Article and Research by Tyler Buck:
It's about time someone published an article exposing the beauty and dangers of 'Three Sisters Falls'. As of recent, this is a popular destination. Every year, at least one person dies or requires an air rescue out of this dangerous desert hiking destination. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. I've frequented Three Sister Falls at least twice a year for the last six years now. On every hike I observe people heading down the trail wearing flip flops without a single bottle of water on a hot day. The California desert is unforgiving. Dehydration and heat exhaustion is a serious danger, especially on a hot day. Preparation is key to enjoyably hiking Three Sisters Falls.
Best Time to Visit:
With the recent drought, Three Sisters Falls slows to a trickle by early summer and is nothing more than a stagnant pool of algae-ridden water by late summer. The falls are best visited during the winter through spring. This is of course dependent upon seasonal rainfall.
There are two ways to the Three Sisters Falls trail head.
North of San Diego County and North County residents:
On the 78 east before the town of Julian, take a right on Pine Hills Road for 1.6 miles. Veer right and continue onto Eagle Peak Road. At Boulder Creek Road, veer left and continue on Boulder Creek Road for 5.8 miles to the trail head. Boulder Creek Road is a dirt road but in very good condition. Be wary of traveling at high speeds on the dirt road due to oncoming traffic. The trail head is very obvious and right before a hair pin left turn down a hill. On most days, especially the weekends, you will see many cars parked along the side of Boulder Creek Road.
San Diego Residents:
Take the 8 East and exit on the 79 North. Turn left on Riverside Drive and pass through the town of Descanso. Riverside Drive becomes Oak Grove Drive and continue on Oak Grove for 1.6 miles until you take a right onto Boulder Creek Road. Continue on Boulder Creek Road for approximately 13 miles to the trail head. Boulder Creek turns from a paved road to a dirt road.
Google maps has placed the trail head of Three Sisters Falls on its map system. Cellular reception is often spotty on Boulder Creek so plug in the trail head directions before Descanso.
What to Expect:
Three Sisters Falls is just under a 4 mile round trip treacherous hike. Expect near 45 degree ascends and descends and climbs accessible by rope. Upon reaching the valley and creek, expect a half mile of walking and climbing up boulders to the waterfalls itself. On the ascend back to the trail parking lot, you climb 1,060 feet. The majority of the elevation gain is a one mile stretch of the trail. On a hot summer day expect to take at least five breaks before reaching the top of the trail.
Adequate footwear is required. Bring plenty of water. When hiking in the desert always carry more water than you think you will need. The creek, when flowing, can provide drinkable water upon chemical treatment or filtration, but never rely on creek flow in California. I recommend at least 2 liters per person during the summer months. You know those standard-sized plastic water bottles? Those are a half a liter per water bottle. For those of you that are math-challenged like I am, you'll need at least four plastic water bottles per person.
At the bottom of the valley near the creek, there a number of "cave-like' shelters that would be ideal and level for camping. A fun backpacking trip might be to start at the Cedar Creek trail head make your way to Cedar Falls then continue on Eagle Peak road to Three Sisters Falls.
In the past, after a heavy rainfall or good rainy season the middle pool would reach six feet or more in depth. Cliff jumping used to be possible. Given the current drought, it's probably not a great idea.
Be responsible. The way back is a hellish 2 miles uphill. Use your best judgment and throw away your fucking cans. I hate nothing more than seeing the trail littered with beer cans. By the way, IPAs are a great trail beer. They don't taste like shit warm.
- Please urinate and at least 100 feet away from the creek area.
- Do not leave trash behind.
- Be a steward for others and take care of the trail.
What will Happen if People Continue to Abuse Three Sisters Falls and Hike Unprepared:
The County of San Diego will restrict access to the trail head. Similar to Cedar Creek Falls. Three Sisters Falls will become heavily regulated and accessible by permit only. Do your part and ensure you have plenty of water, adequate footwear, don't do anything stupid and this natural beauty will remain open & unrestricted for all to enjoy.
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