Cedar Creek Falls: San Diego’s Most Famous Waterfall Hike

If you spend any time researching hikes in San Diego, then you have no doubt ran into the infamous party spot known as Cedar Creek Falls. I had heard about it many times myself but never set out to hike it as it did not seem like my scene. However, in 2014 they instituted a permit system which substantially cut back on the amount of craziness that was happening there, so I set out with my friend Chris from LastAdventurer.com and we went and hiked it, here is all the information.

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  • 5 Miles round trip
  • 1,000 feet of elevation gain
  • Do not do this in the summer unless you are prepared with tons of water and sunscreen. It is not shaded, and it can get very hot.
  • Get a permit here BEFORE YOU GO
  • Trailhead: 15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065

Getting There

The trailhead is located in Ramona, and I would recommend putting this address in the GPS “15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065.” There are a dozen or so parking spaces and a lot of street spots, but it can get busy on the weekends so get there early.


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Permits are very easy to get, and you can get them here. They are required though, and there is someone at the trailhead who will check you, so do not go without a permit.

The Hike

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The hike is reverse of what you would normally expect, in that you will be going downhill all the way to the falls then uphill all the way back. While this hike is not that difficult at only 1,000 feet of elevation gain, the exposure and heat can make it tough if you are not prepared. Just remember when you get to the bottom of the hill that you have to walk all the way back out. BRING LOTS OF WATER

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The hike starts from the trailhead permit checkpoint and proceeds down a series of gradual switchbacks for 2 miles. The switchbacks are long and windy, but they are gradual, which makes them nice as you are heading up.

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The views you get when you enter the cross the first hill are fantastic as it is a pretty defined canyon you are staring into.

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Be sure to watch out for snakes on this trail as well, we saw one since it was a sunny day which is what the snakes love.

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The trail continues down, and it is easy during this entire section wth lots of great views.

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You will pass 3-4 signs that let you know how far you are from the waterfall and trailhead during this section.

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When you finally bottom out, you will be walking through a set of trees and up a dirt wash type area.

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This section eventually has a small stream crossing as you proceed back into the canyon. After hopping over some boulders and heading back into the canyon itself, you will catch your first glimpse of the waterfall in front of you.

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When I went at the end of the May it still had some water, but it was not much, so I would expect it to be dry by late May most years.

The Waterfall

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The waterfall itself is tall at about 100 feet. It has a large pool that it falls into, which is what makes it so attractive for people who are wanting to swim and spend time here on hot summer days. I thought the hike reminded me a lot of places like Eaton Canyon or Sturtevant Falls, both of which are beautiful but both of which do not provide the quiet isolation I like to find when hiking.

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The waterfall here is still beautiful though, and I was excited to see so many others out hiking and enjoying the area. After spending 15 minutes at the falls, we headed out of the canyon and back up the trail.

Here is a shot from LastAdventurer.com that shows the waterfall with water really flowing from 2017.

There is an optional spur which adds 3 miles and takes you to the top of the falls, but I did not do this so I cannot comment on it. As I stated before, save you energy and water for this last section as you will be doing a lot of uphill as you head out of the canyon.

All in all, I can see why this hike draws so many visitors. It is a good workout with fantastic views and a waterfall at the end. It is not one of my favorites, but I enjoyed being able to see it for myself. Let me know what you think of Cedar Creek Falls in the comments.

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