Chasing Waterfalls in San Diego? Hike the Three Sisters Falls Trail
Waterfalls In San Diego
So are there really waterfalls in San Diego? Yep, you heard right! The Three Sisters Falls trail is actually one of the best waterfall hikes in San Diego county!
Spoiler Alert: There’s even a water slide made by nature if you dare to go down it! Keep reading to see what I’m talking about!
I’ve lived in San Diego since 2005 and I never even realized that there were waterfall hikes near me. Jacob and I packed up the car and took a little road trip to the Cleveland National Forest. We made the trek down the Three Sisters Falls trail and we were so pleasantly surprised when we finally arrived!
Here’s what I wish I’d known before we made the trip!
Three Sisters Falls Day Trip
Depending on where you’re coming from in San Diego, the drive to the Three Sisters Falls can be up to approximately an hour and a half. Make sure to gas up the car because you’ll be out in the middle of nowhere with minimal cell phone reception along the drive. It’s quite a beautiful drive with lots of winding roads that will make the trip a little longer.
If you’re coming in from the South, you may want to consider bringing an SUV or switching to the northern route. The dirt roads are extremely uneven and can cause damage to a vehicle that’s lower to the ground. For reference, I have a 4 door sedan and we bottomed out several times. We made it through, but if I had known beforehand then I definitely would’ve come in from the other side. In a truck or SUV, you should be fine to drive on this route.
If you’re coming in from the North, then you won’t need a truck or SUV. However, you will need to make sure that you keep a close eye on the GPS. This route is easy on your vehicle, but it’s a little more confusing. It’s full of twists and turns down very small roads, and they are very easy to miss.
Drive safe and take your time. Pack some travel snacks, update your playlist before your trip, and enjoy the beautiful ride into the wilderness.
Three Sisters Falls is a challenging hike! The route to the waterfall and back is 6 miles round trip! You’ll travel downhill on a footpath with no shade. The strenuous hike from Three Sisters Falls back up to the parking area requires more than 2 miles of steep, challenging uphill hiking.
Beware of Heat Stroke
Tragically, there have been several young hikers who have died of heat stroke out here. All deaths might have been avoided had they known and recognized the early signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
ALL victims failed to carry enough water with them while hiking during the hottest time of the day. Your natural cooling systems can fail if you’re exposed to high temperatures for too long. To keep yourself safe, you should know the symptoms of heat-related illness.
Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
Muscle cramps due to heat mainly affect the calves, quadriceps, and abdominals. Though your body temperature may still be normal.
With heat exhaustion, your body temperature rises as high as 104 F and you may experience nausea, vomiting, headache, fainting, weakness, and cold, clammy skin. If left untreated this condition can lead to a heat stroke.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency when your body temperature rises above 104 F. Your skin may be hot but your body stops sweating to cool itself. You may develop confusion and irritability. If you have these symptoms you need immediate medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure, or even death. Heat stroke is preventable. Stay hydrated.
How To Prevent Heat-Related Illness
Pack a minimum of 1 gallon of water per person or pet.
This gallon is only for the hike itself. Bring even more for the car rides!
Hydrate before your trip & don’t go drinking the night before.
Drink water often. If you feel dry, you’re already dehydrated.
Listen to your body and rest when you need to.
Hike at your own pace. There’s no need to rush.
Do not drink alcohol at any time before or during this hike.
If possible, don’t do this hike alone for the first time. Experiences are always best when shared anyway.
Are pets allowed?
Yes. Pets are allowed to hike the Three Sisters Falls Trail but beware that this is not an easy hike. Most of the hike will not be shaded by trees so you’ll need to pack lots of water for your pet. Pack a minimum of 1 gallon of water per pet.
Also, keep in mind that their paws may burn on the path with the heat in the summertime. Temperatures get very hot! Many pets have overheated on this trail, and it’s just not worth the risk. I recommend hiking the trail on your own for the first time to make sure that this is a hike that is suitable for your furry friend.
What to Pack for Three Sisters Falls
Keep in mind that this hike is 100% out in nature. There are no bathrooms, no trash cans, no stores, and no one to help you except maybe another hiker, which is why should bring a friend. You need to pack every single thing that you’ll need for the entire day. Plus you’ll need to bring all of your trash back out with you to respect the land.
Here’s What We packed:
A Hearty Lunch
The hike to the Three Sisters Falls is about an hour and is mostly downhill. Don’t forget that what goes down must come back up! You’re going to be hungry once you get down the hill, especially after the long drive. Eat a few snacks before you head down the hill. You’ll be ready for lunch once you get there.
The Three Sisters Falls is one of the best waterfalls in San Diego, so you’ll want to relax and stay awhile to fully enjoy it. At this point, you’ve earned it!
For lunch, we packed sandwiches, chips, almonds, power bars, and cookies for dessert. You’ll want high-calorie foods that are going to keep you fueled for the hike back up. Which brings me to the most important item of all… WATER! Are you seeing a trend here???
Pack LOTS & LOTS & LOTS of water! I cannot stress this enough and here’s why. This hike is not for beginners and I wouldn’t even recommend bringing the kids until you’ve tried it out for yourself.
*You’ll be at a higher altitude than San Diego which can be harder on your body during a strenuous workout.
*This hike is more of a climb/hike than a leisurely walk. You’ll be tired and need to rehydrate.
*It’s hot and there is no shade along the way. This means you’ll be in the direct sun and you’ll need to cool down.
It’s so idyllic down there that you may want to swim and stay longer than you thought which means you’ll need to stay hydrated for the hike back up.
With all of that being said, I recommend bringing at least 1 gallon of water per person on the hike itself. You’ll definitely want to have more water in the car for the drive to and from San Diego. When you think you’ve packed enough, pack a little more. If you bring a pet then remember that they need their own gallon for themselves.
You’ll be in the direct sun so make sure you wear a sunscreen with a super high SPF and pack extra in your bag to reapply later. I had to stop and reapply to my shoulders on my way down as it was an hour-long hike. I also wore a hat to cover my face and I’m so glad I did!
Bathing Suit & Towel
Pack your bathing suit in your bag to change into once you get down the hill. The Three Sisters Falls are so refreshing to jump into after the long hike down. Bring a Ziploc for your suit for after the hike and make sure to pack a towel. You’ll want to change back into your dry clothes after for the hike back up so you don’t chafe or blister.
We wanted to have a picnic at the waterfall, so I packed this thin blanket. We used it to place our food on while we ate plus it also doubles as a “changing room”. 🙂 As I said before, there are no bathrooms. We used the blanket to hold up in front of us as a cover for times when we needed to change clothes or anything else.
Waterproof Camera or GoPro
You’ll definitely want to take some photos down here and as soon as you jump in the water you’ll see what I mean. Make sure to charge up your GoPro or pack a waterproof camera! You can also use your phone for photos, but don’t get it wet! Just remember that there’s no cell phone service down here, so you may want to switch to airplane mode to save your battery.
Wear Dark Clothes
This is a beautiful place and you’re going to get dirty when you fully experience it. Make sure to wear dark clothes and a bathing suit or something that can get dirty and won’t stain.
Wear Good Shoes
This hike is steep both ways. Make sure you have good hiking shoes with grips because you can easily slip and fall. There have been deaths at this trail from falls, so please be very careful. There are no railings and some parts of the trail are very narrow. Please be safe. I cannot stress this enough.
Check the Weather & Pick a Time
We checked the weather before we went and it was in the 80’s Fahrenheit. I thought it would be nice to swim after the hike and then watch the sunset on the hike back up. For us this was the perfect plan.
We arrived at the parking lot of the Three Sister Falls Trail at about 2:30 pm in the month of June. It was a bit hot on the walk down but nothing too crazy. We had our sunscreen on and our water ready. It was about an hour hike and then we swam for a while and admired the waterfall.
After the sun went down over the mountain against the waterfall we grabbed a few more photos and then prepared our things for the hike back up. The hike back up wasn’t too bad because the heat of the day was already over by now.
When we reached the top of the hill at around 5 pm the sun was setting and the full moon was showing off on display! Such a perfect moment in nature and no cell phone service to interrupt us.
About That Water Slide
Nope, I didn’t forget. I just saved the best for last. The next best thing to a waterfall is having a nature made water slide right next to it! Oh, I love it when nature is my playground! 🙂
The Three Sisters Falls forms a slippery slope at the bottom of the hill that happens to be in the form of a water slide. Are you in???
The kid in me is so excited to slide down it, but the nurse/adult in me is totally scared that I’m going to break a limb! I went ahead and tried it, and I quickly realized that I won’t be doing it again.
I entered this slippery area at the top of the “slide” and before I could get my bearings, I started sliding down without control. I hit a huge bump at the end that hurled me into the water full speed.
Luckily I was ok, but I can see where this could go very wrong very easily. I only bruised my foot and that was all. If you do choose to do this, be very careful! Go in as low as you can so that you don’t have as far to fall. I really gained momentum very quickly and it was a bit scary to feel so out of control.
It was a “one and done” for me. I definitely don’t need to do it again. But as for the Three Sisters Falls trail itself, I’ll definitely be back to this beautiful paradise to unplug again soon!
What about you?