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Descanso, California

Hike Three Sisters Falls Trail During Winter

4 Miles Total - 1500 ft gain - Out-and-Back Trail

Originally added by Alex E

Three Sisters Falls is by far the best hike, for the most reward, that I've gone on in the close vicinity of San Diego. Only a short hour and a half drive from downtown San Diego, the hike offers all the draws of a National Park: remote wilderness, strenuous hiking, scenic mountain views and amazing waterfalls. Hike to Three Sisters Falls during winter, and you won't be disappointed.

From the trailhead you will take the trail for 4 miles roundtrip with about 1000-1500 feet elevation gain, depending on how much hiking you do around the falls. If you aren't up for the entire trip, don't be discouraged - bring some binoculars and hike about a quarter of a mile down the flat trail and you will get your first glimpse of the falls.

Once you have made it to the creek, there are multiple trails that spider web around the area. Look for white arrows on rocks to guide the way, but just following the creek will help guide you. You need to find a good place to cross to the right side of the creek if you want to hike to the top of the falls. If you stay to the left, it becomes very slippery and steep. This hike can be very strenuous at times and there are a few sections where you will need to climb a few steep rock sections. There are ropes, but I DO NOT recommend using them. They are old, weathered ropes not rated for climbing and are waiting to break. Climb on all fours if you need to.

This time of year the average temperature is around 50 degrees during the day. When most of the year the temperature can reach into the 100's with desert-like conditions, December through March offers cool, crisp, clear days which equals the perfect hiking weather for a strenuous hike. Although you may have to leave your swim suit behind during this time of year, some brave souls have still taken the plunge. Some days can reach into the 80's, but the colder days could be in the 30's. Bring the swimsuit just in case, and double dare your friends! This time of year means no sweating and no bugs!

With people scared of the colder weather, kids in school, and the draw to the swimming hole diminished, hikers on the trail become scarce, even on weekends. Start your hike early in the morning or after 1 pm in order to have all the picturesque locations to yourself. Nothing is worse than trying to take the perfect shot and some random person walks into the background and ruins your picture. It will be almost impossible to get a picture without someone in the background if you hike in the middle of the day. With less people on trail, the sound of the rushing falls becomes a quiet place to reflect.

With every 2-7 years, El Nino brings much needed rain to the area. This year California has been getting slammed by torrential rain falls which is not only good for the drought, but great for all the waterfalls. This year all three Sisters Falls are very powerful and more than impressive. There is so much water flowing through the falls that there are 2 or 3 smaller waterfalls downstream worth photographing. The entire area is beautiful, with the rush of water cascading down and through the rocky landscape.

With surrounding peaks covered in snow this time of year, the views on the drive to and from the falls are simply breathtaking. The entire Cleveland National Forest becomes a winter wonderland. Families are picnicking in the snow while children build snowmen and have snowball fights. The first half mile of the trail offers these amazing photo opportunities of the valley and peaks covered in snow.

With less humidity and the clean crisp winter air, you will be able to see further on the horizon on the hike and drive. With less foliage on the ground and trees, your view of the surrounding area will also be clearer. That means more spectacular views of not only the falls but of the trees, rocks and surrounding mountain landscape. This opens the entire mountain up for more detailed photography. Also with less foliage, sound will travel further and the falls will roar though the canyon, thus giving you a more rewarding and fulling hike.

Trailhead Address: Three Sister Falls, 14850 Boulder Creek Road, Julian, CA 92036

Directions From the South: Take Hwy 8 east towards the Cleveland National Forest, take exit 40 for CA-79. Turn left onto CA-79 and follow it for 1.2 miles before turning left on Riverside Rd. Continue on Riverside Rd for a 1 mile until you reach Perkins Store (the last gas station), turn left in front of Perkins Store on Viejas Grade Rd for 100 yards then quickly turn right on Oak Grove Dr. Follow Oak Grove Dr for 1.5 miles, finally turn right onto Boulder Creek Rd, This road will take you 13 miles to the hairpin turn and distantly marked trailhead.

Directions From the North: If coming from Lake Cuyamaca, take Engineers Rd for 3 miles until you reach Boulder Creek Rd. Turn left on Boulder Creek Rd and follow it for 5 miles to the trailhead.

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Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole


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