A River Runs To It
If you listen to TLC and “stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to,” then you won’t get to fall head-over-heels, and possibly into poison oak (be careful!), for these nearby waterfalls.
San Diego County
Cedar Creek Falls (aka Devil’s Punch Bowl) sits at the end of a popular Ramona trail nestled in the San Diego County Estates neighborhood off Thornbush Road. The steep, 5.5-mile round-trip path to and from the falls was shut down in July 2011 after a series of injuries and deaths. The reopening of the trailhead in April came with a new set of rules: booze and jumping off the 80-foot waterfall are forbidden; permits are required. (Buy permits for $6 at recreation. gov; only 75 are available each day.)
Directions: Head east on I-8, then merge onto CA-67 North. Turn right onto Mapleview St., then turn left onto Ashwood St. Continue onto Wildcat Canyon Rd., then turn right onto San Vicente Rd. Make a left onto Ramona Oaks Rd., then the last right onto Thornbush Rd. Trail entrance and parking is where road dead ends.
Tenaja Falls is a finicky beauty located near Murrieta. After it rains, the tiny creek falls 150 feet over a cliff in five different stages. The main trail leads to the waterfall; a good swimming hole can be found on the second tier. Word on the trail is that there’s a free campground 1.5 miles past the falls. Finding to the correct trailhead can be tricky, so be sure to follow the directions below.
Directions: Head north on I-15, then exit Clinton Keith Rd. and turn left. Make a right onto Tenaja Rd, and another to stay on Tenaja Rd. Turn right onto Cleveland Forest Rd. and continue onto Tenaja Truck Trail. Turn left onto Forest Rte. 7S02/Tenaja Truck Trail and the trail entrance will be on your right.
Three Sisters Falls in Julian is ideal for athletic adventure-seekers, not the faint of heart. The strenuous four-mile hike includes two sections of steep, slippery terrain that require the use of a rope, so visiting the triplet of falls at the end of Boulder Creek Road is not recommended for beginners or their four-legged friends. Survivors of the harrowing journey are rewarded with sights of bikini-clad sunbathers sprawled on the rocks or playing in a series of tiered falls and waterslide-mimicking rocks. (Author accepts no responsibility for any encounters with poison oak).
Directions: Head east on I-8, then merge onto CA-79 North. Turn left onto Riverside Dr., then another left onto Viejas Grade Rd. Make the first right onto Oak Grove Dr., then a right onto Boulder Creek Rd. Stay on Boulder Creek Rd. for about 13 miles, until you find the trail entrance on the right.
An inland gem hidden between Mira Mesa and Rancho Penasquitos, Penasquitos Falls in the Los Penasquitos Canyon is the perfect choice for un-seasoned hikers and bikers. After entering the Canyonside Recreation center off Black Mountain Road, drive all the way to the back where there is plenty of parking by an easily accessible trail. This leisurely 6.5-mile hike wends through groves of trees, small streams, open meadows (where frolicking is expected) and eventually a large collection of rocks hiding the small waterfall and pools of water. Watch for Indian markings in the rocks near the falls.
Directions: Head east on 1-8, then merge onto I-15 North. Exit Mercy Rd. and turn left. Turn right onto Black Mountain Rd., then make a U-turn at Park Village Rd. Trail entrance will be on the right.
Maidenhair Falls is situated in the Anza-Borrego Desert’s Hellhole Canyon, but it doesn’t resemble Hades. Surrounded by diverse plants and trees (some of which are thorny), this desert trail leads to an unexpected oasis. The small waterhole is easy to miss, as it hides behind one of California’s largest palm groves. The waterfall is only about 20-feet high, but seeing the water winding through hair-like moss is worth the six-mile hike.
Directions: Head east on CA-78, then turn left onto CA-79 North. Turn right onto San Felipe Rd., then a left onto Montezuma Valley Rd. Look for the Hellhole Canyon parking lot and trail entrance on the left.
Sturtevant Falls is a majestic, 50-foot fall in Los Angeles’ Big Santa Anita Canyon. The swimming hole at the end of the 3.2- mile hike is usually packed on weekends. After parking near the trailhead, walk through the Chantry Flat Fire Road gate to begin your downhill journey, but remember - what goes down must come up. Once you get to the first of three stream crossings, known as Fiddler’s Crossing, the falls are near.
Directions: Head north on I-15, then merge onto CA-91 West. Merge onto CA-71 North, then onto CA-57 North. Keep left at fork to merge onto I-210 West, then exit Santa Anita Ave. Turn right onto Santa Anita Ave. and continue onto Chantry Flats Rd. Parking and trailhead is at the road’s dead end.
Big Falls in San Bernardino County is touted as one of the largest waterfalls in California. The steady cascade twists and turns down the canyon, ensuring you have to scale a mountainside to see the whole 500-foot fall. With only about 100 feet of the falls visible at a time, it’s worth exploring the area. A 15-minute scramble uphill beyond the end of the trail (past the “Hazardous Area” sign), reveals even more tiers in the distance.
Directions: Head north on I-15, then merge onto I-215 North. Exit onto I-10 East, then exit University St. Turn left onto University St., then right onto E. Lugonia Ave. Continue onto Mentone Blvd. and CA- 38, then turn right onto Valley of the Falls Dr. Continue onto Hemlock Dr., then turn left onto Island Dr. Parking and trail entrance is on the left.
The trail to Escondido Falls begins in an affluent neighborhood near Malibu and then eventually plummets down Escondido Canyon. At the official end of the 4.5-mile trail is the lower falls. To reach the main falls, follow an easy-to-miss dirt path off to the right, just before the end of the main trail. Seeing the larger falls draped in cascading green moss and trickling off the mountainside like a forgotten faucet, requires a rope traverse and light rock climbing.
Directions: Head north on I-5, then merge onto I-405 North. Exit Santa Monica Fwy., then keep left at the fork and merge onto I-10 West. Continue onto Pacific Coast Highway/CA-1 North, then turn right onto Winding Way Rd. Trail entrance is on the left.
The challenging hike to Fish Canyon Falls in the Angeles National Forest leads past the remnants of old cabins to two waterfalls, the taller of which falls 80 feet. The nine-mile round-trip Fish Canyon Trail is extremely steep, so hiking poles are recommended. Dress to defend against the bumper of poison ivy (remember, “leaves of 3, leave them be”) threatening those who stray from the beaten path. To reap the benefits of this hike with minimal effort, Vulcan Minerals (owners of the quarry the trail passes through) offers a shuttle bus on Saturday mornings that drops hikers off at the last leg of the trail.
Directions: Head north on I-5, then merge onto I-605 North. Turn right onto Huntington Dr., then left onto Encanto Pkwy. Continue onto Fish Canyon Rd., trailhead will be on the left.
Paradise Falls (aka Wildwood Falls) offers a great swimming hole, a beautiful 40-foot-wide stream of water and Teepees (yep). It also happens to be right next to an outlet mall in Thousand Oaks, in case you forget a swimsuit. Several trails offering varying degrees of intensity run past interesting sights like old Indian caves and the Los Arboles Nature Center to, what fans say is, a smaller likeness of the world’s tallest waterfall, Angels Falls, in Venezuela.
Directions: Head north on I-5, then exit US-101 North. Exit Lynn Rd. and turn right. Turn left onto W. Avenida De Los Arboles, then right onto Frontier Ave. Make first left onto Bright Star St., then another left onto Big Sky Dr. Make a slight left onto W. Avenida De Los Arboles, and parking and trail entrance will be on the right.