Hike Three Sisters Falls Eagle Peak

Hike Three Sisters Falls & Eagle Peak

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike Three Sisters Falls
  • How to Get to the Trailhead
  • Insider Tips & Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)4.4 miles (7.1 km)
Other Options 7.7 w/Eagle Peak Extension
Hike Time2-3 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)950 feet (290m)
Highest Elevation2,930 feet (893m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Cleveland National Forest
Park Phone760-788-0250
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions

Tucked away in a hidden canyon within Cleveland National Forest, the hike to Three Sisters Falls is remote, spectacular, and fun. Boulder Creek cascades down three smooth granite levels, the “three sisters,” and leaves fresh pools where you can swim, dip your feet in, or just enjoy the vibe. I’ve also included an optional hike extension to Eagle Peak, a stunning summit that dominates the landscape around the area, including the San Diego River valley.

The best time to visit is in the winter or after it rains. Three Sisters Falls can be dry.

Where is Three Sisters Falls?

Getting to the trailhead is half of the fun as you travel down Boulder Creek Road, which is gravel. It’s doable by low-clearance 2WD vehicles, but does have many washboarded sections. Use this trailhead address:
Three Sisters Falls Trailhead, Boulder Creek Rd, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 1
The road to the trailhead is your standard dirt road.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 3
Make sure you park in the trailhead lot. The areas around the parking lot are marked as “no parking.”
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 4
The worst part of the drive is the parking lot, which is severely rutted. Just drive slow, and you can navigate it.

This is an extremely popular hike. If you arrive later in the morning, the parking lot may be full already. I’ve arrived shortly after sunrise and had it to myself. The best times are very early or later in the afternoon.

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The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot.
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If you look back from the parking lot you’ll get nice views of Cuyamaca Peak, the second-highest peak in San Diego County.

Gear For the Hike

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 2
In the summer, this area can get brutally hot. There are frequent rescues of people who haven’t prepared. Don’t be one of those people.

The best time to hike here is in the cooler months or early in the morning before it gets hot. Bring at least 1L of water, 2L if it’s very hot. If you like to use trekking poles, they’ll be helpful on the way back up from the falls. There’s no scrambling, but some sections are rocky. If there’s water in the falls, you can also take a dip, so plan accordingly.

Gear 2022 8

I waste my time with lousy hiking gear so you don’t have to. Only the winners get onto my gear page. There’s no fluff, sponsorships, or promotions. It’s just gear I personally use, have tested, and recommend. Right now I’m liking my inReach Mini 2, Garmin Epix, and Lone Peak 6 shoes.
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My September 2022 Top Gear Picks

Three Sisters Falls & Eagle Peak Maps

Note that this hike is a “downhill first, climb back out” experience, just like hikes into the Grand Canyon. It’s much easier to hike downhill to the falls than it is to hike back out. You need to plan on doing the bulk of the work when you hike back out.

In years past this hike was considered very challenging, with some boulder scrambles and sketchy rope sections. Today the trail is rebuilt and rerouted, and you are able to just hike the whole way. There are no sketchy sections on this hike.

And if you fitness allows, I highly recommend adding on the side trip to Eagle Peak, which you can combine with a trip to the falls. I’ve included directions in the video and photos below. The Eagle Peak extension adds about 3.3 miles and 750 feet of climbing, making it about 7.7 miles with 1700 feet of climbing total.

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Elevation Profile

Hike Three Sisters Falls Eagle Peak Elevation
You’ll have a steep descent to the falls. The last little section is slightly uphill. And then you do this in reverse to climb back out.
Hike Three Sisters Falls Eagle Peak Elevation Eagle Peak
If you continue to Eagle Peak, it’s rolling in the beginning with a short and steep push to the summit ridge at the end.

3D Map

Hike Three Sisters Falls Eagle Peak 3d Map
From the parking area, you head down the ridge, and then make a sharp left to hike down to Boulder Creek and the falls. The extension to Eagle Peak follows the ridge around to the summit.

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions

Video Directions

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.

Turn by Turn Directions

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Head through the trailhead area at the end of the parking lot.
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And then go straight through the gate.
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In front of you is El Cajon Mountain, which some consider the hardest hike in San Diego.
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The trail is wide and goes downhill along the ridge.
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As you descend there are some side trails by the Engelmann oak trees. Keep going straight.

Engelmann oak trees are one of the few native trees found in San Diego county. Native peoples harvested the acorns from these oaks. Today they’re an increasingly rare sight as suburban development encroaches on wilderness.

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The downhill gets steeper.
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And then you reach the wood post at the important junction. Make the left here to hike down to the falls.
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Sometimes you might find a primitive sign but the post seems to always be here.
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Now you start hiking downhill, with Cuyamaca Peak looming above.
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As you descend, look off to the right to catch glimpses of Three Sisters Falls.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 18
At a little over a mile in you’ll approach Sheep Camp Creek and then cross over it.

From 1870 to 1900 sheep herding was one of the industries in this area.

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 19
The trail changes feel as it winds down along Sheep Camp Creek.
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Then there’s a short uphill.
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And at the top, bear to the left to continue down toward Boulder Creek.
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And now you’ll see the trail winding down in front of you.
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And you’ll have your best views of all three falls as you approach.
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When you get down to the creek you’ll have a short climb up the rocky path.
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And then you’ll see the lower fall.
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Walk out on the granite to enjoy the middle fall. This is a nice place to relax.

There’s not an easy way to get to the upper fall and it’s discouraged by the Forest Service. Be smart and stay safe.

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From here, turn around and climb back out.
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When you get back to the junction with the post, make the right to head back to the parking lot. If you want to bag Eagle Peak, make the left.

Optional Eagle Peak Hike

Eagle Peak can sometimes be closed to protect peregrine falcons breeding areas. I’ve noticed that the closures sometimes don’t include the trail, but sometimes may. Check the website and closure map before you go.

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Hike straight up the trail through the oaks.
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And when you come around the bend, the trail curves to the right. The trail winds around and then goes up the ridge in the distance.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 31
The trail has a short downhill. In the distance is Mt Gower, named for John Gower who first discovered gold in nearby Julian, kicking off a gold rush there. It was called Black Horse Mountain before that.
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At the bottom of the hill you go through an area that’s full of plants and trees. The trail is always easy to follow.
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And then you start climbing up the rocky slopes.
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There are great views down into the canyon where Boulder Creek is. In the back is Viejas Mountain.
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When you get toward the first false summit, keep right to continue.
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And then you’ll see the summit in the distance.
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When you reach the big pile of rocks, you’re at the summit.
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There’s a summit marker placed here in 1939.
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You have great views down to the San Diego River valley.
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And into the peaks of Mission Park like Iron Mountain (left) and Mt Woodson (right), home of Potato Chip Rock.
Cedar Creek Falls Trail Directions 12
FYI here’s what Eagle Peak (the pointy one on the right) looks like from the other side (at the start of the Cedar Creek Trail).
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And that’s the hike, just go back the way you came from here!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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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!).

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