Three Sister Falls in San Diego

Three Sisters Falls is an out and back 4.1 mile trail in the Cleveland National Forest close to Julian, California.    We came in from Temecula, taking highway 79. Once you are about a mile away from Julian you will turn on a country road that will take you through some amazing ranches.  A couple more turns, and you end up on a dirt road.  At this point you are on the Inaja-Cosmit Reservation, so there’s no stopping along this stretch.  The road is fairly maintained but has some ruts from previous rains.  Most cars can make it through this road but ones with low clearance will have to be a little careful on the ruts.  Once you get to the trailhead there is a small parking lot.  We went on a Sunday at 9am and there were spots still open.   

The trail starts at the top of canyon above the waterfalls and has you going down into the canyon.  From the parking lot you will head through the cars and straight down the trail.  There are a couple out trails that head left and right from the parking lot don’t follow those trails.  The trail will have a slight upward grade from the parking then once you peak the trail will have a steep grade right before you have to turn left. At this part of the trail, you will be able to see the falls, but we didn’t even notice it because we were too busy making sure we didn’t slide on the loose dirt going down.  When you get to the left turn there will be a wood sign that says “Falls” with an arrow pointing left.  You will follow this trail down into the canyon.  Most of this part is exposed to the sun.  If you go during the middle of the day, the sun will be in your face.  If you leave the falls around 11 to 12 like we did, the sun will be on your back, but it is still hot and dry.  You will be able to see the falls up until the trail makes a sharp right at which point you will be in the shade again.  Enjoy the flowers along this part of the trail.  We saw all kinds of different colored flowers and plant life.  

The trail will start going up again, you will have some larger boulders to step over but nothing that you need help from another person.  You will finally come to a large flat rock that empties you into the middle of falls 1 and 2.  Looking at videos it looks like you are at the top of the falls that everyone water slides down.  When we got there the water was flowing ok but the pool below the slide waterfalls didn’t look deep and it looked super dirty like it didn’t have enough water in it.   

We wanted to head to the top waterfall with the larger swimming hole.  We crossed over the stream going from fall #2 to fall #1.  The rocks are super slick so be careful here.  We got there early enough that it was mostly dry because not too many people walked through it yet.  Once on the other side there were a few ways to get up to the top of the waterfall #2 but nothing was easy.  There was a dirt trail to the right that had a ton of loose dirt, to the left of the dirt there was a large boulder that had a tree growing out the middle of it.  Where the tree was there was a small crevice on the right of the tree that held our footing ok. That was the way we went up but once above that part you could clearly see that to the left of the tree was a better route, which is where we went down later.  Once you get up that obstacle there is a short dirt path that takes you to the top of the second waterfall, but you are still one slick boulder away from the bottom of the third waterfall.  We went up to the right, away from the falls, where the rocks were.  This way there was way more steps in the rocks.  If you go left the boulder that separates the top of the second falls and the bottom of the third falls is one solid boulder and super slick.  

We finally got to the side of the boulder that sits at the bottom of the third falls. We hung out in the shade for a bit then headed out of the canyon.  Going down was a little easier than going up because you can slide to different levels.  However, crossing over that last boulder from one side of the waterfall to the other was a little slippery since more people had cross through it getting the rock wet.  Once you get back on the trail it is straight up.  We were heading out of there around noon and there were a ton of people coming in.  It was hot and dry most of the way up.  We saw a helicopter coming out of the canyon, we are not sure if someone got hurt.  Be prepared going in.  Bring enough water, bring sunscreen, bring shoes that help grip the rocks if you plan on walking around the waterfalls and bring a camera because the views are fantastic. 

For more information about this trail visit AllTrails.

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