Hiking, Outdoor Activities, San Diego, Uncategorized

Three Sisters Waterfalls Trail

This trail was so fun! It was a moderate-difficult hike that tested my strength, courage, and endurance. Because this trail isn’t maintained by anyone the whole hike felt very wild with branching paths, steep and intimidating climbs, and an incredible sense of accomplishment at the finish.
The three things that you NEED on this hike are:
1. Two liters of water
2. Sturdy comfortable shoes
3. Sun protection (hat and sunscreen)
Sidenote: be wary of bringing your furry friends along. There are portions of the trail that might be difficult for your dogs to trek. Carrying them isn’t a great option – you’ll want both hands free to climb across some of the rocks.

I was glad we got to the trail head early. The parking lot fits about 35 cars and you can park against the cliff wall on the road, but it’s a narrow space. Personally I appreciated a hassle free parking spot.

The parking lot

This three sisters trail head also leads to Eagle Peak so be aware. When you see an ambiguous fork in the trail (where the wooden pole is) follow the trail on the far left that leads downhill.

At this wooden pole follow the trail to the left that goes downhill

Once you’re on the correct trail down you’ll be able to see the waterfalls (if there is any water running) down in the distance. When parts of the trail got difficult, seeing the falls kept me exhilarated and excited about continuing onward. While the journey there was exciting, the destination was definitely a motivating factor.

You can see the waterfall at the bottom of the valley in the distance

This trail took us through chaparral shrubbery, riparian forests, bare dirt paths, and over rocks. There was so much different terrain to explore that I got to use my entire body (as opposed to just my legs) to get to the falls. It was an aspect of this trail that I really appreciated and enjoyed – like a natural jungle gym for adults.

The trail takes you through different types of habitats

The area is littered with poison oak. The best way to identify and therefore avoid the plant is to look for a cluster of three leaves that resemble oak leaves. They grow berry clusters of white or greenish yellow.

Watch out for poison oak

With such an intense terrain to tackle I was often looking at the ground to find foot holds or avoid tripping. Take a minute during breaks (you’ll definitely take breaks) to appreciate the beautiful valley you’re climbing into. Listen to the wind and grasses and birds. Also keep an ear open for the rattle of any rattlesnakes – we didn’t hear or see any, but they can be found in this type of habitat.

You can see the waterfalls from the top of the trail

We saw a handful of lizards. This little cutie was having breakfast when we found it. Remember, you’re treading around their home so stick to obvious trails and avoid destroying wildlife habitat.

Keep an eye out for the wildlife!

Some of the steep sections of trail looked intimidating. Anyone afraid of heights is better off not looking down too far. I didn’t trust the loose dirt so I practically crab walked down some of the steep parts. Getting dirty was part of the fun, and I always prefer to do what makes me feel safe and comfortable. This place is not a great place to get hurt – you’d need to get helicoptered out for any emergencies, so take your time and do what you must to stay safe.

Hiking down into a valley, you’ll meet steep portions of the trail

I’d heard of the ropes on this trail from others and was excited for the challenge. They are helpful, but it takes a second to become accustomed to using them as a support. Use the ropes like a staircase banister not a crutch, and definitely don’t “rappel” down backwards, you’ll get rope burn. Once your mind and body get comfortable with the ropes (we found three sets altogether) it’ll be a breeze.

Ropes to assist down/up a steep section

This was the most terrifying and exhilarating rope section we found. The trail went down a 15 foot drop. Looking down made the decent harder. After the first few steps down I got the hang of finding foot holds in the rock and using the rope to slowly guide me towards each hold. Parts of this hike made my heart race and gave me anxiety, there was one point where I was paralyzed by my fear, but overcoming those feelings and continuing to move forward made this hike so unique.

The third rope to climb down was most helpful

Once we were at the bottom of the valley we had to make our way up again to reach the waterfalls. There are many branching trails down there that all lead to the falls. On the way back out of the valley we were guided out of the maze of trails by red arrows spray painted on rocks. Those arrows made the ascent a lot easier so if you’re unsure of the way back use those arrows.

Once at the bottom of the valley, you climb up to the falls

There is a lot of space around the falls to picnic and do some rock climbing so plan to spend some time enjoying this destination!
Flowing water has eroded the rock to be smooth and so created a natural water slide. People of all ages were enjoying the slide. The water was rushing too fast for my tastes, but it seemed relatively safe. Just stay away from the base of the falls where the water’s falling in. Such a strong current can create whirlpools and pull a swimmer in and under.

Brave people sliding down the falls

On my way to the falls, around the water, and back up to the parking lot I found a lot of trash. There were plastic water bottles, energy bar wrappers, and people kept losing their hats, sunglasses, and plastics in the water. Part of being a hiker (novice or seasoned) is to keep the place you’re visiting as clean and pristine as you found it. So please, anywhere you hike in nature pick up your trash, avoid losing things, and spread the word to others.

A view of the valley

This is probably my favorite hike in San Diego (so far). It has a dynamic trail with dynamic habitats and a great destination to aim for. The waterfall isn’t always gushing with water, so try to go after a good rainy season, you won’t be disappointed. It was rewarding to cool down and relax by a beautiful natural pool and enjoy a peaceful landscape.

Enjoy your hike and remember to always #OptOutside.


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