About Jack Creek Falls
Jack Creek Falls was a bouldery waterfall that appeared to require some precise timing in order to see it perform.
We have a couple of reference points concerning our visits to illustrate this point.
Our first visit took place in January 2016, where we thought a series of saturation storms in the span of a little over a half-week (and appeared to have started the long-awaited El Nino rains) would revive the falls.
However, that visit resulted in a disappointing experience as even those storms couldn’t undo four yours of drought at the time.
However, our second visit took place in March 2023, where a series of (historic) atmospheric river storms seemed to have made Jack Creek Falls gush.
As a result of these observations, I’m under the impression that the timing of this waterfall could be in as little as immediately after heavy storms, or it could require a multi-year wait.
After all, Southern California seems to be undergoing a pattern where you get many years (even decades of sustained drought) with perhaps a period of heavy precipitation that could last only one season or go for a few years before going dry again.
We’ll have to wait and see if the precipitation from 2023 is the start of one such wet epoch or just a flash in the pan in a larger scale climate pattern of the region drying out.
The Bouldery Underbelly of Jack Creek Falls
Further exacerbating the necessity to time a visit to see Jack Creek Falls flowing is the fact that this waterfall has a bouldery underbelly.
After all, the boulders have gaps between them, and water would tend to fill in those gaps (hidden from sight) before appearing on the surface.
Indeed, there really needs to be significant rainfall over a longer period of time for this waterfall to perform.
Nevertheless, on our first visit, I managed to get up to the base of the waterfall, where I could see that there was a little bit of a trickle in the stream.
Conversely, on our second visit seven years later, getting that close to the waterfall was risky business given Jack Creek’s high flow, but at least the falls could be clearly seen from the Jack Creek Nature Trail.
The Hike to Jack Creek Falls
Even though the hiking distance to Jack Creek Falls is practically negligible (it’s almost next to one of the many picnic areas dotted throughout Dixon Lake Recreational Area), it was surprisingly tricky to properly follow its trail.
You see, the Jack Creek Nature Trail essentially disappears in a grassy clearing where there are a couple of picnic shelters as well as a memorial labeled “Stephanie’s Grove”.
The easiest way I can think of to describe how to find this place is to start from the entrance gate (where staff may collect a vehicle entrance fee on the weekends).
Beyond this gate or entry kiosk, we walked down the bend in the road before we left the pavement and walked towards a sign that said “Jack Creek Nature Trail”.
Behind this sign, there was a short trail connecting with a larger trail where we kept to the left (going right goes back to more picnic areas and the continuation of the road).
After a short distance continuing down the trail, the path then disappears into the aforementioned Stephanie’s Grove, where it’s a large grassy clearing.
It can be confusing where to go next, but the key was to walk down past the pair of picnic shelters below, which slopes down towards Jack Creek.
From there, we could see that there was a footbridge going over Jack Creek as well as a lesser obvious trail to the right continuing downstream alongside Jack Creek.
This is essentially the beginning and end of the Jack Creek Nature Trail, which is a short loop hike.
According to my logs, the loop walk is only a quarter-mile long (not including the detours we took), and it’s up to you whether you’d want to do this loop clockwise or counterclockwise.
We went right (counterclockwise), where it didn’t take long before we were able to see the Jack Creek Falls near an interesting jumble of boulders making a little bit of an alcove.
Note that given the close proximity of the falls to the bridge, had we gone clockwise on the loop, then this view of the falls would be at the very end of the loop.
However, our morning visit preceded the morning sun penetrating this small canyon so we didn’t have to look directly at the sun (which likely would have happened had we waited).
Anyways, the path reaches an easy-to-miss fork, where we went left to descend towards a new-looking steel footbridge over Jack Creek (the other path continued towards the Dixon Lake Trail).
Just on the other side of the bridge was where there was an informal path that skirted alongside the banks of Jack Creek (the informal path used to be between interpretive signposts 8 and 9).
Anyways, it was this path that we scrambled towards the base of the falls when there wasn’t any water.
However, on our second visit, the combination of cold temperatures and high water made us unwilling to attempt the same thing.
Nevertheless, continuing along the loop walk, the path skirted a wetland area on the north shore of Dixon Lake before climbing up towards another trail junction.
The path on the right went towards a parking area at a spot called Jack Creek Cove, where we were able to get nice views towards the Dixon Lake dam as well as people fishing on the docks (there’s a dock access there).
Back on the main path, the trail continued back towards the footbridge upstream from Jack Creek Falls thereby ending the short Jack Creek Nature Trail.
Of course, there are options to extend this walk to encompass the longer Dixon Lake Trail (which is supposed to go around the whole lake though crossing the dam may or may not be possible) as well as other trails branching in other directions.
Overall, this walk can take as little as a half-hour at a leisurely pace though we’ve typically spent around 45 minutes to an hour just to soak in the atmosphere and not rush through the experience.
Jack Creek Falls resides in the Dixon Lake Recreation Area in Escondido in San Diego County, California. It is administered by the City of Escondido. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Since we spent the night at Carlsbad (so we were able to enjoy Legoland with our daughter), we’ll describe the directions from there.
Heading north on the I-5 from Cannon Road, we then headed east on Hwy 78 towards Escondido.
We then followed the 78 for about 17 miles to the I-15 junction, then headed north on the I-15.
After about 3 miles or so on the I-15 north, we then took the El Norte Parkway exit.
Then, we turned right to go onto El Norte Parkway and took that street through several lights for about 3.2 miles to La Honda Drive.
We were then supposed to turn left to get onto La Honda Drive.
Note that La Honda Drive didn’t have a traffic light so it was easy to miss.
The next light was Lincoln Drive, where we were able to make a U-turn then leave El Norte Parkway to get onto La Honda Drive due north.
We followed La Honda Drive for the last 1.3 miles or so, which eventually climbed its way towards a turnoff for the Dixon Lake Recreation Area on the right.
To get past the kiosk, we had to pay a $5 per vehicle fee.
The parking lot was just down the hill from the kiosk to the right of the next junction within the park.
Overall, this drive took us about 35 minutes.
Finally, we should note that we did notice a lot of cars parked just outside the Dixon Lake Recreation Area entrance.
Apparently, that parking area was for the Daley Ranch, but I’d imagine it was as crowded as it was either to avoid paying the $5 fee to get into Dixon Lake Recreation Area, or the Daley Ranch hiking trails were that much more popular than that of Dixon Lake.
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