Cedar Creek Falls Trail15000 Thornbush Rd, Santa Ysabel, CA, US, 92070
Cedar Creek Falls Trail is a moderately easy, 5.25 mile hike in Cleveland National Forest that will take about 2.5 hours to complete with Fido. This is paradise with a swimming hole and water that flows year round. If you can make it to the falls before the hot part of the day, a relaxing pool where you can watch the falls drop over 90 feet will reward you. Dogs must be leashed at all times.
More than one year ago.
Don't bring Fido - he might not make it
I would highly advise against hiking to Cedar Creek Falls from the Julian/Eagle Peak Road entrance. I did so on September 5, 2012, and I feel fortunate to have survived the experience. Please perform a Google search using the following terms "Cedar Creek Falls rescue" before you drive to the Julian/Eagle Peak Road entrance and attempt this hike. I will describe my missteps so that you can avoid repeating them.
I am an avid hiker and outdoorsman. I was visiting a friend in San Diego and wanted to do a nice day hike before leaving California. After already having completed a couple of easy hikes, I searched the internet for a more challenging hike. My internet search returned Cedar Creek Falls, with pictures of a beautiful waterfall and people/dogs swimming in the pool (Devil's Punchbowl) at the base of the waterfall, and overall goodness. My internet search also revealed that the Ramona entrance to Cedar Creek Falls had been closed, and that only the Julian/Eagle Peak Road was open.
My great mistake was to assume that the hike from the Ramona entrance and the hike from the Julian entrance would be similar. I failed to perform any further research concerning the great dangers of hiking from the Julian side in the summer heat. Since the Ramona entrance was only recently closed, the vast majority of information concerns the hike from the Ramona entrance. Please do not be similarly fooled!
From San Diego, I drove west on 78 until just before the town of Julian. I made a right turn on Pine Hills and then turned onto Eagle Peak Road. After about 1 mile, the paved road turns into a gravel road. I drove another 7 miles down the gravel road, looking for the parking area for the trailhead. I parked near the Saddleback trailhead. At a sign next to the trailhead, I noticed that somebody had scribbled in alarming handwriting "No dogs, no pregnant women, 1 gallon of water per person, no water below, 20 degrees hotter at the bottom." Believing myself to be fit and tough, I dismissed those insightful words and proceeded to hike in the direction of the printed sign pointing in the direction of the waterfall.
I started the descent to the Cedar Creek Falls around 1:00 pm. Initially, the path seemed simple. Since there are essentially no plants on the barren mountains and the direction of the trail is obvious, it is fairly easy to just descend. About halfway down the trail (which does not have mile markers or any other markings), I began to notice the intensity of the heat. At that point, I decided that I would need to conserve the 32 ounces of water I brought. Still, the hike seemed easy enough that I figured I could get by on 32 ounces.
I made it to the bottom of the trail and looked for creeks that I read about. All I saw was a dried up creek bed and withering plants. I followed the path along the creek bed but was surprised that I had not encountered another person during my entire hike. The heat seemed to pick up and the lack of signs was a bit disconcerting. I thought about my water bottle and the intensity of the heat and decided that this was not a good place to be stuck by myself without any meaningful amounts of water, food, shade, or shelter.
So I decided to hike back up trail to the trailhead. I took a few sips of water and then a few steps and began to notice just how hot it really was. And just how far away my car was. And just how little shade there is on this trail. I hiked a few hundred yards and a momentary sense of panic set in--it was so incredibly hot and my car was so incredibly far up the hill and there was simply nobody out there who could assist in case the situation became dire. I collected my thoughts and concluded that panic was not going to help matters and that I would just have to put one foot in front of the other until I reached my car.
And I did just that. Except it was the hardest hike of my life. The heat was relentless. The lack of shade was pitiful. The heat induced wooziness and cotton mouth were affecting me. I knew that I could not stop and rest or I simply might not make it any further, that I did not have enough water in reserve to wait until it got cooler (like evening). That even if I had waited, it would be dark and that unlit gravel road was really no place to be driving at night.
Dragging one foot after another, I was barely able to make it to my car. I open the door and started the car. My car's instrument panel said that the outside temperature at the trailhead was 98 degrees. I turned on the car and set the air conditioning to the coldest possible temperature. I sat there for a few minutes to try to cool down. Feeling unwell from overexertion, I carefully drove away from the trailhead and into the town of Julian to get some water.
I am sure this review sounds like it comes from some unprepared yahoo. I usually think of myself as a responsible outdoorsman. But this time, I was not. And it was not just because I did not bring enough water. It was because I did not read about how many cases involving deaths (people and dogs), helicopter rescues, dehydration, injuries, etc. have occurred on this trail. Frankly, I am surprised the trail is open to the public at all (at least during hot months), that official information is not posted at the trailhead concerning the dangers of the trail, and that the trail is not better marked.
Please do not hike this trail until the government comes up with a better plan for public access to the waterfall. But if you do hike this trail, do not so when it is hot and do not hike it with the elderly, children, pregnant women, or pets such as dogs.