Cedar Creek Falls Trail Guide
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||6 miles (9.7 km)|
|Hike Time||3 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,180 feet (360m)|
|Highest Elevation||1,830 feet (558m)|
|Fees & Permits||Permit Needed|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Cleveland National Forest|
Cedar Creek Falls Trail is one of San Diego’s most popular hikes. The trail offers epic views of the San Diego River Gorge before you arrive at Cedar Creek Falls, almost the perfect waterfall, plunging 80 feet down into a bowl-shaped pool of clear water. It’s such a popular hike that you need a permit to do it. The extra work is worth it though, the experience is magical, but you need to avoid the crowds if you can. In this guide I’ll tell you everything you need to know to make the best of this hike.
Where is Cedar Creek Falls?
There are a couple of routes to Cedar Creek Falls, and this guide outlines the most popular route from Ramona. The drive to the trailhead can be confusing; you’ll drive through a residential neighborhood that looks like it just dead-ends into a cul-de-sac. Keep going and you’ll find the San Diego River Gorge trailhead at the end. Use this trailhead address:
15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065
How to get a Permit for Cedar Creek Falls
Getting a permit for the hike is relatively easy, visit the trail page on Recreation.gov, select your date and group size, and pay. As you might expect, weekends can fill up and weekdays are usually wide opens. Every day they let 75 groups in, and groups can have up to 5 people in them. Volunteers or rangers will generally check permits at the trailhead, or at the falls.
It’s recommended that you print the permit and bring that with you. People who can’t pull it up on their phone (battery dies, etc.) will get a citation. Bring a photo ID as well.
And you might be asking, why a permit? The hike was always popular, and there are postcards of the spot dating to early 1900s. The area made a resurgence in the 2000s. Lots of people came, they weren’t respectful at the trailhead, trashed the trail, and partied at the falls. After a person died jumping off the falls, the area was closed. Today the trail is rebuilt and the permit system keeps access in check. I wouldn’t be surprised if more trails go in this direction as hiking becomes more popular.
When to Hike to Cedar Creek Falls
When you’re deciding on a time to visit, know that the falls are typically dry by the end of the summer, the pool dries up, and the heat is oppressive. The sweet spot is winter and spring when the hills are green, temperatures are reasonable, water is flowing, and the pool is full. Unless you leave before dawn, expect to share the falls with other groups of people who may be loud.
When the temperatures are extreme, the Forest Service can close the trail down. They also recommend not doing the hike if the forecast is over 90F.
Gear For the Hike
If you have hiking gear, it will be helpful on the Cedar Creek Falls Trail. The second best would be fitness clothes. Here’s what I would recommend.
- Trekking poles will help cross the streams.
- Sometimes when the water is really flowing, the stream crossings can be up to your knees.. But most of the time you can just hop across the rocks. I wear breathable trail runners that can get wet and then dry quickly.
- You’ll want at least 1L of water, and if it’s hot, 2L.
- The hike is mainly exposed. You need sun protection.
Garmin inReach Mini
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost.
Latest Prices: Amazon | REI
My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2022.
No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Maps
Being a popular and permit-accessed route, the Cedar Creek Falls Trail is straightforward to follow and navigate. There are plenty of signs letting you know where you are. The biggest challenge is that the hike to the falls is downhill, and you have to climb about 1100 feet on your way out.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
Cedar Creek Falls Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
When you’re at the falls, you are allowed to swim, but you aren’t allowed to climb up the sides, jump off the cliff, or drink alcohol. Please be respectful of the area and your fellow hikers. People came here to enjoy the natural beauty, not to hear other people play their music or talk loudly.
This guide last updated on March 29, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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