Social media has made Three Sisters and Cedar Creek Falls very popular San Diego hikes.
I constantly see Yelp reviews as well as Instagram and Facebook posts about how the hike “almost killed them” but how it was “worth it.” Truth is, multiple hikers die at these falls every year.
Both Three Sisters and Cider Creek are downhill hikes and then an uphill return hike. Most hikers have no problem getting down to the falls. They get into trouble trying to return to their vehicles tired, dehydrated, and sometimes drunk. Neither of these hikes is for kids, dogs, or inexperienced hikers. There is no shade nor bathrooms along the trails. Think about that...no bathrooms. Yuck!
Three Sisters Falls
Three Sisters Falls is a challenging 4.5-mile hike downhill (and then uphill return) on an UNOFFICIAL trail. To get to the trailhead from either Descanso or Julian, you have to drive about 11 miles on Boulder Creek Road, which is not paved. There is no parking lot, so parked cars clog up the narrow dirt road.
Cedar Creek Falls
Cedar Creek Falls, erroneously known as "Devil’s Punch Bowl," is another challenging downhill (and return uphill) 6.6-mile hike round trip. The trailhead is also down a long dirt road, and there is no parking lot. The US National Forest Service requires a permit (cost $10) to hike the trail. Permits must be bought ahead of time and are not sold at the trailhead. Rangers do check for permits.
The real Devil’s Punch Bowl is privately owned and inaccessible. Do not attempt to locate Devil’s Punch Bowl. The owner takes trespassing seriously and has been known to shoot at trespassers. I'm not joking.
What Hikers Need to Know
If you do decide to hike Three Sisters and/or Cedar Creek, make sure to get extra hydrated a couple of days before you go. Bring a least a gallon or more of water per hiker and don't drink alcohol during the hike.
Emergency crews are constantly having to evacuate hikers and pets for dehydration (see links below). Do NOT bring your pets; even dogs have had to be flown out from dehydration and burns to their paws.
Emergency crews are a 30-minute drive away. All patients must be flown out by helicopter due to trail conditions.
If you go, go early in the morning, dress properly, bring lots of water, and be smart.
Lastly, please help us keep the backcountry clean for wildlife and generations to come by taking everything you brought with you home.
Please take a moment to read a few of the stories from Three Sisters and Cedar Creek hikers.
On the weekend of June 17 and 18, 2017, there were 14 rescues between Three Sisters and Cedar Creek Falls.
On June 19, 2017 there were at least 5 rescues, prompting both trails to be closed for a period of time.