Cedar Creek Falls

Cleveland National Forest / Julian / Ramona, California, USA

About Cedar Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 3.5 hours

Date first visited: 2008-02-16
Date last visited: 2017-01-07

Waterfall Latitude: 32.99008
Waterfall Longitude: -116.7297

Cedar Creek Falls was certainly one of the most attractive (if not the most attractive) waterfalls in San Diego County.

What made it so appealing was the bare rocks enclosing the rocky oasis-like grotto into which the vertical 80ft or so waterfall dropped.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_091_02162008 - Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls

Adding to the scenic allure of the falls was some impressive mountain scenery backing the San Diego River basin.

In fact, this waterfall seemed to grow so much in popularity in recent years that authorities now require permits to do this hike (more on this later).

It definitely felt busier on our most recent visits in 2016 and 2017 than it did when I first visited Cedar Creek Falls back in 2008.

And as you can see from the photo above, the falls certainly deserved its recognition and popularity.

Timing Cedar Creek Falls

We took that picture you see at the top of this page only a couple of days after a freak snowstorm that hit the Julian area.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_176_01232016 - Cedar Creek Falls in relatively light but satisfying flow when we showed up in late January 2016
Cedar Creek Falls in relatively light but satisfying flow when we showed up in late January 2016

Therefore, I presumed that Cedar Creek Falls pretty much had its peak (or at least near peak) flow by my estimation.

In our experiences, this waterfall tended to have a pretty short season as its flow depended on how much snow had accumulated in the watersheds that ultimately drained into Cedar Creek.

On Julie’s first visit to this waterfall back in early May 2001, the waterfall didn’t flow at all.

Recently in 2016 and 2017, we made our visits here at least a week or two after prior major storm systems had passed through here.

And as you can see in the rest of the photos on this page, Cedar Creek Falls noticeably had lesser flow than the 2008 flow pictured at the top of this page.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_116_01072017 - Cedar Creek Falls when we showed up in early January 2017
Cedar Creek Falls when we showed up in early January 2017

As a result, I’d say that the more time has passed since the last storm feeding Cedar Creek’s drainage, the more limited the amount of water the waterfall will have.

Therefore, if I had to go by a general rule of thumb, I’d say Cedar Creek Falls would most likely put on a good showing in the middle of Winter through early Spring.

If you wait until late Spring or Summer, the falls would not likely have good performance due to the lack of waterflow and the higher temperatures.

And given the amount of sun exposure on this hike, you could put yourself at risk without adequate preparation (a big reason why the authorities require permits for this hike).

Cedar Creek Falls Permits

Cedar_Creek_Falls_015_01072017 - The permit booth at the trailhead on the Ramona side of Cedar Creek Falls
The permit booth at the trailhead on the Ramona side of Cedar Creek Falls

Cleveland National Forest implemented the permit system around 2012 after responding to a plethora of injuries (even fatalities) at or around Cedar Creek Falls.

According to their online reservation site (which you can access through the USDA website), the forest service only issues a limit of 75 group permits of up to five people per group per day.

So far in our most recent experiences, we’ve managed to book our permits for a Saturday visit as late as a couple days prior to our arrival at the trailhead.

That said, I’d imagine availability can vary, especially with this falls maintaining its popularity on social media and on hiking blogs.

Nevertheless, this permit system appeared to have curbed the number of rescues compared to the peak of Cedar Creek Falls’ popularity prior to 2012.

About the Cedar Creek Falls Hike

Cedar_Creek_Falls_078_01072017 - Context of hikers approaching the San Diego River Trail after having lost most of the elevation coming from the Ramona side
Context of hikers approaching the San Diego River Trail after having lost most of the elevation coming from the Ramona side

As for the hike itself, there are actually two different approaches to the waterfall (see directions to both trailheads below)…

  • the west entrance at the San Diego Country Estates accessed from Ramona
  • the east entrance at the Saddleback Hill accessed from Julian

Both trails required us to hike similar distances of just under 6 miles round trip.

Moreover, both hikes were upside down meaning we descended to the falls, but we had to hike back up on the way out.

Therefore, despite the obvious trails to follow and the lack of off-trail scrambling required, this hike’s length combined with sun exposure made it deceptively strenuous.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_174_01072017 - Julie and Tahia hiking uphill in the sun back to the Ramona Estates after having had their fill of the Cedar Creek Falls
Julie and Tahia hiking uphill in the sun back to the Ramona Estates after having had their fill of the Cedar Creek Falls

As far as the Ramona side was concerned, it took us around 75 minutes (with a five-year-old in our party) to go just under 3 miles downhill to Cedar Creek Falls.

However, it took us over 90 minutes to return to the trailhead given its sun exposure and all-uphill trajectory.

Regarding the hike from the Julian side, we also had to hike about 3 miles down and 3 miles up.

Unlike the Ramona-side trail, the Julian-side trail had the benefit of some shade from the mountains that the trail hugged.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_069_01232016 - Descending on the Saddleback Trail towards the San Diego River basin on the Cedar Creek Falls hike from the Julian side
Descending on the Saddleback Trail towards the San Diego River basin on the Cedar Creek Falls hike from the Julian side

Furthermore, we only encountered a few hikers along this trail as opposed to the waves of hikers on the Ramona side.

Overall, we also spent about 3.5 hours on this 6-mile round trip excursion, which included the hiking as well as the time spent enjoying the waterfall.

Finally, regarding the potentially intense heat encountered on this hike, we normally do it on cool winter days.

However, I can totally imagine the appeal of dealing with the heat to go swimming at the Cedar Creek Falls plunge pool in the Summertime.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_199_01232016 - Someone doing a cliff jump into the large plunge pool at the base of Cedar Creek Falls
Someone doing a cliff jump into the large plunge pool at the base of Cedar Creek Falls

Historically, we’ve observed daredevils doing scary cliff jumps into the plunge pool disobeying signs (as well as the permit rules and regulations) prohibiting climbing around the falls.

People did this despite the presence of at least one helicopter doing a circle around Cedar Creek Falls surveying the area.

That said, of the two approaches to Cedar Creek Falls, we’ve found that the combination of the relatively easy driving route along with the arguably better trail scenery made the Ramona side more popular by far.

Thus, I’ll first start with the detailed trail description from the Ramona side.

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Description – The West Entrance / San Diego River Trail (“The Ramona Side”)

Cedar_Creek_Falls_005_01072017 - Lots of cars parked on the Ramona side of the Cedar Creek Falls hike so we had to walk a bit more in order to start the hike itself
Lots of cars parked on the Ramona side of the Cedar Creek Falls hike so we had to walk a bit more in order to start the hike itself

We first had to find parking, which was very limited despite there being a modestly-sized parking lot along with some street parking.

Perhaps the increased presence of visitos here had something to do with the fairly built-up nature of the trailhead on the Ramona side as it had pit-toilet restrooms.

We also noticed a picnic shelter with attractive views towards the homes within the San Diego Country Estates as well as the attractive mountains looking in the other direction towards the trail.

Once past the trailhead, we then approached a supervised sign-in area where a worker would check for permits while evaluating our clothing as well as our physical condition.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_306_01242016 - Sign explaining that a permit and photo ID were required to hike the Cedar Creek Falls
Sign explaining that a permit and photo ID were required to hike the Cedar Creek Falls

We spoke to a lady who worked here, and she said that she had turned back people who arrived drunk (alcohol is prohibited), who attempted to hike in flip flops, or who didn’t bring enough water.

Once we passed the check-in area, the trail then immediately traversed a fairly wide and very sun-exposed path with increasingly nice views towards the San Diego River basin and its backing mountains.

We had no trouble following this well-used trail though we pretty much went all downhill right from the get go.

However, we also knew that we’d have to gain all that elevation loss back on the return hike so we had that to look forward to later on.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_030_01072017 - One of several signs indicating our progress as we descended towards the San Diego River basin from the trailhead on the Ramona side
One of several signs indicating our progress as we descended towards the San Diego River basin from the trailhead on the Ramona side

In any case, we noticed posts with trail signs indicating our progress on the trail.

They spaced out these signs at roughly a quarter-mile apart (at least towards the beginning) though they seemed to have lengthened these intervals further into the hike.

To lessen the pitch of the descent, the trail zig-zagged along a handful of long switchbacks.

The switchbacks to the left side skirted a dry gully while passing between some interesting rock formations.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_038_01072017 - One of several switchbacks that reduced the pitch of the descent into an easier hike as opposed to an erosion-prone steep scramble
One of several switchbacks that reduced the pitch of the descent into an easier hike as opposed to an erosion-prone steep scramble

The switchbacks on the right side were more exposed to the sun while also allowing us to glimpse further downstream the San Diego River.

At a little over half-way down the overall descent, we spotted a short ridge where closure signs urged hikers not to trample on sensitive vegetation.

I could see how the hill adjacent to this ridge could have afforded a somewhat commanding view of the San Diego River Gorge basin though we already got similar views by simply by following the trail.

After this ridge, the trail descended several more switchbacks before bottoming out amongst the shrubs and trees lining the San Diego River itself.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_088_01072017 - An unbridged crossing of part of the San Diego River before reaching the junction with the San Diego River Trail
An unbridged crossing of part of the San Diego River before reaching the junction with the San Diego River Trail

Once we got to the bottom, we then had to cross the San Diego River.

In our experiences so far, we had no trouble traversing the watercourse without getting our feet wet as someone had put in a small log to act more or less like a bridge.

Shortly after the river crossing, we then reached a trail junction.

At this junction, the Saddleback Trail (or Eagle Peak Trail) came in from the left, the San Diego River Gorge Trail split off to the right, and the Cedar Creek Falls Trail continued straight ahead.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_090_01072017 - The fence at the main trail junction with the San Diego River Trail marking the permit zone as well as the final quarter-mile stretch to Cedar Creek Falls
The fence at the main trail junction with the San Diego River Trail marking the permit zone as well as the final quarter-mile stretch to Cedar Creek Falls

Naturally, we continued straight ahead past the fencing where signs clearly indicated that we had entered the permit area.

The signs also reminded us that we still had roughly a half-mile to go before reaching Cedar Creek Falls.

The rest of the trail was pretty flat as it curved then went over a pair of unbridged crossings of Cedar Creek.

Each time we’ve done this trail, the crossings merely required some skillful rock hopping to keep the feet dry.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_099_01072017 - Tahia insisting on doing one of the crossings of Cedar Creek in the final half-mile by herself
Tahia insisting on doing one of the crossings of Cedar Creek in the final half-mile by herself

Even our daughter insisted on doing these stream crossings on her own.

Once we got past the stream crossings, the gorge narrowed even further as the trail went past some blackened trees.

I suspect these burnt trees came from fires that sadly seemed to have increased in frequency due to Climate Change.

Eventually after another 15 minutes or so, we reached the bouldery fringe of the plunge pool before the beautiful Cedar Creek Falls.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_144_01072017 - Looking down at the context of some of the awkward scrambling that was involved in order to maneuver about the boulder-fringed plunge pool of Cedar Creek Falls
Looking down at the context of some of the awkward scrambling that was involved in order to maneuver about the boulder-fringed plunge pool of Cedar Creek Falls

Given the roughness and size of the boulders around the plunge pool, we had to do some additional awkward scrambling in order to improve the views or avoid people clogging up our photos.

The East Entrance / Saddleback Trail (“The Julian Side”)

The Saddleback Trail to Cedar Creek Falls definitely lacked the popularity of the San Diego River Trail from the Ramona side.

Nevertheless, we’re quite familiar with this less popular trail because we’ve taken it on our first three visits to the Cedar Creek Falls.

The main reasons were that we would typically either spend the night or visit the charming town of Julian.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_013_01232016 - The Saddleback Trailhead, where we took a different trail to access Cedar Creek Falls whenever we made it out from the town of Julian
The Saddleback Trailhead, where we took a different trail to access Cedar Creek Falls whenever we made it out from the town of Julian

In fact, the directions given in our California Waterfalls book by Ann Marie Brown were for this particular trailhead.

This option also had a bonus waterfall sighting of Mildred Falls, which sat very close to the Saddleback Trailhead.

It seemed like the Ramona side of the trail was newer and more improved over the years.

Anyways, the trail started off on what appeared to be a weather-worn fire road.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_025_02162008 - Mildred Falls in view near the trailhead
Mildred Falls in view near the trailhead

Given the amount of overgrowth as well as water gullies and ruts cut into the road, it seemed like vehicular access was prohibited many years ago.

Barely a minute or two into the hike, we saw the aforementioned Mildred Falls, which plunged conspicuously across the ravine to our right.

This waterfall typically had very light flow or didn’t flow at all.

So I’d imagine seeing this guy flow meant coming almost immediately after a clearing storm.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_040_02162008 - Context of the Saddleback Trail descending to the San Diego River basin as the trail hugged a mountainside providing limited shade (which you might notice on the left side of this picture)
Context of the Saddleback Trail descending to the San Diego River basin as the trail hugged a mountainside providing limited shade (which you might notice on the left side of this picture)

The trail then hugged a mountain and curved to the left as it ultimately flanked a deeper ravine cut by the San Diego River.

As we descended closer to the river level, we could look across the basin towards the San Diego Country Estates (formerly the Ramona Estates) as well as the zig-zagging trail leaving from that popular trailhead.

Roughly half-way towards the bottom of our descent, there encountered a trail junction where the path on our left path climbed away from the main trail.

That trail was an optional detour that ultimately followed Cedar Creek for roughly 1/4-mile or so to the top of Cedar Creek Falls.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_115_01232016 - Julie hiking past the informal trail junction where the path on the left eventually went to the top of the Cedar Creek Falls
Julie hiking past the informal trail junction where the path on the left eventually went to the top of the Cedar Creek Falls

Continuing past the trail junction, we continued descending on the fairly wide mountain-hugging path into the San Diego River basin.

Shortly thereafter, we encountered the trail junction with the much busier trail from the Ramona side.

At this junction, we then turned left to go through the wooden fences (entering the permit area), and we’d continue the last half-mile to get to the base of the waterfall as described above when we talked about the Ramona side.

Finally, regarding the Julian side of the trail, we should note that the trail description from our Ann Marie Brown book stated that the hiking distance was only 4.5 miles.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_043_02162008 - The detour trail actually only led up to the top of Cedar Creek Falls, which didn't yield good views of the waterfall
The detour trail actually only led up to the top of Cedar Creek Falls, which didn’t yield good views of the waterfall

However, she only went to the top of Cedar Creek Falls and back (via the optional detour that we mentioned above).

I don’t think at the time of her writing that book that she ever made it to the bottom via the trails described on this page.

Authorities

Cedar Creek Falls resides in the Cleveland National Forest near Ramona or Julian in San Diego County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions and permits, visit their website or Facebook page.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_017_01072017 - Beyond the permit station on the Ramona Side Trailhead, we then embarked on the trail which initially skirted by the homes of the San Diego Country Estates. This photo and the next several photos came from our visit in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_020_01072017 - Initially, the Cedar Creek Falls on the Ramona side teased gorgeous mountain views, which kept us interested to keep moving on
Cedar_Creek_Falls_025_01072017 - Julie and Tahia continuing on the Ramona side trail as they walked further away from the Ramona Estates and into the San Diego River Gorge
Cedar_Creek_Falls_031_01072017 - Tahia and Julie descending into the San Diego River Gorge where we can also start to see the trail coming in from the Julian side en route to the Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar_Creek_Falls_035_01072017 - Tahia and Julie continuing along the switchbacks descending into the San Diego River Gorge, and with our morning start, the sun wasn't intense at all during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_040_01072017 - Tahia and Julie looking at one of the signs that kind of indicated our progress to the Cedar Creek Falls coming in from the Ramona side
Cedar_Creek_Falls_041_01072017 - Here's a closer look at what the signage would look like en route to Cedar Creek Falls, which we took as progress indicators
Cedar_Creek_Falls_045_01072017 - Julie and Tahia continuing to follow the trail on the Ramona side to the Cedar Creek Falls, which was easy to follow though they were long thanks to its many switchbacks
Cedar_Creek_Falls_049_01072017 - The left side of the switchbacks descending towards Cedar Creek Falls went into a dry gully that I would imagine might drain from the San Diego Country Estates
Cedar_Creek_Falls_051_01072017 - Context of Julie and Tahia leaving the dry gully beneath the San Diego Estates (or Ramona Estates) and resuming the descent into the San Diego River Gorge and eventually the Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar_Creek_Falls_067_01072017 - Unlike the Julian side, the Ramona side trail to Cedar Creek Falls was definitely busier
Cedar_Creek_Falls_068_01072017 - Views like this from the Ramona side of the trail was one of the reasons why I thought it was the more scenic (as well as easier) of the two different ways to visit Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar_Creek_Falls_071_01072017 - Julie and Tahia approaching another switchback fronting the gully beneath the San Diego Estates en route to the Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar_Creek_Falls_073_01072017 - Context of another one of the switchbacks on the descent to (or ascent from) the Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_076_01072017 - Julie continuing the descent deeper into the San Diego River Gorge and eventually the Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_083_01072017 - Julie and Tahia on the final descent towards the tree-fringed San Diego River en route to the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_096_01072017 - Julie helping Tahia get past one of the creek crossings of Cedar Creek in the final half-mile to the Cedar Creek Falls as of our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_101_01072017 - Tahia getting over a couple of rock obstacles near the end of the Cedar Creek Falls hike with a dog looking on during our January 2017 hike
Cedar_Creek_Falls_103_01072017 - Julie and Tahia hiking beyond the creek crossings and into the prickly trees near the base of the Cedar Creek Falls as of January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_104_01072017 - Looking back at a couple of mountain bikers who managed to bring their bikes to the base of Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_105_01072017 - Julie and Tahia finally approaching the Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_106_01072017 - This was what Cedar Creek Falls looked like when we visited in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_110_01072017 - Long-exposed photo of the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_125_01072017 - Context of Tahia and Julie having a picnic lunch surrounded by other people sitting across the plunge pool of Cedar Creek Falls in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_143_01072017 - A forest service chopper circling Cedar Creek Falls as well as Three Sisters Falls in one of the drainages not far from here during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_147_01072017 - Context of some people sitting closer to the edge of the plunge pool with Julie and Tahia sitting nearby across from the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_156_01072017 - Julie and Tahia starting the long uphill hike back to the trailhead by the San Diego Estates during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_159_01072017 - Julie and Tahia approaching a creek crossing on the return hike from Cedar Creek Falls in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_162_01072017 - Julie and Tahia going around another crossing of Cedar Creek on the return hike in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_165_01072017 - Julie and Tahia going across yet another crossing of Cedar Creek on our return hike in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_166_01072017 - Julie and Tahia embarking on the long climb back up to the trailhead by the San Diego Country Estates
Cedar_Creek_Falls_168_01072017 - As you can see from this photo, there was not much shade on the long climb back out to the Ramona side during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_169_01072017 - Looking back towards the Saddleback Trail from the climb back up to the San Diego Estates on the hike in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_183_01072017 - Context of other hikers in the distance making their descent to Cedar Creek Falls while we were going in the opposite direction during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_185_01072017 - Tahia dealing with the climb in comfortable 70F weather in the Winter, which wasn't too bad, but we still worked up a sweat during our return hike from Cedar Creek Falls in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_192_01072017 - With the San Diego Country Estates homes getting closer and closer, we knew that we were near the end of the Cedar Creek Falls hike in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_197_01072017 - Looking back at the nice homes of the San Diego Country Estates from the Cedar Creek Falls trail in January 2017
Cedar_Creek_Falls_199_01072017 - Julie and Tahia finally back at the San Diego Gorge Trailhead and now we had to hike a little further to recover our street-parked car during our January 2017 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_005_01232016 - Looking towards Mildred Falls not doing that great during our January 2016 visit to Cedar Creek Falls, which began from the Julian side at the Saddleback Trail. Note that this photo and the next several photos came from that January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_012_01232016 - Before starting the hike to Cedar Creek Falls, we noticed the beat up Boulder Creek Road, which actually would eventually reach the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead, but as you can see, you'd have to walk that stretch if you're going to go this way
Cedar_Creek_Falls_026_01232016 - Julie starting on the hike to Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2016 visit. We could tell this side of the trail was far less used than the Ramona side as evidenced by the amount of overgrowth flanking the beat-up former fire road
Cedar_Creek_Falls_029_01232016 - Just to give you an idea of how short Mildred Falls flow can be, this shot of the trickling falls happened in January 2016 though this was a couple weeks removed from the last rain or snow storm
Cedar_Creek_Falls_031_01232016 - Looking back towards the road that descended to the Saddleback Trailhead, which was the Julian side of the hike to the Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar_Creek_Falls_037_01232016 - Julie continuing on the early part of the descent to the Cedar Creek Falls from the Julian side in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_040_01232016 - Julie rounding a bend on the long descent to the Cedar Creek Falls from the Julian side during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_043_01232016 - Context of some of the morning shade that we were benefitting from while doing the hike to Cedar Creek Falls on the Julian side during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_046_01232016 - Julie skirting alongside another well-shaded section of the Cedar Creek Falls hike from the Julian side in January 2016. I'd say the presence of the shade was one benefit to doing this hike on this side
Cedar_Creek_Falls_056_01232016 - Context of Julie descending into the San Diego River Gorge during our hike to the Cedar Creek Falls from Julian in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_080_01232016 - The scenery of the San Diego River Gorge was quite different during our descent from the Julian side of Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_090_01232016 - Looking towards the switchbacks of the San Diego Estates to San Diego River Gorge trail (i.e. the Ramona side) as seen from the Julian side hike to the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_102_01232016 - The surface of the lesser-used Saddleback Trail from the Julian side was a bit rockier and overgrown in spots
Cedar_Creek_Falls_107_01232016 - Looking towards the switchbacking Ramona side trail from the Saddleback Trail coming down from the Julian side
Cedar_Creek_Falls_108_01232016 - Context of the Julian-side trail hugging the mountains as it makes its descent to the San Diego River en route to the Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar_Creek_Falls_125_01232016 - Julie on the Saddleback Trail as it was flattening out and approaching the key junction with the Ramona side trail en route to the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_131_01232016 - Hanging a left at the junction to get through the fence with permit signs to embark on the final quarter-mile of the hike to Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_137_01232016 - Context of the last quarter-mile part of the Cedar Creek Falls Trail as the gorge was closing in during our January 2016 hike
Cedar_Creek_Falls_139_01232016 - This was the first stream crossing that Julie had to deal with on the final stretch to Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_144_01232016 - This was the second stream crossing in the final stretch to the Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_149_01232016 - Once we finally arrived at Cedar Creek Falls, we could appreciate why it was so popular
Cedar_Creek_Falls_157_01232016 - This was the state of the Cedar Creek Falls when we saw it in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_161_01232016 - Broad look at the Cedar Creek Falls as of January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_169_01232016 - My attempt at a long-exposure photo of the Cedar Creek Falls as seen during our semi-overcast conditions in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_200_01232016 - Signs warning us that all cliffs around the Cedar Creek Falls are closed off to use, but that didn't stop some people from doing it anyways to get their cliff jump thrills
Cedar_Creek_Falls_202_01232016 - This closure sign further emphasized that the descent that Mom and I made years ago, which is now prohibited as of our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_209_01232016 - Julie heading back and approaching one of the creek crossings after having had her fill of the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016.
Cedar_Creek_Falls_211_01232016 - Julie heading back out of the permit area during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_219_01232016 - Context of many people who were making their way back from Cedar Creek Falls on the Ramona side trail in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_221_01232016 - Julie starting the long uphill climb back up to the Saddleback Trailhead during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_223_01232016 - Context of some of the ruts that were being cut by water over the years on the quieter Julian side trail back up from the Cedar Creek Falls during our January 2016 hike
Cedar_Creek_Falls_226_01232016 - Looking back at other hikers from the Ramona side approaching the familiar fencing at the key trail junction where the Ramona Trail intersected with the Saddleback Trail
Cedar_Creek_Falls_230_01232016 - Julie ascending up the rutted former 4wd road between the San Diego River Gorge basin and the Saddleback Trailhead as we were coming back from Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_237_01232016 - Some parts of the Julian-side hike from Cedar Creek Falls still had some shade, which provided some degree of momentary relief from the sun during our January 2016 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_246_01232016 - Context of Julie on the Saddleback Trail on our way back from Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016. Note that it was about to round a corner where Mildred Falls would be visible
Cedar_Creek_Falls_277_01232016 - One nice thing about all the overgrowth along the Saddleback Trail on the Julian side was that we happened to catch some wildflowers in bloom in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_287_01232016 - Another contextual look at Julie on the Saddleback Trail after having had our fill of the Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_291_01232016 - Context of Mildred Falls again as Julie was rounding the last bend in the hike back up from Cedar Creek Falls, which meant that we in the home stretch
Cedar_Creek_Falls_292_01232016 - We noticed these paw prints on the hike up from Cedar Creek Falls in January 2016. We weren't sure if they were actually coyote or mountain lion tracks, or if they were nothing more than just someone who brought their dog
Cedar_Creek_Falls_303_01232016 - Julie approaching the Saddleback Trailhead near the conclusion of our Cedar Creek Falls hike in January 2016
Cedar_Creek_Falls_308_01242016 - After all the observing of the Ramona side trail, I decided to check out that side on our drive home during our visit in January 2016.  As you can see, the Ramona side of the Cedar Creek Falls Trail was pretty built-up with restroom facilities and a parking lot
Cedar_Creek_Falls_309_01242016 - The Ramona side also has an attractive picnic shelter with a view of the nice homes within the San Diego Country Estates. This convinced me that this side of the trail was much more well-equipped for heavier visitation than the Julian side
Cedar_Creek_Falls_383_01242016 - Looking back at the water tank and parking lot for the trailhead at the Ramona side. This convinced me that the next time we do this hike, we would do it from the Ramona side instead of the Julian side
Cedar_Creek_Falls_001_02162008 - We definitely had our pick of places to park the car during my first visit to Cedar Creek Falls (from the Julian side) in February 2008, which followed a couple of days after a freak snow storm. Note that this and the remaining photos in this photo gallery came from that mid-February 2008 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_002_02162008 - Mildred Falls in context as seen from the Saddleback Trailhead
Cedar_Creek_Falls_004_02162008 - The signposted unmaintained road leading 4 miles to Boulder Creek Road (near the Julian side trailhead to Cedar Creek Falls). Thankfully, we didn't need to traverse this road for the Cedar Creek Falls, but it was an alternate approach to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead
Cedar_Creek_Falls_005_02162008 - View of the gate and fire road leaving the Saddleback Trailhead to Cedar Creek Falls in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_006_02162008 - Mom way up ahead on the trail to Cedar Creek Falls from the Saddleback Trailhed in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_007_02162008 - Mildred Falls had a pretty healthy flow during our mid-February 2008 hike to Cedar Creek Falls two days after a freak snowstorm hit this area
Cedar_Creek_Falls_023_02162008 - Mom further along the Saddleback Trail en route to Cedar Creek Falls in February 2008 with some residual snow in the limited shadows
Cedar_Creek_Falls_042_02162008 - Mom on the detour to the top of Cedar Creek Falls (before it was a permit area back in 2008). This spur trail was roughly about half-way down towards the San Diego River Gorge basin (or possibly before)
Cedar_Creek_Falls_045_02162008 - At the time, we didn't know that we didn't need to scramble down this very steep and loose gully to get from the top of Cedar Creek Falls to its base during our mid-February 2008 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_049_02162008 - Looking down as we made the steep and treacherous scramble down the gully to the base of Cedar Creek Falls from its top in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_054_02162008 - Finally making it down to the attractive base of the Cedar Creek Falls during our mid-February 2008 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_083_02162008 - My attempt at a long-exposure shot of Cedar Creek Falls during our mid-February 2008 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_105_02162008 - Mom checking out Cedar Creek Falls, when it was in higher flow in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_119_02162008 - Looking back at Cedar Creek Falls (as seen in February 2008) as we noticed people were coming in from a different and more flatter trail
Cedar_Creek_Falls_122_02162008 - Looking across the San Diego River during our Cedar Creek Falls mid-February 2008 visit
Cedar_Creek_Falls_123_02162008 - Mom embarking on the long uphill hike back to the Saddleback Trailhead after having had her fill of the Cedar Creek Falls in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_127_02162008 - Mom still making her way up the long climbing stretch of trail back towards the Saddleback Trailhead after having had her fill of the Cedar Creek Falls in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_141_02162008 - Mom taking a quick water break while also checking out the moon in the sky during our return hike from Cedar Creek Falls in February 2008
Cedar_Creek_Falls_143_02162008 - Checking out Mildred Falls again in seemingly slightly lighter flow already during our mid-February 2008 visit. That kind of gave us an idea of just how temporary that waterfall was
Cedar_Creek_Falls_147_02162008 - Finally approaching the Saddleback Trailhead on our return hike from Cedar Creek Falls in February 2008

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As mentioned earlier in the introduction above, there are two main trailhead accesses to Cedar Creek Falls – the Ramona side and the Julian side.

So I’ll provide directions to both with the driving directions starting from the town of Escondido at the junction of the I-15 and Hwy 78.

In order to get to Escondido from Los Angeles, there were a couple of different approaches we could take.

The first involved taking the I-5 south to the Hwy 78 junction between Oceanside and Carlsbad, then heading east on Hwy 78 towards Escondido (roughly 90 minutes drive without traffic).

The second way involved heading east towards the I-15, then heading south on the I-15 to the Hwy 78 junction at Escondido (between 90 minutes to 2 hours without traffic).

From Escondido to the Ramona Trailhead (i.e. the San Diego River Gorge Trailhead)

Cedar_Creek_Falls_010_01072017 - The San Diego River Gorge Trailhead at the end of the Thornbush Road was more built-up and it seemed to have the better views
The San Diego River Gorge Trailhead at the end of the Thornbush Road was more built-up and it seemed to have the better views

From the I-15/Hwy 78 interchange near Escondido, we continued driving east on Hwy 78, where the freeway would end.

Then, we followed the Hwy 78 signs through the town of Escondido before it would eventually become a somewhat winding road leading towards the town of Ramona.

It’s roughly 18 miles or 30-45 minutes between Escondido to Ramona.

Once in the town of Ramona, at the traffic light, we kept straight to leave the Hwy 78 and get onto 10th street, which eventually becomes San Vicente Rd.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_006_01072017 - Looking back from the end of the road towards the residences of the San Diego Country Estates (formerly the Ramona Estates)
Looking back from the end of the road towards the residences of the San Diego Country Estates (formerly the Ramona Estates)

We then followed this road for just under 7 miles as it went through the San Diego Country Estates (featuring golf courses and some seemingly new housing developments) before turning left onto Ramona Oaks Road.

Next, we followed Ramona Oaks Rd for the next 3 miles before turning right onto Thornbush Rd.

Finally, we followed Thornbush Road past some residential neighborhoods to the road’s end, which was the trailhead for Cedar Creek Falls.

The entire drive was paved, and the trailhead itself had a modestly-sized parking lot as well as some limited street parking.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_002_01072017 - Looking back towards the residential area off Thornbush Road
Looking back towards the residential area off Thornbush Road

However, I can foresee that if it would get too busy, the parking can spill over to the residential area, which may displease the residents who would threaten to tow if traffic was blocked.

Overall, the drive from Escondido to this Ramona-side trailhead was roughly about an hour depending on traffic.

From Escondido to the Julian Trailhead (i.e. the Saddleback Trailhead)

As for the Saddleback Trailhead, from Escondido, we would drive towards Julian before following some local roads towards the Julian-side trailhead for Cedar Creek Falls.

So taking the familiar 18-mile drive along the Hwy 78 from Escondido to Ramona, we’d then turn left at the traffic light (Main Street) to continue driving on the Hwy 78.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_004_01232016 - Descending to the primitive trailhead at the Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead on the Julian side
Descending to the primitive trailhead at the Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead on the Julian side

We’d then follow Hwy 78 for the next 21 miles to Pine Hill Road (which was about a mile before the four-way stop in Julian).

Turning right onto Pine Hill Road (or left if you’re coming from Julian), we’d continue for about 1.7 miles keeping right at a fork with Eagle Peak Road (the left fork was to stay on Pine Hill Rd which we didn’t want).

After another 1.3 miles or so, we stayed right to remain on Eagle Peak Road (avoiding Boulder Creek Road, which branched left).

Then, we’d continue on Eagle Peak Road for the remaining 8 miles until we reached the signposted Saddleback Trailhead near a pair of locked gates blocking access to Cedar Creek Road and the continuation of Eagle Peak Road.

Cedar_Creek_Falls_305_01232016 - Looking back at the unpaved Eagle Peak Road with some cars parked on the shoulder when there's no more parking spaces closer to the locked gates
Looking back at the unpaved Eagle Peak Road with some cars parked on the shoulder when there’s no more parking spaces closer to the locked gates

Note that the last 8 miles of this drive was unpaved, and it became progressively narrower and bumpier.

The last mile might be scary for the uninitiated, but it wasn’t too bad as long as we took it slow.

Overall, this drive from Escondido to the Julian side of the trailhead would be on the order of at least an hour.

From Julian itself, this drive took us roughly 30 minutes.

From the I-8 to Julian

Cedar_Creek_Falls_011_01232016 - Closer look at the locked gates at the Saddleback Trailhead on the Julian side of the Cedar Creek Falls hike. The gate on the left was the Boulder Creek Road, which ultimately goes to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead while the gate up ahead was the Saddleback Road
Closer look at the locked gates at the Saddleback Trailhead on the Julian side of the Cedar Creek Falls hike. The gate on the left was the Boulder Creek Road, which ultimately goes to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead while the gate up ahead was the Saddleback Road

Finally, it’s also possible to drive east on the I-8 from San Diego to the Hwy 79 near Alpine.

Then we’d head north on Hwy 79 to the town of Julian.

From there, we could head west on Hwy 78 then turn left onto Pine Hills Rd and follow the rest of the directions above.

Checking out the falls and plunge pool from an elevated position with some chopper noises in the background as they check for people breaking the rules (i.e. climbing on the rocks and perhaps going a cliff dive)


Being a spectator to a daring lady who took a leap of faith off of a cliff and into the plunge pool beneath Cedar Creek Falls. Note: we don't condone this activity, and it's technically illegal to climb around the falls according to the Forest Service.


Sweep examining the end of the trail where there was the waterfall and plunge pool shared with lots of people who made the hike here (mostly from the Ramona side)

Tagged with: cleveland, national forest, julian, ramona, san diego, ramona estates, southern california, california, waterfall, permit, san diego country estates, saddleback trail



Visitor Comments:

Cedar Creek Falls Closed July 27, 2011 4:01 am by Jen - Cedar Creek is currently closed....Sad really, beautiful falls. This was a tough hike but well worth the reward. ** A teenager died falling from one of the tiers** ...Read More
Cedar Creek Falls – Caution Against Hiking in Hot Weather! July 19, 2010 5:22 am by _Anonymous42 - 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 Ramona, Thornbush, side and it is very steep going down. As we made our way to the first patch of shade we found a couple there, who… ...Read More
Cedar Creek Falls Blu3Fish June 28, 2010 5:15 pm by 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 scramble, the top of the falls was quite amazing also. You can actually get in the water (3-4 feet deep) and lay/float with your head looking… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Cedar Creek Falls July 10, 2012 9:59 pm by Cleveland National Forest - 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 easy hike, that statement can be very subjective to your physical fitness. This is a hike for the physically fit and not recommended for children and pets -… ...Read More
My dog and I love the hike and the falls (Cedar Creek Falls) June 19, 2011 10:21 pm by Jim - 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 10, 2011. We started about 4:30 p.m. bringing enough water for both of us (a hydration pack for me, a 24 oz. bottle for… ...Read More
Summer to Cedar Creek Falls is Dangerous July 19, 2010 7:38 am by USFS - 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 owners hiking down with their dogs. Temps are very high and it's very dangerous. If you have questions call the USFS San Vicente Fire Station… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of 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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