Spotlight Trail: Cedar Creek Falls

Release Date: Apr 5, 2018  

Cedar Creek Falls


*A group of hikers heading back to the Cedar Creek Falls trailhead


6.6 miles round trip

Pets Allowed

Yes, on cooler days and with proper supplies


$10 per permit/up to 5 people; purchase at

Hike Time

Up to 6 hours


Moderate to Strenuous; not recommended for beginners

Best Seasons

Spring, Winter; during cooler months


Ramona, CA

Ranger District

Palomar Ranger District - (760) 788-0250


Possibly the most traveled trail on the Palomar District, Cedar Creek Falls features a spectacular waterfall plunging 80 feet into a large pool of water. The trail down leads hikers through the beautiful backcountry hills of eastern San Diego with black oak, cedar, and cottonwood trees providing a great habitat for bird watching. Water levels at the falls vary substantially throughout the year. Typically, during the summer the falls are dry and the water becomes stagnant, whereas in the spring, seasonal rainfall promotes water flow. 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. Off-seasons are also a great time to hit the trail without the crowds, as this destination spot occasionally gets congested, making wildlife or bird watching difficult. For those looking to travel to Cedar Creek Falls, familiarize yourself with the following beforehand and be prepared for a great hike:


Fees: A permit is required to enter the area surrounding the falls and must be purchased prior to hiking at or by calling 877-444-6777. Permits are not sold on site, nor is there ample cell signal to make the purchase via mobile device. Permits cost $10 each and can be used for up to 5 people. Since there is a maximum per day occupancy, or number of people allowed to hike the trail at any one time, permits are limited in quantity and often sell out. Rangers will be checking for the permit number and a valid government issued ID, which must accompany all visitors listed.


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 looking to hike the trail for the first time, should not attempt it in the summer or on hot days, as high temperatures can quickly deplete energy and hydration levels, causing heat-related illness. While the beginning of the trail descends, and is relatively easy, the way out ascends through some 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 no shade on the trail.


Points of Interest: One of the most notable features of course, is the falls. 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 to are the best times to see the falls - particularly after a heavy rain.


Cedar Creek Pond


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. Again, take extra food with you in case your hike takes longer than expected. Throw a couple of energy bars in your pack. They're light weight, and will pack a nice punch if needed. 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 great hiking buddies, but they need supplies as well. The falls do not provide suitable drinking water for them and there have been cases of dog fatalities due to heat stroke. They have also been known to suffer severe burns to their paws as the ground can get very hot. We recommend leaving your pups at home on hot days. If you do decide to bring them, always make sure to bring plenty of drinking water for them and stay alert for signs they are experiencing heat exhaustion.


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 signs for the first signs of heat exhaustion in others - confusion, headache, fatigue, dizziness and vomiting.


uphill trail


We would like to see each hiker finish the trail just as they started it – all in one piece. Keep these tips in mind as you travel, they could very well work to save your life, or the life of a fellow hiker.


For more information, you may also visit the Cedar Creek Falls Recreation Page or view our Cedar Creek Falls Infographic


Edited: January 29, 2018