Cedar Creek Falls

Cleveland National Forest / Julian / San Diego County, California, USA

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 3
Cedar Creel Falls
Cedar Creek Falls is perhaps San Diego County's most spectacular waterfall.

Plunging roughly 80ft into a plunge pool surrounded by rock walls, it's one of the more popular hikes in this part of California, which is perhaps more known for its hot and dry climate than its waterfalls. Speaking of which, while this is indeed an impressive waterfall, it does seem to have a rather short life depending upon the rain or snow fall during the Winter.

Julie witnessed the fickle nature of this waterfall firsthand when she attempted to visit this waterfall in early May 2001, but it was dry. However, in February 2009, my mom and I showed up two days after a freak Valentine's Day snow storm, and the photos you see on this page reflect the state the falls was in at the time. So in general, I'd say you'd want to time your visit to this waterfall during the late Winter or early Spring months, but only in a year when we've had sufficient precipitation in the Winter. Otherwise, it's probably not worth the effort.

Mildred Falls in view near the trailhead Hiking to this waterfall ended up being deceptively more difficult than the moderate distance of 4.5 miles round trip had us believe. The reason was because it was an upside down hike (i.e. we had to descend to the falls and get back all that elevation on the way out) and it was pretty much exposed to the sun for almost its entirety. In fact, we had heard of people (many of whom brought dogs) who tried this hike on a hot Summer day and suffered from heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

We started from the trailhead at the end of Eagle Peak Road (see directions below). The trail started off on what appeared to be a weather-worn fire road that was for foot traffic only. Barely a minute or two into the hike, we were able to see Mildred Falls, which plunged conspicuously to our right. I'm sure with that waterfall, it would only be flowing right after a clearing storm so we were probably lucky to have timed it right.

Looking down as we made the steep and treacherous scramble down the gully to the base of Cedar Creek Falls from its top The fire road eventually curved towards the San Diego River basin where we could see its context as well as some homes perched atop the opposite side of the basin (which I believe was the Ramona Estates).

Roughly half-way down this stretch of descending trail, we spotted a spur on the left, which ended up going to the top of Cedar Creek Falls after a few more minutes of hiking. It turned out that this was the trail route described by the 2nd edition of Ann Marie Brown's California Waterfalls.

Even though there was a very steep and pretty dangerous descent to the base of the falls from its top, I'd recommend you do not do this descent and go back to the main descending trail, because there would be a far easier way to reach the base of the falls. We know firsthand since we actually joined a handful of other hikers in doing this scramble.

So continuing on the descent down the main trail, it eventually bottomed out within the San Diego River basin. The main fire road eventually intersected with another trail to our left near some fences. This fork in the trail was also near Cedar Creek just before that creek joined the San Diego River.

We followed this creekside trail as it followed and crossed the creek a couple of times (we were able to keep our feet dry with boulder hopping though hiking sticks would've certainly improved our balance), and it eventually led us right up to the base of the impressive Cedar Creek Falls. There was a very large plunge pool at the base of the falls (which probably explained the reason for its popularity) surrounded by tall and mostly bare rock cliffs more reminiscent of an oasis in a desert.

When we had our fill of this gorgeous waterfall, we returned back the way we came. So that meant it was pretty much all uphill. Even though Mom and I did this hike in the Winter, we were still sweating and drank most of our water during this uphill stretch so I could only imagine how much hotter and dehydrating it must be to do this hike on a hot day.

Mom and I also noticed that there were other hikers who came from a different trail, which we think came from the Ramona Estates. It was probably where those homes were perched above the hills opposite the San Diego River basin. However, we can't say more about this trail since we didn't go that way.




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PHOTO JOURNAL
Looking up the San Diego River from within the basinLooking up the San Diego River from within the basin
Another look at Cedar Creek FallsAnother look at Cedar Creek Falls
On the way to Julian, we passed by the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which was a nice place to let our daughter see some rare and endangered animals from around the worldOn the way to Julian, we passed by the San Diego Wild Animal Park, which was a nice place to let our daughter see some rare and endangered animals from around the world
The trailhead at the end of the Eagle Peak RoadThe trailhead at the end of the Eagle Peak Road

Mildred Falls in context as seen from the trailheadMildred Falls in context as seen from the trailhead

The signposted unmaintained road leading 4 miles to Boulder Creek RoadThe signposted unmaintained road leading 4 miles to Boulder Creek Road (near the trailhead). Thankfully, you don't need to traverse this road for this waterfall.

View of the gate and fire road leaving the trailheadView of the gate and fire road leaving the trailhead

Mom way up ahead on the trailMom way up ahead on the trail. Notice the lack of shade

Further along the trail with some residual snow in the limited shadowsFurther along the trail with some residual snow in the limited shadows

Looking down at the San Diego River basin from the trailLooking down at the San Diego River basin from the trail

Mom on the detour to the top of Cedar Creek FallsMom on the detour to the top of the falls. This spur trail was roughly about a half-way down towards the basin (or possibly before).

The trail degenerated into a bit of a rock scramble that ended right at the top of Cedar Creek FallsThe trail degenerated into a bit of a rock scramble that ended right at the top of Cedar Creek Falls

Approaching Cedar Creek FallsApproaching Cedar Creek Falls

Mom checking out Cedar Creek FallsMom checking out Cedar Creek Falls

Mom embarking on the long uphill hike back to the trailheadMom embarking on the long uphill hike back to the trailhead

Mom still making her way up the long climbing stretch of trail back towards the trailheadMom still making her way up the long climbing stretch of trail back towards the trailhead

Mom taking a quick water break while also checking out the moon in the skyMom taking a quick water break while also checking out the moon in the sky

Finally back at the trailheadFinally back at the trailhead


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS



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DIRECTIONS
From the town of Julian, drive a couple miles west on Hwy 78 (Julian Rd) towards the Pine Hill Road turnoff on your left. Take this turnoff and continue for about 1.5 miles keeping right at a fork to get onto Eagle Peak Road (the left fork is to stay on Pine Hill Rd). After another 1.5 miles or so, stay right to remain on Eagle Peak Road (avoiding some Forest Service Road, which branches left).

Continue on this road for another 8 miles until you reach the signposted trailhead near the unmaintained road leading 4 miles to Boulder Creek Road (which you don't have to worry about for this excursion).

Recently (as of June 2013), the US Forest Service representing the Cleveland National Forest informed us that in order to visit the waterfall, you need to have a permit, which can be secured here. Since rules and regulations change, here's a link to the USFS website for the latest info.




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MAP OF THE FALLS

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TRIP REPORTS
For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES



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NEARBY WATERFALLS


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My dog and I love the hike and the falls (Cedar Creek Falls) 
Rocky (black lab mix) and I hike 3-6 miles per day in the Ramona area. We hiked down the new trail to the falls from the Ramona side on Friday, June …

Cedar Creek Falls 
The Cedar Creek waterfall is not flowing as of July 10, 2012. The pools are becoming stagnated algea ponds. While some people have stated this is an …

Cedar Creek Falls Closed 
Cedar Creek is currently closed....Sad really, beautiful falls. This was a tough hike but well worth the reward. ** A teenager died falling from …

Hiking after rain storm (Cedar Creek Falls) 
My husband and I just hiked this yesterday; Christmas Eve. After all the rain we just had the waterfall was spectacular. Even Mildred Falls was something …

Summer to Cedar Creek Falls is Dangerous 
It is very dangerous this time of year to hike the trail to Cedar Creek Falls . We are rescuing 3-4 people a day and 3 dogs have died from careless …

Cedar Creek Falls - Caution Against Hiking in Hot Weather! 
We hiked to the Cedar Creek Falls on Sunday, July 18th, 2010. This was a VERY Difficult hike!!! We are probably not coming back. We hiked from the …

Cedar Creek Falls Blu3Fish 
Very nice swimming hole and falls. We hiked there in Spring of '09 and the water was flowing (don't remember month sorry). If you are up for the rocky …

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