arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter tiktok youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

San Diego County's Waterfalls

Few natural features attract more notice

The smaller scale and often intimate settings of these San Diego County waterfalls make them every bit as beautiful as their larger cousins in other places.

By: Scott Turner, Co-author of the 5th Edition of Afoot and Afield in San Diego County

Few natural features attract more notice from outdoor enthusiasts than waterfalls. The rush of water careening against polish rock into deep, tree-shaded grottos contrasts soothing sounds against the exhilarating effects of gravity. Although San Diego County's waterfalls do not in any way rival the more impressive cascades of Yosemite, the smaller scale and often intimate settings make them every bit as beautiful in their own ways.

Best Time to Visit

Given that San Diego lies within a semi-arid climate belt, waterfalls in the county are often dependent on recent rainfall. San Diego's heaviest rainfall months are generally December through March. During this time, Pacific storms drop the bulk of the county's annual rainfall. In addition to resurrecting summer's dormant vegetation, this water begins cascading into polished grottos. The best times to view the areas waterfalls are generally between February and March, which follows the peak rainfall times of December and January.

8 of San Diego County's Best Waterfalls

1. Los Penasquitos Falls

One of coastal San Diego's few perennial waterfalls. Penasquitos Creek tumbles over a volcanic outcrop in the center of Penasquitos Canyon.

2. Oak Canyon

This seasonal waterfall comes to life only following heavy rainfall, but when it does wake up, the water tumbles and crashes over a colorful jumble of metamorphic rocks in the upper reaches of this gently winding canyon.

3. Horsethief Canyon

Less of a waterfall than a series of gentle cascades that empty into a beautiful pull at the confluence of Pine Valley Creek and Horsethie Canyon. When the breeze ruffles the cottonwoods and sycamores overhead, there is perhaps no more peaceful place in the county. Note: you will need an Adventure Pass to park at the trailhead.

4. Cedar Creek Falls

The county's most popular waterfall. Cedar Creek tumbles 80 feet over a cliff into the sparkling waters of the "Devil's Punchbowl." Be warned that this is a difficult, often hot hike that should not be attempted between June and October.

5. Cottonwood Creek Falls

Another seasonal waterfall tucked into a hidden grotto south of the Laguna Mountains. The somewhat obscure trail leads to a tranquil series of cascades.

6. Green Valley Falls

The Sweetwater River tumbles over this multiple-tiered cascade on the south end of Green Valley Campground in Cuyamaca Ranch State Park.

7. Maidenhair Falls

A hidden, fern-bedecked grotto with a seasonal 20' waterfall in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

8. Borrego Palm Canyon

Not a single waterfall, but a number of smaller cascades found along the creek. The easiest to reach is a small waterfall that flows near the first palm grove.

A Safety Note on Waterfalls

Many of these waterfalls lie within the county's arid interior where summer temperatures routinely hit triple digits. Given that rainfall is extremely rare during these times, hikers should avoid seeking out waterfalls during the summer and fall months. Rescues due to dehydration and heat exhaustion during these times are common, and most of the rescues seem to occur when unprepared hikers seek out waterfalls.

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Deals just for you

Restaurants

Wine B-Sides

The Desmond
Valid: Nov 29, 2023 - ongoing

Enjoy up to 50% off select wines by the bottle every Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at The Desmond.

Accommodation

Linger Longer Offer

Pacific Terrace Hotel
Valid: Nov 13, 2023 - ongoing

A San Diego beachfront vacation is calling your name! Relax and stay for a while in our endless summer sunshine and fresh air with our Linger Longer offer at the Pacific Terrace Hotel. Packages...

Accommodation

Stay 5 Save 25%

Surfer Beach Hotel
Valid: Jan 22 - ongoing

Stay longer, save bigger. Non-refundable reservation. 

Events to check out

Event

Comic-Con International: San Diego

Jul 25 - Jul 28, 2024

Comic-Con International is the largest comics and pop culture event in the United States, attracting thousands of artists, celebrities and fans of comic books, movie memorabilia and all things related...

Event

Bike the Bay

Aug 25, 2024

San Diego's finest annual cycling event across the Coronado Bridge and around the bay! Ride the bridge, Bike the Bay for the 17th annual ride on Sunday, August 25, 2024! Cruise around San Diego Bay...

Event

Julian StarFest

Aug 2 - Aug 4, 2024

The Julian StarFest will once again grace the dark skies of the Menghini Winery in Julian. The JSF Committee is working hard to ensure the festival includes many of the same activities as in the...

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up

Partners

Explore

Plan

Stay

Follow Us

Language:

English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China
Germany
Great Britain
Japan
Mexico
Korea
Switzerland
Brazil
France
Australia
Canada
USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans
Albanian
Arabic
Belarusian
Bulgarian
Croatian
Danish
Deutsch
Español
Estonian
Filipino
Finnish
Francais
Georgian
Greek
Haitian-Creole
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Indonesian
Irish
Italian
Japanese
Korean
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Malay
Maltese
Nederlands
Norwegian
Persian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Serbian
Slovak
Slovenian
Swahili
Swedish
Telugu
Thai
Turkish
Ukranian
Vietnamese
Yiddish