Cedar Creek Falls

Cleveland National Forest

A visitor use permit is required to visit the Cedar Creek Falls Visitor Use Permit Area. Hiking is strongly discouraged in temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C) 

Permits for the next calendar year are released on December 1 of the previous year.

This trail is not recommended for beginners. Heat-related illness is common during the summer, particularly for those who do not bring enough water and supplies. Please consider your fitness ability before starting. Anyone with previous health conditions that can be aggravated by heat or intense physical activity should consider other trails.

The hike to Cedar Creek Falls from the San Diego River Gorge (also known as Thornbush) trailhead or Saddleback Trailhead, is a challenging six mile out-and-back trail, leading hikers through the beautiful backcountry hills of eastern San Diego with black oak, cedar, and cottonwood trees providing a great habitat for bird watching. It offers wonderful scenery and great exercise with a spectacular plunging waterfall and natural swimming hole at the end. The falls typically do not flow during the summer months and the pool at the base of the falls becomes stagnant and filled with algae. 

While the hike in is all downhill, the strenuous hike back out requires more than two miles of consistent, challenging uphill hiking with an eight percent average grade. Those who are new to hiking, or are hiking the trail for the first time, should attempt to complete this in the fall, winter, or spring months when temperatures are low and the risk of suffering a heat-related illness decreases.   

Notifications and Alerts

Permit & Season Information

Need to Know

Cedar Creek Falls is subject to closure: The District Ranger may issue a temporary closure order for the duration of the high temperature event. Please check the Cleveland National Forest website for closure information.  

Difficulty: This trail is considered moderate to strenuous with the best seasons being fall, winter and spring while temperatures are cooler. Inexperienced hikers, or those hiking the trail for the first time, should not attempt it in the summer or on hot days. High temperatures can quickly deplete energy and hydration levels, causing heat-related illness. While the beginning of the trail descends down toward the falls and is relatively easy, the return hike ascends through rough and steep terrain making it very difficult. Please consider your fitness ability before starting. Remember to bring a broad-brimmed hat for sun protection and sunscreen, as there is limited shade on the trail. A minimum of one gallon (four liters) of water per person is strongly recommended. 

Points of Interest: Cedar Creek Falls is the main point of interest. However, water levels at the falls can fluctuate depending on the season and amount of rainfall. During the summer months, or when the temperatures rise, the falls often dry up and without any movement in the water, the pool at the base becomes stagnant. Just as the best seasons to hike this are during the fall, winter and spring, so too are the best times to see the falls - particularly a few days after a heavy rain. 

Supplies: Besides water, every hiker should be prepared with the proper provisions. The best snacks for the trail are ones that will provide you with high energy, such as fruit, granola, peanut butter, bagels, power bars, fruit bars, trail mix or beef jerky. Take extra food with you (consider packing several extra energy bars) in case your hike takes longer than expected. It is also smart to have supplies with you in case someone gets lost or injured. This can include extra clothing (in case you get wet), a first aid kit, flashlight and Motrin. 

Pets: Dogs are not advised in this area due to the high number of canine deaths caused by heat stroke each year. Heat stroke is a life threating emergency for dogs and often their symptoms go unnoticed by their owners. They have also been known to suffer severe burns to their paws as the ground can get very hot. 

What to Watch For: Since the Cedar Creek Falls trail offers no shade except in the immediate area of the waterfall, the most common injuries for hikers are heat exhaustion and heat stroke brought on by dehydration and prolonged exposure to heat. There have also been accidents related to snake bites, trips and falls caused by loose rocks, ankle sprains, and burns caused by sun exposure. Rattlesnakes are common in the Cedar Creek area and will not always rattle before striking. Remember not to approach, touch, agitate or injure these creatures as a majority of rattlesnake bites are a direct result of these actions. Give snakes a wide berth or wait for them to pass. Make sure to always hike with a group, but walk at the pace of the slowest hiker and don’t push anyone to hike faster. Some hikers will have to take it slower on the return trip than others. Stay alert for the first signs of heat exhaustion in others - confusion, headache, fatigue, dizziness and vomiting.

Fee Policy

A $6.00 non-refundable reservation fee is required for each permit issued.

Cancellation Policy

In the event of a Forest Service high heat closure, all reservations will be canceled with a full refund. High heat closures occur when the National Weather Service issues a red flag or high heat warning. 

Changes to the group size on the reservation are allowed at any time. Increasing or decreasing the group size will not incur any additional fees/refunds. 

Changes to the date of entry will require you to cancel you current reservation and reserve the desired dates if space is available. 

Contact Information

Mailing Address

15519 Thornbush Road Ramona CA 92065

Mailing Address

1634 Black Canyon Road Ramona CA 92065

Phone Number

760-788-0250

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