Kitchen Creek Falls

Cleveland National Forest / Boulder Oaks, California, USA

About Kitchen Creek Falls

Hiking Distance: 4.5 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2-3 hours

Date first visited: 2008-02-14
Date last visited: 2008-02-14

Waterfall Latitude: 32.74339
Waterfall Longitude: -116.46731

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Kitchen Creek Falls sits within the typically hot and dry Cleveland National Forest about 50 miles east of San Diego.

From what we were able to tell, seeing the falls flowing required quite a bit of timing as we could envision its flow easily become nothing by late Spring or early Summer.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_057_02142008 - Kitchen Creek Falls shortly before a surprise snowfall
Kitchen Creek Falls shortly before a surprise snowfall

Ultimately, it depends on how much Winter rain has fallen in Southern California).

Nonetheless, when it does flow (as it did for us), the falls are pretty impressive since it tumbles with a cumulative drop of a reported 150ft in desert-like terrain (thereby making this falls a bit of an oasis).

Hiking part of the Pacific Crest Trail

Now despite the fact that the falls sat quite close to the Interstate 8, we definitely had to work to get a view of the falls as it wasn’t easy.

First, we had to hike for about 2 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail before leaving the trail at an easy-to-miss spur.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_011_02142008 - Julie embarking on the Pacific Crest Trail as she passed beneath the noisy I-8 en route to Kitchen Creek Falls
Julie embarking on the Pacific Crest Trail as she passed beneath the noisy I-8 en route to Kitchen Creek Falls

On the initial two-mile stretch, we passed underneath the loud I-8 before the trail climbed alongside fences (some of which had holes cut into them).

It seemed like those fences were meant to be deterrents for people illegally crossing the border (as further evidenced by Border Patrol vehicles routinely surveying the road where we parked the car).

Anyways, as we went further on the trail, the sound of the freeway slowly faded (thankfully) and we could start to hear sounds a little more indicative of Nature (e.g. foliage rustling with the winds or the faint hissing of a stream).

Once we took an easy-to-miss unsigned spur trail leaving the PCT, it didn’t take long before this trail degenerated into a cross-country scramble.

The Final Scramble to Kitchen Creek Falls

It was here where we had doubts as to whether we’d find the waterfall since scrambling without an obvious trail can be pretty dodgy, especially considering the presence of rattlesnakes in a desert like this.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_017_02142008 - At some point, we spotted this faint trail-of-use that left the Pacific Crest Trail, then it degenerated into a scramble to search for the Kitchen Creek Falls
At some point, we spotted this faint trail-of-use that left the Pacific Crest Trail, then it degenerated into a scramble to search for the Kitchen Creek Falls

In addition to the possibly lethal wildlife, we didn’t have fun frequently brushing against hard, prickly desert vegetation during the scramble either.

As our doubts piled up while making this scramble, this excursion definitely felt more like an adventure where a successful outcome wasn’t guaranteed.

Anyways, when we started to hear the sound of the waterfall, which was clearly flowing well enough to be heard, we used that sound to lead us closer to its stream.

However, we then eventually found ourselves at the top of the Kitchen Creek Falls, where we couldn’t see much of the waterfall.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_021_02142008 - Looking upstream at Kitchen Creek upstream from the Kitchen Creek Falls
Looking upstream at Kitchen Creek upstream from the Kitchen Creek Falls

So we actively looked for a way down to get a better view of this elusive waterfall.

That was when we found a very steep scramble down a dry gully.

It seemed a bit dicey as we encountered plenty of loose rocks that we managed to pry loose on the descent.

The whole time we did this scramble, the terrain’s steepness made us cognizant of how hard the return hike back up would be.

Once we got to the bottom of this descent, we had to cross Kitchen Creek before doing some additional rough scrambling until we finally got a satisfying view of Kitchen Creek Falls.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_067_02142008 - Julie trying to stay with the trail while snow covered the Pacific Crest Trail
Julie trying to stay with the trail while snow covered the Pacific Crest Trail

When we had our fill of this waterfall, we still had the non-trivial task of climbing back up the gully and then do some route-finding to regain the Pacific Crest Trail.

While this hike had its share of difficulty with route-finding and steep scrambles, we also had to deal with a freak snow storm that overtook us and nearly whited out the desert!

Indeed, we definitely had to earn our sighting of Kitchen Creek Falls, and I hope to get another shot at this under the right conditions.


Kitchen Creek Falls resides in the Cleveland National Forest near Descanso 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, visit their website or Facebook page.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_001_02142008 - Initially, we parked at this parking lot at a campground around where we thought the Kitchen Creek Falls Trailhead was
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_005_02142008 - After walking around the campground, we eventually figured out that the Kitchen Creek Falls Trail was not here
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_008_02142008 - Julie starting off on the trail towards the I-8 after finally making sense of Ann Marie Brown's directions from the former location of the Boulder Oaks Store
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_009_02142008 - Julie continuing to hike on the trail en route to the Kitchen Creek Falls and the PCT
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_010_02142008 - Julie passing through a gate near the start of the trail
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_012_02142008 - Looking towards the I-8 from the Pacific Crest Trail
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_014_02142008 - Julie now hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_015_02142008 - Looking out in the distance back towards the I-8 as we continued deep along the Pacific Crest Trail
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_016_02142008 - Julie continuing further still on the Pacific Crest Trail
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_018_02142008 - Looking upstream at Kitchen Creek after a bit of a cross-country scramble leaving the Pacific Crest Trail. We actually had gone a bit too far upstream in search of Kitchen Creek Falls at this point
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_023_02142008 - Looking down into the drainage of Kitchen Creek from somewhere near the top of Kitchen Creek Falls
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_024_02142008 - Julie approaching me as we were about to embark on the steep scramble to the base of Kitchen Creek Falls
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_026_02142008 - Looking directly upstream from the brink of Kitchen Creek Falls as we were busy scrambling around for a sane way to get down to the bottom of the waterfall
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_030_02142008 - Julie about to do the steep scramble as we try to find a way to the base of Kitchen Creek Falls
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_031_02142008 - Partial view of Kitchen Creek Falls as we sought to scramble a little more for a better look
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_033_02142008 - Another partial and unsatisfying view of Kitchen Creek Falls from the bottom of the descent
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_036_02142008 - About to cross Kitchen Creek as more of the falls became revealed
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_045_02142008 - Finally a decent look at Kitchen Creek Falls
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_048_02142008 - Another direct look at the attractive Kitchen Creek Falls
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_050_02142008 - Looking way in the distance at Julie waving to me from the other side of the creek
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_059_02142008 - Making the steep scramble back up to the top of the falls. By now, the snow was starting to come down harder!
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_060_02142008 - Now scrambling to regain the Pacific Crest Trail
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_061_02142008 - A reassuring post that let us know that we had regained the Pacific Crest Trail so the hardest part of the hike was behind us, but the snow definitely made things interesting the rest of the way
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_062_02142008 - Julie continuing to backtrack on the PCT. By now, it was becoming painfully apparent that we were in the midst of a freak snow storm
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_063_02142008 - Another look at the Pacific Crest Trail flanked by snow
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_064_02142008 - Julie continuing on the PCT in the midst of a freak snowstorm as the footing started to become slippery due to the accumulation of the snow
Kitchen_Creek_Falls_069_02142008 - Passing beneath the I-8 again, but now with snow flurries everywhere
I-8_002_jx_02142008 - Even after we regained the car, the drama of this hike wasn't over as we were slowly driving west on the I-8 through the storm as vehicles were slipping and sliding all over the place without chains

Drive east on Interstate 8 from San Diego for roughly 50 miles to the Buckman Springs Road exit.

Taking this exit, there’s an intersection with a road paralleling the I-8 as you go east.

Ann Marie Brown calls this the “Frontage Road,” but from what we could tell, there was no sign indicating this road being named as such (though I think maps label this road as the Old Hwy 80).

In any case, you’ll want to stay on this “Frontage Road” (avoid staying on Buckman Springs Road), taking it east for over two miles towards a huge pullout at what was once the Boulder Oaks store (no longer there as of our last visit in 2008).

Park at this pullout to start the hike (it’s signposted for the Pacific Crest Trail), which leads under an overpass of the I-8.

Kitchen_Creek_Falls_002_02142008 - When we first looked for the Kitchen Creek Falls Trailhead, we thought that we were supposed to start at a nearby campground, but it turned out that we went too far
When we first looked for the Kitchen Creek Falls Trailhead, we thought that we were supposed to start at a nearby campground, but it turned out that we went too far

If you manage see a signed campground and turnoff beyond this pullout, you went too far.

Since we were somewhat close to the Mexican border, we encountered marauding Border Patrol vehicles on that frontage road going back and forth.

They were probably scrutinizing us to see if we crossed illegally, I’m sure.

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Tagged with: cleveland, national forest, boulder oaks, san diego, southern california, california, waterfall, pacific crest trail, pct, border patrol, scramble

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Some additional info on Kitchen Creek Falls from a local March 20, 2017 10:10 am by Kevin Keane - Since I live in the area, I have a bit of additional information. First of all, the road where you park is *a* frontage road (meaning, a road that parallels the freeway), but the actual name is Old Highway 80. It's called "old" because I-8 was built to replace it. The former Highway 80 lost… ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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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