About Los Penasquitos Falls
Los Penasquitos Falls (or more accurately Los Peñasquitos Falls as well as Peñasquitos Creek Falls) is what I would characterize as a suburban waterfall because it sits in a pocket of reserve along Peñasquitos Creek surrounded by suburban housing.
In fact, this is one of the more popular and accessible waterfalls in San Diego County despite the waterfall’s fickle flow and modest size.
That said, for reasons I’ll get into shortly, it took us many years before we finally got to visit this place.
This was despite the fact that the falls had a write-up in our Ann Marie Brown California Waterfalls book (our source for many years before social media and phone apps were a thing).
According to the City of San Diego, los peñasquitos means “the little cliffs” though I’ve also seen the feminine form of the word las peñasquitas translated as “the little rocks”.
Whatever the case, both descriptions seem to properly suit this waterfall and its bouldery surroundings.
Indeed, I’d argue that it’s really the boulders that was the waterfall’s main appeal, especially when the late afternoon sun gives such boulders a reddish-orange glow.
Anyways, I’m guessing that the falls’ cascade series has a cumulative drop of around 30ft or so over a long run of a handful of short 5ft drops.
For many years, we waited patiently for the right time to make a visit because we knew how arid this part of Southern California can be.
Moreover, it was a bit out of the way for us on a typical weekend visit (see directions below), which further conspired to keep us from coming until the circumstances were right.
Well, that time came in late March 2023 when Southern California experienced a series of (historic) atmospheric river storms that made Los Penasquitos Falls (as well as other typically short-lived waterfalls) come alive and sustain its flow.
Different Ways to Hike to Los Penasquitos Falls
It turns out that there are many choices as far as hiking to Los Penasquitos Falls.
The first and shortest option would be to do an out-and-back hike along the Powerline Trail from an obscure dead-end in a residential neighborhood.
This was the way we did the hike on our March 2023 visit.
Ordinarily this hike should be a 2.6-mile loop hike (according to AllTrails, at least), but the bridges were washed out during our visit, and it became a roughly 2.4-mile out-and-back hike.
Another option would be to do a longer canyon loop hike or a one-way shuttle hike (each having trail lengths exceeding 6 miles).
This latter option was what was described in our Ann Marie Brown book (another one of the reasons why we hesitated to do this hike unless we thought it was worth the trouble).
I’d imagine that the longer option could be attractive for those wanting to do a more legitimate hike while also getting more immersed in the environment, which includes the odd rare wildlife sighting.
There are also other accesses to the reserve (e.g. the Park Village Recreation Park), which allows for additional ways to do this hike (where the hiking distance lies somewhere in between the aforementioned options).
Anyways, for the trail description below, the first option is what I’ll describe in depth since that’s how we did it.
Maybe when I get a chance to come back to pursue the longer options, then I’ll augment this write-up with a description of how those went.
Trail Description – The Powerline Trail Approach
Starting from a dead-end road in a residential neighborhood, we descended an unpaved road behind a gate and connected with the so-called Powerline Trail.
We then followed this aptly-named trail as it pretty much went beneath the namesake power lines held up by tall power pylons (which I suspect deliver electricity to the suburban homes surrounding this area).
After about a half-mile, the trail’s gentle descent bottoms out at a longer well-used and open-field trail running along the north side of Los Peñasquitos Creek.
We went right at the trail junction to keep going in a downstream direction (though the stream isn’t visible from here yet), and we continued along this wide open path for about 0.6 mile.
Eventually, we reached some trail signage indicating that the waterfall was to our left, and after a short jaunt, we reached a bouldery rocky field adjacent to the uppermost of Los Penasquitos Falls.
While you can get close to sections of the cascades on Los Peñasquitos Creek via some mild boulder scrambling, I’ve found that you don’t really get a good view and appreciation of the falls from this close up.
I suspect that this is really more for creek access or for just bouldering in general.
That said, I’ve noticed that the water on the creek tended to be brown and murky, which I suspect would be a combination of peat from the wetlands along the creek combined with suburban runoff from the neighboring communities.
The suburban runoff aspect would make me hesitate to spend too much time in the water.
Speaking of the water, during our March 2023 visit, the creek ran unusually high, which was the result of the cumulative effects of repeated atmospheric river storms.
Such rainfall quantities resulted in an apparent missing bridge above the waterfalls as evidenced by rock steps on the other side of the creek with no way to get to it except to wade across the fast-moving creek.
I believe that had a bridge remained above the falls, then we could have connected with the South Main Trail (and potentially different perspectives of the falls), which would allow us to turn this out-and-back walk into a short loop hike.
Nevertheless, we were able to get a pretty full experience with this waterfall on the north side of the creek (i.e. without needing to cross the fast flowing water) by continuing along the sanctioned trails further downstream.
In addition to more informal accesses to the plunge pool at the bottom of the main section of the falls, the main trail provided access to an overlook with a bench providing a nice contextual view of the falls as well as the surrounding rocks.
This was by far the best way to experience the Los Penasquitos Falls (in my opinion), and this was our turnaround point of the hike.
Overall, our out-and-back hike was on the order of 2.5 miles (according to my logs), and it took us less than 2 hours to experience.
Los Penasquitos Falls (or Los Peñasquitos Falls) resides in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve bordered by Rancho Peñasquitos, Sorrento Hills, and Mira Mesa in San Diego County. It is jointly administered by the City of San Diego as well as the County of San Diego. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
The way we experienced Los Penasquitos Falls (or Los Peñasquitos Falls) was from the Park Village area, which was a suburban housing development.
There are other trailheads that can be used to access this waterfall, but I’ll only focus on the trailhead yielding the shortest hiking distance since that was what we’ve done.
From the I-15 and Hwy 56 (Ted Williams Freeway) interchange, we drove 3 miles west on the Hwy 56 to the Camino del Sur exit.
Then, we drove south on Camino del Sur for 1.4 miles to its intersection with Park Village Drive.
While we could have gone past the traffic light to park in one of the spaces at the Peñasquitos Creek Park, we opted to turn right at the intersection to go west on Park Village Drive.
We continued for another 1.1 miles on Park Village Drive, which is now a residential street, and we took it to the end, where there’s a dead-end.
The start of the hike is at this dead-end.
Overall, this drive would take 10 minutes though it took us 20-30 minutes (depending on traffic) from Lawrence Welk Resort Village, but the drive would be over 20 minutes from Sorrento Valley.
Finally, it’s worth noting that since this is a residential neighborhood, I’d imagine that the parking situation may be prone to changing if the parking situation starts to get out of control (like it did for the Ramona Trailhead for Cedar Creek Falls).
For geographical context, Sorrento Valley was 20 miles (about 30 minutes drive) west from Escondido, 23 miles (25 minutes) south from Carlsbad, and 17 miles (25 minutes) north from San Diego.
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