Three Sisters Falls Overview
Three Sisters Falls is an amazing waterfall hike in San Diego California located in Cleveland National Forest, that is just over 4 miles round trip. Three Sisters Falls is a hike that has been on my local bucket list for quite some time, but my wife and I just never got around to attempting it until the other weekend.
There was absolutely no better time to go! With all the rain southern California has been receiving this wild wet winter, we assumed correctly that the waterfalls would all be surging. Three Sisters Falls is an absolutely beautiful hike, but it can be hit or miss in the normally dry climate of San Diego ranging anywhere from a small trickle to a raging trifecta of waterfalls. Our trip was a raging trifecta of waterfalls, and the surrounding hills were absolutely a stunning green!
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Three Sisters Falls also has an offshoot peak you can bag as well called Eagle Peak. We did not bag this peak on this trip. We ended up leaving pretty late in the afternoon, and just ran out of time.
If you add Eagle peak it's an extra 3 miles of hiking. My wife and I will definitely be back to bag this peak in the future, it looked like it had beautiful views. It was just too late for us and we didn't want to rush our time at the falls.
Three Sisters Falls Trail Map
The Three Sisters Falls trail map can be viewed and downloaded here on Caltopo. The red route is the route to Three Sisters Falls and the green route on the maps is for the Eagle Peak Addition.
Make sure you bring plenty of water if attempting this hike in the warmer months. Since the hike is down hill the whole first half you may feel great, but then it s sludge back up to the parking lot.
The Caltopo map I pictured and linked to has my GPS route on it. Three Sisters Falls route was renovated a couple of years ago so the map data you use may not be fully up to date with the newer route. Which is why it looks like I go off trail a bit towards the end on my Caltopo map. My wife and I stayed on trail the entire route, the maps are just outdated.
Before the trail was changed, there were some extremely steep sections that required ropes to get down to the falls. You can read about some of the changes in this 2016 San Diego Tribune Article.
Three Sisters Falls Trail Guide
Driving to Three Sisters Falls is just the beginning of the adventure. You can find the trailhead here on Google Maps, but be prepared for some basic off road driving. We have a jeep wrangler 4-door and is pretty comfortable driving off road, but on this trip we actually took our Tesla Model 3, so you don't need any crazy high clearance vehicle to make it to the trailhead. With that said, conditions on dirt roads can change constantly especially after heavy rains, so be prepared to turn around if you happen to be in a low clearance two wheel drive vehicle. Don't push it, we have had to help rescue a couple in Big Sur who pushed their non-offroad vehicle a bit too far.
Honestly the dirt parking lot was the bumpiest part of the drive. There is limited parking as well, so make sure you get an early start. We started pretty late and people were starting to leave, but you don't want to get caught on the trail after dark, or miss out on Eagle Peak like we did. Parking is limited to the parking lot, and there is no parking along Boulder Creek Road, or Cedar Creek Road.
🧳 If you want to check out what I packed for the Three Sisters Falls hike in San Diego, you can check out my full day pack here. I hiked with 15.47 pounds. Most of my pack weight was photography gear accounting for 6.8 pounds.
Once you are all parked it's time to jump on the trail. At the trailhead there is a board warning of rattlesnakes, poison oak and heat stroke. Be careful of all three on the trail, but do not underestimate the heat and make sure you bring plenty of water!
Heading directly west out of the parking lot the trail starts out pretty flat and straight, and looks extremely well maintained. Every direction we looked was green and the shrubbery was thick and grown tall. I kept looking over to my left to see if I could peak down into the canyon and get my first glimpse of the falls. The shrubbery was either too tall for me or I was too short, but I couldn't see the falls right away.
As we continued directly west along a finger, we eventually got to three large trees just to the left of the trail. My wife joked that maybe these were actually the Three Sisters, and not the water falls...either way I thought it was pretty interesting that there were three large trees overlooking the canyon where the Three Sisters Falls were.
At this point in the trail it starts to get a bit steeper descending down towards the intersection for Eagle Peak. While we started this initial descent towards the Eagle Peak intersection we got an extra treat from the Sheriff's department buzzing low and fast in a helicopter just over our heads! I have odd luck with helicopters in on outdoor trips, we felt like we almost got hit by a helicopter kayaking Labyrinth Canyon on Lake Powell.
The intersection for Eagle Peak is pretty obvious. There is a trail sign pretty much in the middle of the trail, and has a big arrow with the words, "Falls". Turn left and follow the sign to continue heading down towards Three Sisters Falls, or continue straight past the sign and add a 3 mile round trip up to Eagle Peak.
Once you pass the sign and start heading down the falls, it's pretty much straight southeast and down. There is no changing directions back and forth down switchbacks, it is just one long steady slope down. Again be prepared for the hike back up. This will be the first time you get consistent views of the Three Sisters Falls as you hike down. Once you start seeing the falls the excitement starts to build up with every step you take down.
As you continue southeast on the straight path with no major turns or direction changes, you eventually come to the first water crossing which will be a hard right turn. Always be careful with any water crossing especially after a major rain storm. Luckily for us this small creek crossing was pretty low and very calm, unlike the Three Sisters Falls we would soon be at.
After crossing the creek, the trail follows along the creek's southern bank heading west. This section of hike was the only real shaded section and felt nice and cool with the creek running besides us. It wasn't too hot out the afternoon we hiked this trail, but the shade still felt great! I am definitely not a tree expert so not too sure if this is shaded all year or not so come prepared. A good sun hoody always does the trick!
The shaded section along the creek is relatively short and flat. If you are like me and a long downhill gets to your knees, this can be a nice break for the legs in both directions. If it is a hot sunny day I recommend this section of trail to be the best place to take a break and drink some water.
Very quickly this flat section comes to an end, with a rock stepped uphill before the final descent towards the falls.
As you climb the rock steps, take out your camera! Once you crest this ridge line, the falls are absolutely stunning... if you are lucky enough to have running water! There was a nice area to stop here for water as well while enjoying the view of the canyon and falls below. I very much enjoyed photographing here!
This final section of trail flies by. With the Three Sisters Falls inching closer and closer with every step the excitement keeps building. Since the falls were roaring, they became louder and louder with every step as well!
Once we arrived at the falls, there were small groups of hikers scattered around all taking in the spectacular view of three very healthy waterfalls. I can't say I have ever experienced this much water on a hike in San Diego that wasn't along the ocean.
After the wonderful hike down into the canyon my wife and I found a great place away from other groups to plop down on a rock and relax. As we sat there enjoying the views, we rehydrated for the second part of the hike, which is all uphill back another 2 miles to the parking lot. We enjoyed the sounds of the three waterfalls for as long as we could, before heading back up the trail. We wanted to make sure we hiked out in daylight, along with having enough daylight for the winding dirt road drive back as well.