Three Sisters Falls

Cleveland National Forest / Julian / Descanso, California, USA

About Three Sisters Falls


Hiking Distance: 4 miles round trip; scramble
Suggested Time: 4.5 hours

Date first visited: 2016-01-24
Date last visited: 2016-01-24

Waterfall Latitude: 32.97138
Waterfall Longitude: -116.68843

Three Sisters Falls was probably the second most popular waterfall in San Diego County behind the neighboring Cedar Creek Falls.

It was for good reason because it was very impressive and every bit worthy of its popularity.

Three_Sisters_Falls_280_01242016 - The Three Sisters Falls
The Three Sisters Falls

As you can see in the photo above, this waterfall on Boulder Creek consisted of three distinct sections separated by sloping granite cascades.

The lowermost section seemed more like a steep waterslide of about 30ft in height or so.

The two-tiered middle section was probably the most impressive as it was roughly 50ft tall give or take.

The uppermost section contained a single plunge that was probably on the order of 20-30ft.

So I guess when you take all the sections together including the sloping cascades between each waterfall, conceivably the Three Sisters Falls was on the order of 150ft tall or so (admittedly this is just a guess).

Three_Sisters_Falls_205_01242016 - This pair of drops in the middle section of the Three Sisters Falls was perhaps the most impressive one of the lot
This pair of drops in the middle section of the Three Sisters Falls was perhaps the most impressive one of the lot

We were able to see all of these sections along a good chunk of the trail, but the experience was more rewarding when we actually got right up to each of its waterfalls.

Three Sisters Falls – A Real Difficult Adventure Despite Its Popularity

Speaking of Three Sisters Falls’ popularity, we do have to warn that it also gave the false impression that this was an easier hiking adventure than it really was.

We’re not kidding about the difficulty score you see at the top of this page.

In fact, this was one waterfall where you had better know what you’re signing up for, because failure to do so could mean injury or even death.

Three_Sisters_Falls_085_01242016 - Context of the trail and where we would eventually end up down by the Three Sisters Falls way in the distance at the bottom of the canyon
Context of the trail and where we would eventually end up down by the Three Sisters Falls way in the distance at the bottom of the canyon

Even during our hike, we had witnessed an expensive search and rescue of one person who needed a rescue due to insufficient water, inappropriate hiking gear, and poor self-awareness about her conditioning.

We also witnessed multiple sheriff helicopters probably looking to land and lift this particular individual out of the canyon.

Ironically, the nearby Cedar Creek Falls hike required permits to visit, but Julie and I really thought that it was Three Sisters Falls that needed the permit system more.

That probably would have helped with the funds to improve the trail conditions as well as limit the amount of foot traffic.

Three_Sisters_Falls_216_01242016 - This is the kind of steep terrain and slippery footing that you have to contend with around the Three Sisters Falls
This is the kind of steep terrain and slippery footing that you have to contend with around the Three Sisters Falls

This, in turn, would ultimately reduce erosion on the terrain, reduce the amount of very risky sections, and even fund any search and rescue efforts.

However, until such things happen, we’ll give you the conditions that we were faced with at the time of this writing in January 2016.

Hopefully, the details we’re providing will give you a more comprehensive picture of what this experience is like and allow you to make preparations accordingly if you’re determined to do it.

This was definitely one waterfalling excursion where being prepared was the key to success.

Preparing for the Hike to the Three Sisters Falls

Three_Sisters_Falls_180_01242016 - Context of the steep and eroded section of the Three Sisters Falls hike as seen from afar to give you an idea of what you are up against
Context of the steep and eroded section of the Three Sisters Falls hike as seen from afar to give you an idea of what you are up against

Before getting into the detailed trail description, here’s a brief summary of what you need to know.

First of all, this trail was about 4 miles round trip, but it’s upside down.

This means that you hike down to the waterfall and hike back up to the trailhead.

It took us about 4.5 hours for the entire hike as well as some time to relax before heading back out.

Therefore, an early start is highly recommended to avoid hiking in the dark as well as to maximize your chances of finding parking reasonably close to the trailhead.

Three_Sisters_Falls_241_01242016 - Looking down at someone traversing a rope-assisted gully or rock wall around the Three Sisters Falls
Looking down at someone traversing a rope-assisted gully or rock wall around the Three Sisters Falls

Most of the hike was very exposed to the sun and had minimal shade, which was further exacerbated by the already arid climate of San Diego County.

So Julie and I each needed to bring at least 2 1L bottles of water (I carried a third one in my pack just in case) to minimize the chances of dehydration and heat exhaustion.

We also put on some sun screen while wearing long sleeves and a hat to minimize the risk of overexposure to cancerous UV rays.

Most importantly, there were very steep sections of the trail as well as tricky (and sometimes dangerous) boulder scrambles.

Three_Sisters_Falls_236_01242016 - The Three Sisters Falls adventure definitely came with a lot of risks as you can see here with Julie clinging onto a sloping ledge
The Three Sisters Falls adventure definitely came with a lot of risks as you can see here with Julie clinging onto a sloping ledge

This meant shoes with good grip (as well as physical conditioning and strength to do the scrambles and climbs) made the difference between a nasty slip-and-fall or moving with more confidence.

So we were glad we wore our hiking boots as we saw people in tennis shoes and running shoes slip and fall frequently.

Finally, we would recommend against bringing children and/or dogs on this trail.

We left our daughter at home because of this hike.

Even though we saw some people attempt to do it, the kids didn’t seem to be having fun.

Three_Sisters_Falls_023_01242016 - This was the trailhead for the Three Sisters Falls hike, but notice that someone decided to bring their young daughter on this hike, which I don't think she enjoyed very much
This was the trailhead for the Three Sisters Falls hike, but notice that someone decided to bring their young daughter on this hike, which I don’t think she enjoyed very much

Moreover, some of the dogs looked pretty unsure about where to go in some of the dicier obstacles.

In fact, don’t even attempt this hike in wet weather because the steep terrain would become downright dangerous if muddy and slippery!

Now that you have an idea of what to expect, here’s the detailed trail description.

Three Sisters Falls Trail Description – The Hike down switchbacks to a clearing

From the trailhead (see directions below), we followed a pretty obvious trail that briefly ascended to a hill with some burnt trees at its top (probably indicating how fire prone this area could be).

Three_Sisters_Falls_026_01242016 - Julie on the early part of the hike to the Three Sisters Falls, which started off innocently enough on an established trail
Julie on the early part of the hike to the Three Sisters Falls, which started off innocently enough on an established trail

On either side of the trail, we got nice views of the mountains and ravines surrounding this backcountry of San Diego County.

The ravine on the left side seemed steeper, and it would turn out to be where we were headed.

That became immediately apparent when we crossed the apex of the hill then descended it.

At first, the trail descended straight towards a switchback with a wooden pole at its end.

Along the way, we could already start to see the Three Sisters Falls, which was partially in shadow when we started at around 10am.

Three_Sisters_Falls_046_01242016 - After the initial ascent to a hill, the hike to the Three Sisters Falls then started its long descent into the canyon
After the initial ascent to a hill, the hike to the Three Sisters Falls then started its long descent into the canyon

Given that the falls were deep into the ravine we were going into, that already gave us an idea of how far down we had to hike, and how far back up we had to return.

After the switchback, the trail then descended in the opposite direction towards a smaller gully that I believe belonged to Sheep Camp Creek, which was dry at the time of our visit.

Once the trail was side-by-side with the dry creek, it then meandered alongside it through a fairly shady and partially overgrown grove of prickly brush.

Even though we showed up in the Winter, I can easily envision this “forresty” section of trail might be overgrown with poison oak.

Three_Sisters_Falls_074_01242016 - After one long switchback, we found ourselves in an overgrown section of the trail near the dry Sheep Camp Creek
After one long switchback, we found ourselves in an overgrown section of the trail near the dry Sheep Camp Creek

In any case, the cool shade was already a welcome relief, and it was mostly flat until the foliage opened up and gave way to a regal views of the Three Sisters Falls when the trail turned to the left at a clearing.

Three Sisters Falls Trail Description – The Dicey Descent to the Bottom

The trail then continued to descend as the terrain became increasingly steeper the further we went.

So far, the hike had been pretty straightforward on the obvious trail.

However, roughly a third of the way down the remaining descent from the clearing above was when we got to the really steep parts.

Three_Sisters_Falls_116_01242016 - Julie waiting patiently for people struggling with this steep part of the trail to the Three Sisters Falls
Julie waiting patiently for people struggling with this steep part of the trail to the Three Sisters Falls

This was where we saw people coming back up were climbing hand over feet (i.e. using all four of their limbs) while people going down were doing so very slowly and even sitting and scooting at times.

We’ve also seen others bring rope, but I guess it could be arguable whether they were necessary in this stretch or if they merely slowed you down to get it all set up.

Although we had no trouble finding our way down some of the steeper sections here, we definitely took our time and made sure to think about our next steps.

We were definitely glad that we wore hiking boots here, because this was the section where we saw others in running shoes who were really struggling with the footing.

Three_Sisters_Falls_141_01242016 - Looking back up at the surface of the gully on which we made the steep scramble en route to the Three Sisters Falls
Looking back up at the surface of the gully on which we made the steep scramble en route to the Three Sisters Falls

This steep descent would comprise pretty much the remainder of the loss of elevation towards Boulder Creek.

The descent culminated in a pretty hairy rock wall that we had to sit and scoot over to access a rope (which may or may not be there) tied to a tree with exposed roots.

Then, we “rappeled” down roughly 15-20ft to resume the trail.

While this rock wall looked very scary, I did see some pretty sure-footed people scale it in both directions without the rope.

Three_Sisters_Falls_151_01242016 - Julie using the rope tied to a root-exposed tree to go down this pretty scary rock wall near the bottom of the descent to Boulder Creek en route to the Three Sisters Falls
Julie using the rope tied to a root-exposed tree to go down this pretty scary rock wall near the bottom of the descent to Boulder Creek en route to the Three Sisters Falls

In a way, this rock-wall obstacle was a pre-cursor to some of the boulder scrambling that was still ahead of us along Boulder Creek.

Once we finally made it down to Boulder Creek, this was when we had to climb up towards the waterfalls.

Three Sisters Falls Trail Description – Bouldering and Scrambling on Boulder Creek

Three Sisters Falls could not be seen very well from this far downstream of Boulder Creek due to the presence of large boulders and foliage getting in the way.

Perhaps all these boulders might be one of the main reasons why Boulder Creek got its name.

So to complete the experience, we had to keep going upstream.

Three_Sisters_Falls_161_01242016 - This was the tricky boulder scramble on the left side of Boulder Creek that kind of coerced us into finding a different path on the right side of Boulder Creek
This was the tricky boulder scramble on the left side of Boulder Creek that kind of coerced us into finding a different path on the right side of Boulder Creek

It looked like it was pretty normal to attempt the boulder scramble upstream to the falls on either side of Boulder Creek.

The seemingly more obvious side to scramble was on the left side of the creek (looking upstream), but there was a very dicey boulder scramble early on where people were clinging to slippery rock ledges sloping towards dropoffs.

Seeing that scramble early on, we didn’t feel very confident in doing that (despite the presence of some white arrows spray-painted on rocks seemingly suggesting we should do that scramble).

However, we did see some opportunity to get across Boulder Creek where we picked up what seemed to be an easier trail, but shortly thereafter we started losing the trail again.

Three_Sisters_Falls_181_01242016 - Julie trying to route find her way to the Three Sisters Falls, which was tantalizingly close but still required more scrambling to finally experience
Julie trying to route find her way to the Three Sisters Falls, which was tantalizingly close but still required more scrambling to finally experience

Regardless of which side you choose to scramble up to the waterfalls, I think this extensive boulder scramble was essentially a choose-your-own-adventure.

There were sections where we were faced with giant boulder stacks that didn’t seem obvious to get over.

Then, we would find faint trails climbing the hillsides before going around them.

Indeed, we really had to think about where we were going and even be willing to backtrack if we had chosen the wrong paths.

Three_Sisters_Falls_185_01242016 - Julie going up a bouldering obstacle en route to the Three Sisters Falls
Julie going up a bouldering obstacle en route to the Three Sisters Falls

Ironically, I think due to the popularity of the trail, we ran into others who provided us hints on which trail went where as well as how to get around certain obstacles.

If we were going it alone, I could easily envision how much more difficult these scrambles would become without such hints.

So eventually, we’d get to a spot where we were able to cross Boulder Creek once again near the bottom of the lowermost of the Three Sisters Falls.

Three Sisters Falls Trail Description – Experiencing Each Waterfall

While we determined that we were going to cross Boulder Creek in front of the lowermost of the Three Sisters Falls, it looked like some folks on the right side of the creek were able to climb even higher up the mountain.

Three_Sisters_Falls_194_01242016 - Looking down across the lowermost section of the Three Sisters Falls
Looking down across the lowermost section of the Three Sisters Falls

Their approach appeared to go above and across the rock wall drop-offs leading up to the uppermost waterfall.

Since we didn’t continue up that specific path from the first waterfall on the right side of Boulder Creek, we can’t say much more about it.

So once we were at the left side of the lowermost waterfall (there was a spray-painted happy face on one of the rocks indicating we had made it), we carefully scrambled on the slippery rock slope to its top.

Once we made it up there, we were then in front of the middle tiers of the Three Sisters Falls, which we thought were the most impressive of the lot.

Three_Sisters_Falls_195_01242016 - Looking upstream towards the middle tier of Three Sisters Falls with the context of people on the other side of Boulder Creek above it
Looking upstream towards the middle tier of Three Sisters Falls with the context of people on the other side of Boulder Creek above it

Even with our hiking boots on, we had to be very careful on this slope because a slip-and-fall here could easily have meant we would’ve plunged off the rock walls flanking the first waterfall.

Nevertheless, it took us nearly 2 hours to get to this point.

For most people, I’d imagine this would be a suitable place to declare victory, enjoy the views of the waterfalls, and the stunning boulder and mountain scenery looking downstream in the other direction.

In fact, we were even able to look at the sloping trail and steep gullies we had descended way in the distance (realizing that we would have to climb back up those very sections of trail on the return).

Three_Sisters_Falls_213_01242016 - Looking back towards the pair of drops of the middle section of the Three Sisters Falls as we pursued a way to go even higher to the third waterfall
Looking back towards the pair of drops of the middle section of the Three Sisters Falls as we pursued a way to go even higher to the third waterfall

After having our fill of the middle drop of the Three Sisters Falls, we noticed there were many people going in both directions between our viewing spot and the uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls.

So from the area between the first and second waterfalls, we crossed Boulder Creek over the top of the first waterfall.

Then, we went up a very steep trail where a rope was set up to facilitate pulling ourselves up to a narrow ledge trail eventually leading to the base of the third waterfall.

Even though someone had set up a rope there to get over this particular steep section, it appeared that it was also possible to scramble up the boulders and slopes adjacent to the gully with the rope.

Three_Sisters_Falls_223_01242016 - Julie ascending this steep rope-assisted gully to get above the middle Three Sisters Falls and reach the uppermost of the waterfalls
Julie ascending this steep rope-assisted gully to get above the middle Three Sisters Falls and reach the uppermost of the waterfalls

Beyond this climb, we were then faced with a choice.

We could climb up a giant slab to immediately get right up to the base of the third waterfall.

Or, we could climb up a notch before scooting across another boulder with dropoffs before getting to that third falls.

This latter ooption was the way we wound up going thanks to some hints by someone watching us struggle with this section.

By the way, that notch kept going up to another trail even further up the mountain, which eventually would lead to the top of the third waterfall.

Three_Sisters_Falls_227_01242016 - Julie awkwardly negotiating a ledge obstacle before the uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls
Julie awkwardly negotiating a ledge obstacle before the uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls

It took us another 30 minutes to get from the base of the second waterfall to the sloping base of the third waterfall.

And this was ultimately our turnaround point as we once again basked in our accomplishment and enjoyed the views both upstream and downstream.

Given the sloping terrain, it was difficult to get into a comfortable sitting posture so we ultimately didn’t linger here as long as we would have liked.

Anyhow, we opted not to continue climbing to the top of this third waterfall as it was getting late in the day and we didn’t want to push our luck.

Three_Sisters_Falls_228_01242016 - Finally making it up to the third or uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls
Finally making it up to the third or uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls

That said, there were plenty of folks who did manage to make it all the way to the top of the uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls.

Three Sisters Falls Trail Description – The Return Boulder Scramble

When we had our fill of the uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls, we then went back the way we came.

Therefore, the dicey boulder scrambles we took on the way up must now be traversed on the way back down.

At the gully with the rope, there was a long line of people waiting to use the rope, so we followed a bunch of folks who opted to boulder scramble their way down without needing the rope.

Three_Sisters_Falls_243_01242016 - Looking back up at the very steep rope-assisted scramble that we had just descended between the middle and upper tiers of the Three Sisters Falls
Looking back up at the very steep rope-assisted scramble that we had just descended between the middle and upper tiers of the Three Sisters Falls

Once we got back to the second waterfall (on the left side of the creek facing upstream or right side of the creek facing downstream), we then carefully made our way down the slope besides the first waterfall.

And at that point, the boulder scramble back between the waterfalls and the main trail began.

Luckily, we could see the white spray-painted arrows on particular boulders up ahead to give us hints on which way to go when the trail was lost.

And for the most part, this side seemed pretty straightforward thanks to a combination of the arrows as well as where it looked like there was an obvious trail between the numerous boulders strewn about here.

Three_Sisters_Falls_255_01242016 - Julie trying to figure out which way to go as we tried to boulder our way out of the Boulder Creek scramble and return to the trail after having had our fill of the Three Sisters Falls
Julie trying to figure out which way to go as we tried to boulder our way out of the Boulder Creek scramble and return to the trail after having had our fill of the Three Sisters Falls

However, there was the last stretch of boulder scrambling where we had to sit and scoot our way past a dicey boulder slope with dropoffs.

This was the original obstacle that made us cross Boulder Creek on the way up to the falls in the first place.

But once we were past that, we then regained the trail, and then we had no trouble navigating the remainder of the hike.

Three Sisters Falls Trail Description – The Return Hike

It didn’t take long before we once again had to face the rock wall with the rope tied to a root-exposed tree.

Three_Sisters_Falls_267_01242016 - Now negotiating the very steep trail to regain the more normal part of the Three Sisters Falls Trail
Now negotiating the very steep trail to regain the more normal part of the Three Sisters Falls Trail

While there was a queue to use this rope, we saw some folks decide not to wait and just climb the rock wall unassisted without the rope.

After this section, we then had to climb hand-over-feet on a very steep and eroded slope like those we had seen earlier when we were going down this section.

This part was pretty relentless as it was totally sun-exposed and it really made our thigh muscles burn (our thighs were definitely sore after we were done with this hike).

Once again, with our hiking boots, we had pretty reasonable grip on the lousy terrain.

Three_Sisters_Falls_288_01242016 - Last look back at the Three Sisters Falls on the way back up to the trailhead, but now there was the constant sound of the rescue helicopter, which you can see in this photo
Last look back at the Three Sisters Falls on the way back up to the trailhead, but now there was the constant sound of the rescue helicopter, which you can see in this photo

We’d eventually make it back up past the steep scramble some 50 minutes after we had started the return hike.

We should note that on the return hike, this steep section seemed to have been insurmountable to at least one lady (the one I mentioned earlier in this write-up).

So we had witnessed a helicopter circling the area and a uniformed person quickly come down to help airlift her out.

Indeed, given how difficult the climb back out was and how late into the hike it occurred, this was where being in shape and being prepared was extremely important.

Three_Sisters_Falls_329_01242016 - Julie finally seeing the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead as we finished the return ascent and were making the final downhill to end the epic adventure
Julie finally seeing the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead as we finished the return ascent and were making the final downhill to end the epic adventure

Once we were back on the conventional trail above the steep gullies, the remainder of the hike was pretty much easy going (relatively speaking) even though it was still all uphill and mostly lacked shade.

We’d eventually return to our parked car roughly a 1/4-mile from the trailhead about 4.5 hours after we had gotten started on this adventure.

This was also about an hour and 45 minutes since we had started the return hike from the base of the third waterfall.

Needless to say, the conclusion of this hike felt like a real accomplishment, and we rewarded ourselves by returning to Julian for a late lunch as well as some of their famous apple pies.

Authorities

Three Sisters Falls resides in the Cleveland National Forest near Descanso in San Diego County, California. It is administered by the US Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.

Three_Sisters_Falls_003_01242016 - Gorgeous scenery along Boulder Creek Road as we made our approach from Julian
Three_Sisters_Falls_012_01242016 - When we finally showed up, there were already a lot of cars parked alongside Boulder Creek Road so we had to walk a ways before we finally started the Three Sisters Falls hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_024_01242016 - Just to give you an idea of how popular this trail was, I took this photo showing you how many cars were already parked alongside Boulder Creek Road by the Three Sisters Falls trailhead
Three_Sisters_Falls_031_01242016 - Following the trail up towards the hill with the burnt trees with the canyon to our left, and that was what we'd ultimately have to descend into in order to reach the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_033_01242016 - At the top of the initial hill on the Three Sisters Falls hike, we noticed these ghostly black trees, which I'd imagine were once burned in a fire
Three_Sisters_Falls_036_01242016 - Looking back towards the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead from the top of the hill and now begins the long descent into the canyon to access the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_039_01242016 - Looking to our left, this was the ravine we would eventually hike then scramble into to reach Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_051_01242016 - Looking downhill at the initial part of the long descent eventually taking us to the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_055_01242016 - Looking downhill at the initial part of the long descent eventually taking us to the Three Sisters Falls. Note the clearing and the trail on the lower right, which is where we'd eventually be getting to soon
Three_Sisters_Falls_057_01242016 - This pole was at the first switchback on the Three Sisters Falls hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_059_01242016 - Next, we continued the descent towards the dry Camp Creek, which was still early on in our Three Sisters Falls hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_070_01242016 - Julie approaching the somewhat shadowy ravine adjacent to the dry Camp Creek
Three_Sisters_Falls_071_01242016 - Julie getting around this small rock obstacle in Camp Creek before resuming the trail to Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_081_01242016 - Once we got past the so-called 'foresty' part, the trail then turned to the left besides this clearing, where we managed to get a better view of the entirety of Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_083_01242016 - Here's the more satisfying view from the clearing of Three Sisters Falls still in morning shadow
Three_Sisters_Falls_093_01242016 - With Three Sisters Falls so tantalizingly within reach (or at least within view), that gave us extra motivation to keep getting closer to it
Three_Sisters_Falls_098_01242016 - Another look at the Three Sisters Falls from the clearing, which I'd imagine might be for emergency helicopter landings
Three_Sisters_Falls_109_01242016 - The Three Sisters Falls Trail now became increasingly steeper the further down from the clearing that we went
Three_Sisters_Falls_113_01242016 - Waiting for a hiker who was returning from the Three Sisters Falls to make the climb back up. Notice that she was climbing hand over feet, which gives you an idea of the steepness of this terrain
Three_Sisters_Falls_115_01242016 - Waiting for some people in front of us struggling with the steep terrain on the way to Three Sisters Falls. Other people blazed their own trails to go around them in the other direction
Three_Sisters_Falls_118_01242016 - Julie was taking her time going down the sleep slopes on the way down to Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_123_01242016 - Looking at one person using rope to traverse this particularly steep section of the Three Sisters Falls hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_126_01242016 - While it was very steep and busy on the obvious parts of the gully, we saw other people take this slightly less steep path so we did the same during our descent to the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_127_01242016 - Context of the more gentler descent to reach Boulder Creek and the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_130_01242016 - Looking back up at a particular steep gully that we had just descended en route to the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_139_01242016 - Looking towards the Three Sisters Falls as it was getting closer the further down the canyon we went
Three_Sisters_Falls_145_01242016 - Another returning hiker making the steep climb hand over feet.  That would be us when it would be our turn to return from the Three Sisters Falls later in the day
Three_Sisters_Falls_152_01242016 - This was the scary rock wall at the very bottom of the steep gully scrambles leading down to Boulder Creek en route to Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_162_01242016 - Once we got down to Boulder Creek, we noticed these spray-painted white arrows on specific boulders providing hints as to where the 'trail' continued to the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_192_01242016 - This view of the middle drop of Three Sisters Falls was near the spot where we crossed back over Boulder Creek to get onto the 'left' side
Three_Sisters_Falls_200_01242016 - Finally making it up to the middle drop of the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_206_01242016 - Another look at the middle or second drop of the Three Sisters Falls, and it was probably the most impressive one of the trio of sections
Three_Sisters_Falls_207_01242016 - Looking back at the sloping section where a lot of people chilled out between the lower and middle sections of the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_208_01242016 - In order to get up to the third waterfall of Three Sisters Falls from the second one, we had to cross Boulder Creek once again. We chose to do it above the top of the first waterfall shown here
Three_Sisters_Falls_212_01242016 - Looking back at the profile of the middle Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_214_01242016 - Context of the sliding first section of the Three Sisters Falls with people chilling out along its steep slopes
Three_Sisters_Falls_224_01242016 - Once we were above the rope-assisted steep gully, we were briefly on this narrow ledge taking us above the middle waterfall of the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_226_01242016 - Looking back at the context of the canyon containing Three Sisters Falls and the sloping slabs of rock that people rested upon with the hint of the steep trail way at the top of this picture
Three_Sisters_Falls_232_01242016 - Finally, we made it to the front of the uppermost of the Three Sisters Falls. This was our turnaround point though plenty of folks kept going to the very top, which you can see some folks chilling right at the brink of the falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_238_01242016 - As we were making our way down from the third waterfall of the Three Sisters Falls, we noticed some people opted to not wait to use the rope and instead sit and scoot down the rock walls instead
Three_Sisters_Falls_245_01242016 - Making it back to the middle section of the Three Sisters Falls and getting one last look before continuing with the return scramble and hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_249_01242016 - Looking over the top of the first section of the Three Sisters Falls on the return hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_251_01242016 - Julie finding her way through the bouldering part of the return scramble from the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_253_01242016 - Lots of people also trying to find their way back amongst the boulders as they scrambled from the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_254_01242016 - Julie continuing her boulder scrambling on the return hike. This time we stayed on the right side of Boulder Creek looking downstream
Three_Sisters_Falls_260_01242016 - Looking back at the last sit-and-scoot obstacle we had to traverse before regaining the trail on the return from Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_264_01242016 - Now, Julie and I had to make the thigh-burning steep climb on the return hike from Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_276_01242016 - Looking back towards the full context of the canyon and the Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_296_01242016 - After the thigh-burning steep scramble, Julie resumes the uphill trail on the way back to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead
Three_Sisters_Falls_310_01242016 - Even though the Three Sisters Falls hike was still uphill on the return, it felt like a relief after we had gotten past the steep scrambling
Three_Sisters_Falls_312_01242016 - The final uphill of the return hike from Three Sisters Falls
Three_Sisters_Falls_315_01242016 - Our last look back at the Three Sisters Falls on our final ascent of our return hike
Three_Sisters_Falls_324_01242016 - Finally, we could see the trailhead. That was when we saw emergency vehicles parked at the trailhead and two helicopters taking turns circling the Three Sisters Falls area
Three_Sisters_Falls_333_01242016 - Closer look at the emergency vehicles parked at the Three Sisters Falls trailhead
Three_Sisters_Falls_337_01242016 - Even after making it back to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead, we still had to hike back along Boulder Creek Road to our parked car

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Since we stayed in the town of Julian, we’ll first describe the driving directions from there.

To get to Julian from Los Angeles, we normally take the I-5 south then head east on Hwy 78 all the way to the town of Julian.

Julian_044_01242016 - The town of Julian was our starting point of the drive to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead
The town of Julian was our starting point of the drive to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead

This drive would typically take about 2.5 to 3 hours depending on traffic.

Alternatively, we could take any of the freeways going east (10, 60, 91) to the I-15 south, then take that all the way to Escondido before following the Hwy 78 to Julian.

Once we were in Julian, we then headed west on Hwy 78 for about a mile to Pine Hill Road on the left.

We then took Pine Hill Road for roughly 1.7 miles to the turnoff at Eagle Peak Road on the right.

Three_Sisters_Falls_005_01242016 - On the unpaved Boulder Creek Road leading to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead
On the unpaved Boulder Creek Road leading to the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead

We then followed Eagle Peak Road for the next 1.3 miles before keeping left to leave Eagle Peak Road and go onto Boulder Creek Road.

After the Pine Hills Fire Station, the last 5 miles of Boulder Creek Road becomes unpaved.

Aside from a few ruts and water gullies, the road is fairly straightforward to drive (passenger vehicles can do it despite the bumps).

Besides briefly passing through the Inaja Reservation as well as going past a handful of remote ranches, the road offers some nice scenery as we got closer to the trailhead itself.

Three_Sisters_Falls_014_01242016 - The parking situation at the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead was not ideal so we had to walk a bit in order to finally make it to the trailhead
The parking situation at the Three Sisters Falls Trailhead was not ideal so we had to walk a bit in order to finally make it to the trailhead

The Three Sisters Falls Trailhead sat at a hairpin turn where Boulder Creek Road junctions with the inaccessible Cedar Creek Road (gated off by the forest service).

The drive from Julian to the Three Sisters Falls trailhead took us about 45 minutes.

Because we showed up at around 9:50am, most of the parking spaces along the pullouts and shoulders of Boulder Creek Road were already taken.

So we actually had to park about 1/4-mile from the trailhead as that was the closest we were able to find parking.

Three_Sisters_Falls_022_01242016 - Finally back at the busy trailhead for Three Sisters Falls right at the hairpin turn of Boulder Creek Road and its junction with the inaccessible Cedar Creek Road
Finally back at the busy trailhead for Three Sisters Falls right at the hairpin turn of Boulder Creek Road and its junction with the inaccessible Cedar Creek Road

If you’re coming from San Diego, the quickest route would be to drive the I-8 east to the Hwy 79 east of the town of Alpine.

Then, go north on the winding Hwy 79 for about 1.2 miles to Riverside Drive, turning left to go onto that road towards the small town of Descanso.

Within Descanso, turn left onto Oak Grove Drive and follow it until it intersects with Boulder Creek Road.

Turn right onto Boulder Creek Road and follow the unpaved road for roughly 13 miles to the Three Sisters Falls trailhead.

This 54-mile drive would take around 90 minutes.

Sweep beginning with a zoom-in on the waterfalls in the distance before zooming back out and examining the steep trail


Sweep beginning with a distant view of the trail we went down (showing the steep it was) before panning over to the bottommost of the Three Sisters Falls, then carefully scrambling over to its top revealing the middle tier of the series of falls


Sweep examining the uppermost tier of the Three Sisters Falls then following Boulder Creek downstream over the lips of the middle and lower tiers before focusing on people struggling with the steep part of the trail. The video ends by panning back to the upper falls again.

Tagged with: cleveland national forest, julian, descanso, san diego, california, southern california, waterfall, sheep camp creek, boulder creek, inaja



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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.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.