Updated: Jun 9
Being a beach city, San Diego is known for its water recreation. San Diego’s East County is often overlooked. The region is full of microclimates, biodiversity, stunning views, and one-of-a-kind attractions. Just a few miles east, though, the county offers a variety of additional ways to experience water, from seasonal waterfalls to geothermally heated spring pools. Just a few more additions to the list of things we love about living in SoCal.
Before visiting these attractions, I have a few local tips for you.
First off, any naturally occurring water attractions are available seasonally. These water sources are usually available from February through June, depending on precipitation levels and temperatures.
These destinations are very popular on weekends, so I encourage you to visit during the week.
Hikers should check the weather before arriving and plan appropriately.
Hydration begins long before the trailhead. Each hiker should carry plenty of water and food.
Make sure you research the trail or get a map at a visitor center.
Never hike alone.
Be able to identify heat-related illnesses, and it’s best to begin the hike in the early morning.
This is your friendly yet stern reminder: Please do not do anything rash, including jumping off waterfalls, sliding down rocks, getting drunk near water, or attempting stunts. These hikes are in rural locations with limited cell service, and first responders are a ways away.
Here’s a list of water attractions you can experience near Julian, CA. Let’s go!
Green Valley Falls
Green Valley Campground is one of two campgrounds in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The main feature is the Sweetwater River, which runs seasonally through the campground. Visitors can camp or access the falls through the day-use area. Green Valley Falls offers sets of cascades and shallow pools. The hike to the falls from the Falls Picnic Area is only about half a mile round trip. It is a hike down and uphill return. This water attraction is safe and fun for all ages. The cold water cools visitors off on a hot day. Be careful—the rocks are very slippery.
Notes: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park charges a day-use fee. Dogs are not allowed at the falls.
Lake Cuyamaca, nestled in the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, is one of the most popular attractions in the San Diego Backcountry. The lake is operated by the Helix Water District, and recreation is managed by Lake Cuyamaca Park and Recreation District. The Lake Cuyamaca recreation area offers camping, hiking, boating, and fishing. Swimming in the lake is not allowed.
KQ Ranch RV Resort
KQ Ranch RV Camping Resort is a secluded membership RV and camping resort located just 40 miles east of San Diego. There are over 200 full hook-up campsites, and personal horse corrals are also available. Campers have access to clean bathrooms, showers, and laundry. Tailor cabins are available. The ground amenities include a clubhouse, amphitheater, heated swimming pool, an oversized Jacuzzi, and a fishing pond. Furthermore, the park has miniature golf courses, horseshoe pits, and volleyball, tennis, and basketball courts. A well-stocked country store is also conveniently located within the resort.
Pinecrest Retreat is a family-owned, 80-acre recreational park in the mountains of San Diego County. They offer a variety of camping options, from short-term overnight stays in one of their vintage trailers to annual memberships. Guests can also rent the A-frame vacation rental. Locally, they are known for their solar-heated Junior Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Update: "Swim Club Discontinued - We sadly can no longer offer the Swim Club to local Julian residents after 15 years of operation. County regulations have changed and we cannot “directly sell” only the pool." The pool is available to guests who say overnight in their A-Frame or in the Vintage Trailer Fleet.
La Jolla Indian Campground
Just north of Julian and South of Palomar Mountain in Pauma Valley sits the La Jolla Indian Reservation and Campground. From the campground, visitors can easily make a day-trip to the greater Julian area, Anza-Borrego Desert, and the northern part of San Diego County. The reservation’s main attraction is going tubing down the San Luis Rey River. Additionally, there is a camp store nearby.
Honestly, visiting the desert is not my first thought; nevertheless, I can assure you Anza-Borrego is a great place to explore. I have always had a wonderful time when I do camp in this sector of the county. The Palm Canyon hike takes you upstream to a beautiful palm-tree canopy with a series of little waterfalls. Borrego Springs also features four state park campgrounds, miles of hiking trails, slot canyons, wind caves, and the Galleta Meadows Sculptures (120 large metal sculptures).
Agua Caliente County Park
Nestled within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Agua Caliente County Park is best known for its geothermally heated spring pools. During the winter months, visitors enjoy camping, hiking, and swimming. The grounds include an indoor pool (for ages fourteen and up) and two outdoor pools. The park has a large campground with hook-ups and seven camping cabins. Wildlife sightings are common.
Three Sisters and Cedar Creek Falls
Despite their popularity, I do NOT recommend hiking to Three Sisters and Cedar Creek Falls. Social media has made these two 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 trek. 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! For more information click here.
A final note: Please leave no trace. We are guests at these wonderful attractions. We must preserve them for generations to come.