Hiking Motivation! Join the 52 Hike Challenge!

Cedar Creek Falls Featured
play video
Hiking San Diego

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Guide

  • 6 miles - Moderate Effort
  • 3 Hours (Total)
  • 1,180 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 1,830 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

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.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Cedar Creek Falls Trail
  • How to Get a Cedar Creek Falls Trail permit
  • How to Get to Cedar Creek Falls Trail
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the 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

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 5
The parking area isn't that large, try to get here early before it fills up.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 6
There's overflow parking along the road.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 7
Just above the parking lot is a toilet.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 8
Behind the toilets is a water fill.

How to get a Permit for Cedar Creek Falls

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 2
Whichever way you hike in, you'll need a permit to enter the area around 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.

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 4
There are lots of signs warning you of the dangers here. Make sure you are prepared for the hike. Unfortunately the rescue helicopter pays a lot of visits here. Don't be one of those people.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2If you are out of cellphone range the Mini 2 will reliably allow you to hit SOS via satellite. You can also send non-emergency texts to just say that you're late, let friends and family follow along, and check the weather. You can see my review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The wide toe box means no blisters, an aggressive tread is great on the trail, it dries very quickly, and it has lots of cushion for long days. It combines everything I love about every other shoe into one.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProThese watches are pricey, but I use them 24/7 for sleep tracking, workouts, heart rate, and tracking my hike. It has preloaded hiking maps that help me navigate the trails and is a backup to my smartphone navigation. The Epix Pro has a great battery life, a screen similar to an Apple Watch Ultra, and works in harsh conditions when just using the buttons. See my review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26This updated version of the Hikelite 26 offers incredible value for the money. It's got a wide trampoline back, so your back doesn't get sweaty. It's under 2lbs, has deep side pockets, and is a great balance of what you need without what you don't.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated June 2024)

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.

Click Here To View

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 1
There are many of these trail signs along the way letting you know how far you have left.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 3
The hike back out from the falls can be tough for some. Be in decent shape and use these benches on the trail if you need to.

Elevation Profile

Cedar Creek Trail Elevation
The hike to the falls is mainly downhill. When you get to the San Diego River crossing, you'll have an imperceptible uphill to the falls. It's important to save energy to hike back out to the trailhead. Note that this is a one-way profile.

3D Map

Cedar Creek Trail 3d Map
Here you can see the descent from the San Diego River Gorge trailhead down to the river, and then a short stretch up to Cedar Creek Falls.

Cedar Creek Falls Hike Directions

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 9
The trail starts across the street from the toilets. Look for the trail board.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 10
Sign in on the register at the trail board where you'll need to enter your permit number.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 11
Another big warning sign as you start your long downhill to the San Diego River.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 12
After a few minutes the trail curves around to the right and your views down into the San Diego River Gorger are breathtaking. The high pointed peak is Eagle Peak.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 13
You'll pass a few of these shelters along the way, designed to give struggling hikers some shade.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 14
You'll see lots of these mileage signs as you continue to descend.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 15
Stay on the main trail and avoid the cutoff trails. Portions of the trail are fenced in to protect the surrounding fauna.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 16
As you continue to descend, you'll pass another shelter. There's a flatter section after this that you'll appreciate on the way back up.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 17
When you get to the halfway point, you will see the trees and lush vegetation down around the San Diego River.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 18
If you look past the trees you'll also see the notch where the falls are (but not the falls).
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 19
Soon you'll approach the end of the descent and the river.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 20
Make your first crossing (out of three total) over the San Diego River. When it's been raining this crossing may require walking through the water up to your knees. On this day, I could just hop over the rocks.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 21
Shortly after that you'll reach the only real trail junction on the hike. Go straight through.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 22
The junction area is well marked.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 23
Pass through the fence and start the last short stretch to Cedar Creek. Everything past the fence requires a permit.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 24
The trail is very slightly uphill and easy to follow.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 25
This time we cross over Cedar Creek.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 26
And after a few minutes you'll cross it again.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 27
The trail gets smaller and a little rockier as you hike with the creek on your right.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 28
When you get closer to the falls you can go straight up through the rocks, or take the easier trail off to the left.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 29
If you went left, you'll see Cedar Creek Falls in the distance.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 30
Continue straight until you reach the rocks in front of the falls.

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.

Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 31
Enjoy the falls, have a snack and some water, and hike back up the way you came. The hike back will take a little longer; it's uphill. Unlike some other San Diego hikes, the gradient on the way back is smooth and gradual. Just pace yourself and you should be able to make it back in short order.

Need More Info?

  • Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.
  • When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.