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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
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.
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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.

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 6
The trail starts at the far end of the parking lot.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 5
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.

Garmin Inreach Mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

Altra Lone Peak 6
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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

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 

Gregory Zulu 30

Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.

Women’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.

My May 2022 Top Gear Picks

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.

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.

Click Here To View

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.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. 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 7 or Epix. 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.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

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

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 8
Head through the trailhead area at the end of the parking lot.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 9
And then go straight through the gate.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 7
In front of you is El Cajon Mountain, which some consider the hardest hike in San Diego.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 10
The trail is wide and goes downhill along the ridge.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 11
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.

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 12
The downhill gets steeper.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 14
And then you reach the wood post at the important junction. Make the left here to hike down to the falls.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 15
Sometimes you might find a primitive sign but the post seems to always be here.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 16
Now you start hiking downhill, with Cuyamaca Peak looming above.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 17
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.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 20
Then there’s a short uphill.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 21
And at the top, bear to the left to continue down toward Boulder Creek.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 23
And now you’ll see the trail winding down in front of you.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 22
And you’ll have your best views of all three falls as you approach.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 24
When you get down to the creek you’ll have a short climb up the rocky path.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 25
And then you’ll see the lower fall.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 26
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.

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 27
From here, turn around and climb back out.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 28
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.

Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 29
Hike straight up the trail through the oaks.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 30
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.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 32
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.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 33
And then you start climbing up the rocky slopes.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 34
There are great views down into the canyon where Boulder Creek is. In the back is Viejas Mountain.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 35
When you get toward the first false summit, keep right to continue.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 36
And then you’ll see the summit in the distance.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 37
When you reach the big pile of rocks, you’re at the summit.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 38
There’s a summit marker placed here in 1939.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 39
You have great views down to the San Diego River valley.
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 41
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).
Three Sisters Falls Hike Directions 42
And that’s the hike, just go back the way you came from here!

This guide last updated on February 3, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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