Stunning Waterfalls in San Diego for a Cool Dip

Experiences Wildlife & Nature

Top Waterfalls in San Diego

Featuring cascading streams plunging out of rugged, semi-arid mountains onto beautiful gardens and beaches, waterfalls in San Diego are naturally set amidst lofty landscapes. Since most hikes end with waterfalls in San Diego, you can admire the surrounding preserves, man-made rock cuts and volcanic rock formations. They are enveloped in lush moss that accentuate the picture-perfect, turquoise waterfalls.

Here is the list of 12 Stunning Waterfalls in San Diego for a Cool Dip

1. Borrego Palm Canyon

Borrego Palm Canyon
4.5 /5

Located in California’s largest state park Anza-Borrego near Borrego Springs in San Diego, Borrego Palm Canyon is a trail promising the picturesque hiking experience towards oases, palm groves, and few waterfalls formed by the year-round creek. One of the very famous and well-operated loop trails amidst desert and water-filled canyons covered with large boulders, desert vegetation like huge ocotillo plants, and desert lavenders. Rich in alluvial soil, the tracks are further left to bloom beautiful flowers after ample rainfall.

Hiking Time : 2 to 3 hours
Distance : 3.25 miles round trip
Drive time : 2-hour drive from San Diego
Best Time to Visit :  October to May
Parking : Available for $ 10 per vehicle 
Restrooms :  Five accessible unisex toilet rooms separate for showers
Camping : Three furnished campsite tents
Nearest transit hub : State route (SR) 22 and 78

2. Cedar Creek Falls

Cedar Creek Falls
5.0 /5

Cedar Creek Falls, the largest waterfall in San Diego County, is part of the Cleveland Forest and promises a challenging six miles of hiking experience. The waterfall, situated at a distance of 15Km from Airlie Beach, drops away from a spectacular height of about 80ft, forming a small pool of water at its base, making it a serene attraction for swimming. This pool during summer becomes still and home to different algae as the falls dry out making it the wrong time to visit Cedar Creek Falls.

Time Required : 6 to 7 hours
Timings :  9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Permit Required : Yes
Entry Fee :  $ 6 per permit for a group of five
Best time to visit :  Spring and Winter
Prohibitions :  Alcohol, Camping, Diving
Parking Facility :  No designated space but travellers can park on long stretches of road

3. Cottonwood Creek Falls

Cottonwood Creek Falls
4.5 /5

Cascading from the down slope of Mt. Laguna, Cotton creek waterfalls – a set of small waterfalls and pools, is located near the Pine valley of Cleveland National Forest. Standing in a hot and arid climate of the desert, the falls must be visited after an adequate snowfall on Mt. Laguna as the melting snows form the white cascade of this ephemeral gem of a creek.

Hiking Time : 1 to 2 hours
Distance : A 2-mile round trip for There and Back trail
Permit : Cleveland National Forest adventure pass for $ 5 a day
Parking : Two parking on either side of the road
Best time to visit : Winter, Spring, Fall
Nearest Transit Hub :  Sunrise Highway
Pets :  Dogs allowed with a leash

4. El Salto Falls

El Salto Falls
4.5 /5

Hidden at the base of a Kohl’s parking lot, this waterfall in San Diego County lies on the border of Carlsbad and Oceanside. The waterfall which was once sacred for natives of that area, along with the entire Buena Vista Creek has been modernized and converted into a residing area. This project also promises to build a trail from the cascade towards the waves of the river to allow the visitors to jog along the coast.

Parking : Kohl’s Store Parking
Nearest Transit hub : Route 7

5. Green Valley Falls

Green Valley Falls
5.0 /5

Flowing in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, the Green valley waterfall in San Diego is located off of Highway 79 which is midway between Julian and Descanso. Surrounded by the manzanita trees sheltering numerous species of birds, the Sweetwater river spills over large sarsens to mould a series of small cascades and swimming pits along the trails beginning from the campsite of the Green Valley Campground which is open from May to October. The closed campground adds another 2 miles to the hike as you take an alternate trail to first reach the campground on foot and hike from there to reach the falls.

Distance : 3-mile round trip/0.5-mile round trip when the campground is open
Hiking Time :  45-90 minutes depending on the seasonal closing of the campground
Pets :  Not Allowed
Best Time to Visit : Spring and Winter
Parking : $ 8 day-use charge at Green Valley campground parking when the campground is open
Falls day-use parking available
Nearest Transit Hub : Highway 79
Amenities :  Picnic Area
Prohibitions : No Smoking

6. Horsethief Canyon

Horsethief Canyon
4.5 /5

Situated on the east bank of Red Deer River, Horsethief canyon is set on North dinosaur trail. It is one of the brightest gems of Canadian Badlands which has provided numerous fossils from prehistoric times. Visit this site formed with uncanny boulders to picturise the historical legend of stolen horses being hidden in the canyon for illegal trade between US and Canada as it still can be seen as a perfect hideout providing the visitors with an escape from mundanity.

Nearest Transit Hub : Highway 838
Distance : 0.8 Km round trip on Out and back trail
Best Time to Visit : From May to October
Parking : Available

7. Los Penasquitos Waterfalls

Los Penasquitos Waterfalls
4.5 /5

Gushing inside the uncluttered 4000 acres area of Los Penasquitos preserve, the Penasquitos waterfall in San Diego is one stunning attraction to sojourn for, when strolling around the loop trails of the preserve. Flowing calmly through volcanic rocks amid many cultural adobes of the preserve, it is positioned at the end of the roundabout of the loop trails. With flat and well-designed tracks, the hike towards the Penasquitos falls is one of the easiest adventures which aids hikers with amiable encounters with more than 500 plant species and 175 types of birds.

Entry : Free
Timing : 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Hiking Time :  2 to 3 hours
Distance : 5 miles of hiking 
Best Time to Visit : Spring and Winters
Nearest transit hub : Black Mountain Road
Parking : Free Parking at Canyonside Community Park
Pets : Allowed with a leash

8. Maidenhair Falls

Maidenhair Falls
4.5 /5

The Maidenhair waterfalls stand secluded in Anza Borrego desert. A challenging hike through one of its most adventurous canyons named Hellhole Canyon leads the hiker towards an ephemeral and refreshing waterfall cascading from the height of 20 ft in one of the hottest deserts of America. This seasonal rainfall which usually runs dry turns into an elegant white force surrounded by Maidenhair ferns and moss-covered rocks after a hefty rainfall.

Hiking Time :  6 to 7 hours
Permit : Not required
Entry : Free
Pets :  Not Allowed
Distance : 9 Km Out and back trail
Best Time to Visit :  Winters and Springs
Drive time : 2-hour drive from San Diego
Restrooms : Five accessible unisex toilet rooms separate for showers near visitor parking centre
Parking : Free parking at the trailhead off Montezuma Valley Road
Nearest transit hub : Montezuma Valley Road (S22)

9. Mildred Falls

Mildred Falls
4.5 /5

Mildred Waterfalls, the tallest in San Diego, is one of the many attractions promised by the Cleveland Forest area. Cascading from a height of about 300 ft, this ephemeral waterfall in San Diego is best suited to be visited after a hefty rainfall in the city. This lofty waterfall flows through multiple echelons forming many small cascades along its way before descending into the San Diego River basin. One of the sheltered corners in Cleveland forest, the falls can be witnessed at many angles from the Julian side of the trails towards Cedar Creek Falls.

Time Required :  4 to 5 hours
Timings : 9 AM to 5 PM
Permit Required : No
Entry Fee : Free
Best time to visit : Spring and Winter
Prohibitions : Alcohol, Diving
Parking Facility : No designated space but travellers can park on long stretches of road

10. Oak Canyon

Oak Canyon
4.5 /5

Oak Canyon trail leads to a series of ephemeral cascades flowing through the rocks of San Diego River which separates Kwaay Paay Peak from South Fortuna Mountain. Meandering in 5,700 acres of Mission Trail Regional Park, the Oak Canyon trail is furrowed with magnificent oak and sycamore trees. You can start this reasonably easy hike from the parking lot of this park to find the ruins of the old mission dam constructed in the early 1800s along the San Diego River.

Time : 2-3 hours
Distance : A 3.2-mile round trip on out and back trails
Best Time to visit : Spring, Fall and Winter
Nearest Transit Hub :  Mast Boulevard
Parking : Available in the parking lot for Old Mission Dam
Pets : Allowed
Restrooms : Yes

11. Ortega Falls

Ortega Falls
4.5 /5

Situated just off the Ortega Highway in the Santa Ana Mountains, this ephemeral waterfall in San Diego flows from a height of about 35 ft into a beautiful swimming hole. Protected by the Cleveland National Forest, this gorgeous mountain has a rock amphitheatre which encloses this white cascade providing a beautiful backdrop for the scenery. Plan your visit after an adequate amount of rainfall received in the area to enjoy a calm swim at the base of the waterfall as the falls run dry in summers making the swimming hole stagnant and parched.

Distance : 0.33-mile on out and back trails
Hiking Time : 30 minutes
Nearest Transit Hub :  Highway 74
Permit :  Cleveland National Forest Adventure Permit
Parking : Side of the road
Best time to visit : Spring and Winter

12. Penasquitos Creek Waterfalls

Penasquitos Creek Waterfalls
5.0 /5

The east trail head of Penasquitos Canyon, located in southern California, contains a beautiful waterfall as its destination. The easy hike on flat and well-carved trails meanders along the Penasquitos creek which retains water year-round. But the best time to find a heavy white cascade is in spring, winters or just after heavy rainfall in the area. You will be hiking in the shades of many cottonwood trees amidst colorful wildflowers to reach the rock stairs taking you to the bed of the waterfall.

Hiking time : 3 to 4 hours
Distance : A 6-mile round trip on out and back trails
Best time to visit : Spring and Winter
Entry : Free
Parking : Trailhead parking lot
Pets : Allowed

This post was published by Aditi Shree

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