Along with Cowles Mountain, and innumerable other locations in San Diego County, Viejas Mountain is an interesting peak with cultural significance for the Kumeyaay people. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Kumeyaay people would climb the mountain to watch the sunrise on the winter solstice. Today, like Cowles Mountain, Viejas Mountain is on the list of San Diego’s “100 Peaks” - the one hundred tallest mountains that grace the confines of the county. However, unlike Cowles Mountain, Viejas Mountain features a leg-burning ascent up a steep slope, and for large parts of the year, a great deal of hiking solitude to go with the suffering.
With miles of pristine beaches, rolling chaparral covered hills, and a constant semi-arid desert climate, San Diego will never be identified as one of the hot spots for waterfalls or hikes to waterfalls. However, unbeknownst to many people, from December through Memorial Day, San Diego does have a number of great seasonal waterfall hikes that highlight some of the best features of the county’s backcountry. As all of these waterfalls are seasonal, timing is everything, and also somewhat dependent on the weather pattern for the year. During wet winters and springs, these waterfalls will have high flows, and creek crossings; and during drought years, there may only be a trickle and dry stream beds. Similarly, with respect to timing, at the right times, these waterfalls can and will appear spectacular – but at the wrong times, may be a letdown after a hot, dusty trek. Keeping all that in mind, these hikes can also be great gateways to explore other regions of San Diego County, and again, at the right times, great spots to view spring wildflowers. I’ve listed the below hikes in order of difficulty, and let me know your thoughts about them, or any additions you have to the list below!
Julian is one of the most popular destinations in all of San Diego County for a number of reasons – in the winter; it is one of the few spots in the county that receives regular snowfall. In the fall, it is also one of the few spots in the county that allows apple picking. Year-round, however, it is popular for its distinctive – and tasty pies. While there are a number of trails one can select in the area in an attempt to mitigate the damage from pie and donut consumption in town, the easiest and most family-friendly with the best view is at Inaja Memorial Park, which is located some six miles to the east of Julian.
San Diego County is an amazing spot with a number of well-known hikes, such as Cowles Mountain (the tallest point within the city confines), El Cajon Mountain (San Diego’s toughest hike), Potato Chip Rock (San Diego’s biggest social media-post-hike), Cedar Creek Falls (the other of San Diego’s most popular waterfall hikes), Broken Hill (San Diego’s best coastal view hike), and last but not least, the hike to Three Sisters Falls. Like all of the hikes on this least, the trek to Three Sisters Falls is, and has been popular for an extended period of time, even during the summer of drought years, when the waterfalls become a trickle, and can be nonexistent. Like Cedar Creek Falls, the hike to Three Sisters Falls has also had its share of bad publicity, with hikers leaving trash, hikers needing to be rescued, and hikers on occasion, dying. While these items led to a permitting system at Cedar Creek, at the moment, the hike to the Three Sisters remains, by and large, unregulated, although as of 2016, plans are potentially in the works to make the “trail” safer for all skill levels of hikers. Despite the past and present risks, the hike to Three Sisters is a unique San Diego backcountry experience that despite the crowds, lives up to the hype surrounding it.
San Diego is a hiker’s mecca. From the trails at Torrey Pines State Reserve on the Coast, to the city’s highest point at Cowles Mountain, and through the East County trails of Iron Mountain and El Cajon Mountain, there is literally a hike for every person, and for every skill level. In addition to all of these trails, and the thousands more I didn’t mention, San Diego is also a great location for overnight camping, from backpacking to car-camping and everything in between. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve been lucky enough to explore much of San Diego’s backcountry in a number of ways, and am thrilled to be working with Expedia.com on this article to recommend some of the best overnight wilderness hiking areas. While overnight wilderness activities have innumerable perks, the locations within the confines of San Diego allow visitors the added benefit of a little extra wilderness solitude to recover from the hustle and bustle of everyday Southern California life. The locations listed below provide a great starting point for overnight wilderness activities in the County, and hopefully provide inspiration for many nights in some of the most pristine backcountry that can be found in Southern California.
San Diego is a city that in many respects is unparalleled for its outdoor and wilderness opportunities. Within the confines of the county there is terrain that ranges from coastal to alpine, and covers everything in between. While much of the coastal wilderness areas are well known to locals and visitors alike, one of the wilderness gems of San Diego is not as well known, the Laguna Mountains.