Falls is the place to do it. At 4.6 miles in length, Kitchen Creek Falls is the only trail on this list to cover a section of the PCT, before you make a slight detour to get down to the falls. While this particular portion of the PCT isn’t the most impressive, the falls do offer spectacular views when they are flowing after heavy rain.

Oak Canyon Falls

Mission Trails Regional Park gets a lot of recognition for San Diego’s most popular hike, Cowles Mountain, but there are several other trails that deserve recognition. One of those is the Oak Canyon Trail, one of the most beautiful places to visit in the entire 7,220-acre park. In spring, the 5.4-mile loop trail takes you past California poppies and to a seasonal waterfall. Additionally, you’ll get to see the Old Mission Dam, the site of the first major irrigation project on the Pacific Coast of the United States.

Green Valley Falls

It may take close to an hour to get to, but the drive to the Green Valley Falls Trail is worth it. If not for the small pools, waterfalls, and minimal mileage, then for all the other trails you can explore in the Green Valley campground area of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The falls require a quick, 0.5-mile round trip hike, making it an ideal option for hikers of all ages and athletic abilities. Keep in mind the Green Valley campground is closed during winter. The falls can still be accessed during this time, but require a much longer trek to get to.

Maidenhair Falls

Its name may have a negative connotation, but Hellhole Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is anything but hellish. In fact it is dotted with sycamores, cottonwoods, and palm trees fed by the streams in the area. Hellohole Canyon also houses the 18-foot Maidehnhair Falls. You’ll need to drive a little over two hours to see this beauty, but a weekend adventure to Anza Borrego is always worth it, especially when you have the opportunity to see one of the most visually stunning waterfalls in all of San Diego. The falls are also surrounded by a fern and moss covered grotto, an additional appeal to this 5-mile round trip hike.

Adobe Falls

Adobe Falls is no longer accessible to the public, but worth mentioning. The residents in the surrounding area became understandably upset with the amount of foot traffic and trouble the once easily-accessible falls brought. Thus a no trespassing declaration was made. Additionally, police often patrol this area and aren’t afraid to write citations to those who trespass. But at one point in time, many people took the opportunity to hike a short half-mile to reach these falls, covered in graffiti. They were the easiest falls to get to in all of San Diego and have since been completely defaced because of this.

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