Chasing Waterfalls and Wildflowers: Three Sisters Falls Hike, SD County

San Diego County’s 3-tiered seasonal waterfall  in Cleveland National Forest is definitely worth a visit when the water is running.

3 sisters fall trailhead sign

 

 

 

 

 

At the beginning of the hike, these 3 lovely trees will greet you.

3 lovely trees 3 sisters hike

The falls are much more impressive than you might expect. As you hike down the trail, you can see the frothy, white veils in the distance.

 

For me, it was vaguely reminiscent of Yosemite. Of course, I was fortunate to experience the area after a rainy season, during the spring super bloom. The hillsides were green and sprinkled generously with wildflowers. If you’ve been following my superbloom posts (Walker Canyon, Diamond Valley Lake, Denk Mountain) this spring, you know I can’t get enough of these wildflowers. (I wasn’t expecting any on this hike and what a wonderful surprise to see the colorful abundance along the trail – perfect wildflower filters for my distant water shots.)

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It’s a pleasant single-track, out & back trail that takes you down to the falls and then bring you back up to the parking area.

L with flowers on the trail 3 sisters

 

Lydia taking pics

 

 

 

 

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The falls are a wonderful spot to have a picnic, cool off, and while away the afternoon – that is if you don’t mind being joined by too many humans who have the same idea. (Heavy sigh.) Be forewarned, this is one of San Diego’s most popular hikes so go early or be prepared for the crowds and a full parking lot.

If you want to add on another hike, the Cedar Creek Falls hike is in the vicinity too. Since I’ve done that one already, I decided to take the scenic drive out the other side on Descanso Road.

Descanso dirt road

The Scoop on 3 Sisters Waterfall Hike

Distance: 4 miles RT (out & back)

Elevation gain/loss :1000 ft (downhill on the way out, uphill on the way back)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on your fitness level. Trail run friendly on a non-crowded morning.

Getting there: From the town of Julian, turn left on Pine Hills Road, right on Eagle Creek, and left on Boulder Creek Road, which will become dirt road for the last 5 miles.

Note: Both Boulder Creek and Descanso are dirt roads with potholes, but no suv or 4-wheel drive needed. A regular passenger car with adequate ground clearance will do the trick as you have patience with potholes and bumps. However, it might not be prudent to attempt it without a SUV or 4-wheel drive after a heavy rain.

Fee: Display a National Forest Adventure Pass – $5 day pass [purchase info]  https://www.fs.fed.us/portaldata/r5/ap/r5-ap-vendors.php

On the way home, I added on short, vertical hike / scramble at Flinn Springs County Park on old highway 80 off highway 8. Post to come.

Diamond Valley Lake: Hike, bike, run, or boat this lovely little gem, Hemet, CA

Cruising the 21.8 mile Lakeview trail around Diamond Valley reservoir on mountain bike during the wildflower super bloom last weekend was a delight. It’s a flat, family-friendly fire-road with lake and snow -capped mountain views that don’t disappoint. Yes, this was seeing it dressed in its wildflower season best. And no, you probably won’t want to do it in the blazing heat of the summer as it’s all exposed. But it’s just right, right now – for running, hiking, biking, boating, and fishing. (It’s stocked with rainbow trout, large mouth bass, striped bass, bluegill, small mouth bass  – catch and release only though.)

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Lupine Filter

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Poppy Filter

How many places can you take a scenic, peaceful 21 mile bike ride and have it virtually all to yourself on a weekend? Ok, Catalina, but where else? (Granted the little wildflower hike was much busier, but less by the time I was done with my  mountain bike ride.)

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Mellow yellow wildflower extravaganza

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Birds, bees, wildflowers and snow capped mountains

Here’s your wildflower sampling: Poppies, Arroyo Lupine, California Goldfields, Brittlebush, Owl’s Clover, Canterbury Bells, Chia, Baby Blue Eyes, and more!

Did I mention to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes?

[Rattlesnake video courtesy of Ken Wells.]

Fee: $10 per car, $3 per person for trail entry – worth it.

Getting there:

The entrance to Diamond Valley Lake is off of Domenigoni Parkway, which connects with Highway 79 on the west side of the lake and State Street on the east. You can take State Street south from Highway 74 in Hemet.

Mileage and Driving Times to Diamond Valley Lake
Miles Hours Mins.
Anaheim 77 1 24
Los Angeles 93 1 37
Pomona 63 1 10
Riverside 40 0 48
San Diego 87 1 34
Santa Barbara 188 3 06

Can’t get enough of the California Wildflower Superbloom 2019? Neither can I. Check out my Walker Canyon and Denk Mountain posts.

Bernardo Summit Rewards: 360 degree views of Lake Hodges and beyond

A popular spot for mountain bikers and hikers, the San Dieguito River Park in Escondido is squeezed between the I15 freeway and a couple housing developments. It’s not wilderness, but it still makes for a decent, suburban excursion and nature fix.

bernardo summit

As I mentioned in my Cruising Lake Hodges post, the main mountain bike route on the Coast-to-Crest Trail is beginner friendly. The Bernardo Summit trail is not—it’s rated difficult due to loose rocks and steep technical sections. In other words, it’s way out of my mountain bike skill league so I left it undone on my last visit, vowing to come back and hike it. Note don’t let the words summit and mountain deter you. We’re only talking about a ~1k ft in elevation gain here.  But that elevation is enough to deliver views that do not disappoint.

If you’re like me and want to bypass some concrete “hiking” and walking under the freeway, you may want to start your hike at the bicycle/pedestrian bridge (the world’s longest stressed ribbon bridge) which crosses the variably wet/dry section of Lake Hodges. After traversing the bridge, take the trail to the left heading towards the Lake. Before long, you’ll hopscotch on a couple rocks across Felicita Creek, a small perennial brook, and round the bend from there. Look for the summit trail splitting off to the right (the sign for it is facing the other direction). It’s a gradual, steady climb – mild to moderate and absolutely runnable – you just need to watch your footing on the loose rock sections. (I find it easier, more fun and less painful to run up vs. down.)

pleasant section of single track b summit

At the last and steepest section, you’ll encounter a fenced-in water tank – not very pretty, but don’t be discouraged. last climbYour final ascent will be rewarded.

I highly recommend this hike for the best views in the park and a good workout. If you’re not up for incline, you can keep going straight along the North Shore trail to Del Dios Community Park and eventually, past the Lake Hodges Dam. Note it’s an out and back.

 

 

 

Hiking difficulty: Mild to moderate+ depending on your fitness level

Elevation change: ~1,000 ft

Distance: ~6.2-7.2 miles roundtrip, depending on where you start

Mountain bikes and leashed dogs allowed

Free entry

 

From Prescott Valley To Prescott: Mountain Biking the Iron King and Peavine Trails

Years ago, the Prescott East Railroad trains ran through here to the Iron King Mine and towns of Poland Junction and Crown King. Today, you can take in the area’s quintessential southwestern scenery and spectacular granite rock formations by  horseback, two (or 3) wheels, or by two feet. It’s ~4 miles down to the Peavine Trail connection and then you can continue on for another ~6 miles to arrive at Watson Lake, Prescott (~20 miles RT).

The Iron King  path is by far one of the easiest, smoothest, most family-friendly mountain bike “trails” I’ve ever encountered. Apparently they went to great lengths to convert this rail to trail and create its excellent surface. First they undercut and evened out the trail to eliminate the “washboard” effect and then they topped it with a blend of coarse and fine gravel. The path is so smooth and flat that a kid on training wheels or a tricycle could ride it. You could take a wheelchair on it (electric or person powered – if you were up for it) too. It all translates to fun times and cool scenery for all.

For me, the most scenic sections of the ride are in the middle where the Iron King and Peavine trails intersect and along the gorgeous Granite Dells and Watson Lake at the Prescott end.

 

 

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Check out the video below of a hiking trail in the Granite Dells.

 

 

Keep an eye out for resident javalina, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. I didn’t see any of them and only saw 2 other cyclists during my sunset pleasure tour. (Not sure if the hot weather (90+ degrees) – was keeping people away or what. I expect when the housing development in Prescott Valley completes, this will get much heavier use so enjoy some solitude while you can.

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Getting there: The Iron King Trail begins in Prescottt  Valley west of Glassford Hill Road, north of Spouse Drive – at the base of Glassford Hill. Unfortunately, that’s also where a new housing development is going in so the first mile or so is a bit of a bummer. Truth in advertising picture below. (Heavy sigh.). The Peavine Trail begins at the south end of Watson Lake in Prescott. Take Hwy 89 to Prescott Lakes Parkway, then to Sundog Ranch where you can park along the road .

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking: Thumb Butte 

Granite Basin

Mountain Biking: Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Restaurants: Farm Provisions

Barley Hound Gastropub

A Romp Around in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton CA

One misty morning, I drove to the park from Santa Cruz on windy Highway 9. I turned one of the many blind corners and almost ran over a vagrant walking down the middle of the road (literally the middle of the road) pulling his rolling suitcase. Yikes. Luckily I was driving cautiously through here because when I drove into town the day before I couldn’t help but notice that the pullouts were polluted with groups of what I am going to call “car people” in various states of inebriation and agitation and ankle-deep in their own litter and debris. Yes, that was my off-putting experience with the “Santa Cruz city greeters.”

I thought early morning might be a good time to explore Henry Cowell State Park, avoid those car transients and the crowds in general. I was mostly correct.

The 4,650 acre park is best known for its 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees, but it also includes 3 other habitats (grasslands, river/riparian and sand hills). The redwoods here are said to have inspired some of California’s earliest redwood preservation efforts. The tallest tree in the park is ~277 feet tall, ~16 feet wide, and estimated to be ~1,500 years old. Some trails run alongside the Sans Lorenzo River and there’s even a swimming hole.

When I arrived, the parking lot was empty as were the trails. I just ran into a couple trail runners and dog walkers.

The .8 Redwood Grove Loop trail is, of course, a must do. I also did the Cowell Highlights Loop to the Observation Deck (the park’s highest point at a meager 805 feet) Overlook Bench, Cathedral Redwoods, and Cable Car Beach about 6 miles.

It was pleasant but I never felt I was away from civilization – one “trail” is a paved road and you can hear people at the campground from different points on the trails. It’s a good place for a quick leg stretch or trail run, family hiking and camping experience. If you’re a hard-core hiker, I’d say if you miss it, you won’t miss that much. If you get it on a clear day, you might be rewarded with spectacular views of Monterrey Bay. I wasn’t, but the Santa Cruz mountains views were certainly pleasant. By the time I finished my hike, the parking lot was full of people crowding onto the trails in hopes that the mist would clear for them. It may have, but I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Go early, if you want to avoid the crowds.

 

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After 2 somewhat disappointing days in Santa Cruz, I headed south for adventures in Carmel and Monterrey. They did not disappoint.

 

Henry Cowell State Park 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton CA 831.335.4598

Campground 2951 Graham Hill Road, Scotts Valley, CA  831.438.2396

Stunning Stonewall Peak Hike, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego

Cuyamaca Peak‘s little sister, Stonewall Peak, (5,730 feet) outshines her big sister with her stunning granite crown, haunting tree skeletons (remnants of the Cedar Fire) and lovely vistas of Cuyamaca State Park and out to Anza  Borrego. Before I moved to North County and started exploring the area, I had no idea that all this wonderful natural beauty is an easy drive from greater San Diego.

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Gradual ascent on a friendly trail

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Expansive views
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Interesting rock formations along the way
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Stairway to heavenly vistas

 

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Something about these beautiful trees and boulders
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A bit crowded at the actual peak – silly people looking down at their phones
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Lovely Lake Cuyamaca views on the way down
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A sprinkling of dazzling wildflowers

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Planning your Cuyamaca adventure

You can make it a day or a weekend adventure and do as much or as little hiking as you like. Ambitious, fit hikers can take on both peaks (Cuyamaca & Stonewall)  in a day. For the less ambitious, there are plenty of opportunities to add on easy short strolls by the lake and up to Stonewall Mine. Lots of wildlife viewing with trails for the whole family. Stay tuned for my next post. Happy trails!

The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes: This is the most popular hike in the park so go early to avoid the crowds. After you reach the Stonewall Peak spur trail and make a right, there’s a really short scramble over some rocks before you hit the last rocky stairway.  Keep your eyes open for the metal handrails.  On the way back, I recommend taking a right at the junction for a different route down ton what becomes a pleasant single track trail d. At about 3.7 miles, you come to a trail intersection. Make the left onto Vern Whitaker Trail. Shortly after that (around 3.9 miles) there’s another junction, continue to stay left. At 4.2 miles or so,you’ll encounter another side trail; stay your course to the left again.

Miles: ~<4 miles rt if you just go up and down the main trail.  My scenic route adds about a mile & a half for ~5.5 miles rt.

Elevation gain: 1,050 feet

Terrain: Mostly sweet, clear terrain (as in trail runnable). It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while near the top so watch your footing. .The single track down was mostly friendly.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take.

Trailhead: Across the street from the Paso Picacho campground, Cuyamaca State Park

Parking: $10 State Park Fee

Dogs: Only allowed on paved roads and must be leashed.

Camping: Paso Picacho campground has family campsites with tables, firepits, running water and bathrooms.

Short, somewhat steep, semi-sweet: Monserate “Mountain” Hike, Fallbrook, CA

Monserate Mountain is more of a steepish molehill than a mountain. You can hike, bike or run up the trail for a short, steep, incline workout and the reward of expansive views of the mountains (Agua Tibia, Red Mountain, Santa Ana Mountains), farmland in the valley below, and a sliver of Pacific Ocean way out to the west.  I have mixed feeling about this one for reasons detailed below…

History

Monserate Mountain was part of an 13,323-acre Rancho Monserate Mexican Land Grant from 1853 that originally extended south and east of the present day Fallbrook down to the San Luis Rey River.

Pros

If you’re in or near the area, you can get a quick workout here with sweet 360 degree views at the top. Also, I think that it might be the right balance of tough and short for hardy hiker kids who get a feeling of accomplishment from doing something challenging.

There are a couple offshoot trails on the way up: Canoninta Trail and Red Diamond. I didn’t take those, but once at the top, headed south along a Ridge Trail to the water tank. This was the best part of the hike for me – it faced away from the freeway on a little stretch of single track with views into the valleys below and east across the mountain ridges. The Ridge Trail descends gradually with the help of a short wooden staircase and then drops you out on a paved road. (In the pic below,  I turned around and ran up the staircase for the pure joy of a little more incline.)

Glutton for the incline.
Mountains to the east from the Ridge Trail.

 

Cons
The barren, dirt trail going up has little to no aesthetic appeal. This trail gets lots of traffic, human and dog (too much I’d say). And I’m afraid it smells like it too. (I have a sensitive schnozz and the trail smelt like dog poop most of the way up.) Also read a review that someone got bitten by a dog twice on this trail.  The roar of the 15 freeway below is also a bit off putting as are the weekend crowds that you have to hike around. (I was so uninspired and turned off by the dog poop smell, I didn’t take any pictures on the way up.) Yes, that bad – but then again, I’m a hiking snob. You’ll see why if you visit some of my other posts.
If you’re in the area, do it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go too far out of your way for this one.
Distance: 3.2 miles up and back without add ons, or 4.4 mile loop adding on the Ridge Trail loop to the water tank.
Elevation gain /loss: ~1150 feet, moderately strenuous, depending on what shape you’re in. If you’re a trail runner, you’ll like it and you’ll want to add on the Ridge Trail water tank loop.
Terrain: Mostly wide dirt path with rocks and some erosion, some single track, paved road & fire road if you do the 4.4 mile loop.