Cleveland National Forest

A cool experience with 6 to 10 mile hikes
Trek into the wilderness and sleep in the backcountry
Pups are welcome at camp and on hiking trails

Dipping into Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest

Dipping into Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest

Dipping into Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest

Dipping into Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest

Dipping into Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls in Cleveland National Forest

Designed by Yvonne Leow

Share this itinerary
Last updated
April 24, 2022

Trip · 3-day backpacking trip

For · Friends and intermediate backpackers

Vibe · Moderate and fun

Distance  · 22 miles and 4,610 feet of elevation gain

Permits · Yes! Reserve a $6 permit to hike Cedar Creek Falls, buy an Adventure Pass for parking, an online campfire permit, and apply for a free dispersed camping permit from Descanso Ranger District.

Drive · 1.5 hours from San Diego and 2.5 hours from LA

Ideal dates · November to April (before it gets too hot!)

Pets · Welcome on trails and campgrounds!

Cleveland National Forest (CNF) is a 460,000-acre haven for 22 endangered species and wildlife. It has four wilderness areas: Agua Tibia, Pine Creek, Hauser, and San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, and includes a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, Sunrise Scenic Byway, and Palomar Mountain and Observatory are just a few highlights. More than anything, it's another stunning and serene place to listen to your heart and sleep underneath the stars.

Official National Forest Website

Official Cedar Creek Falls Trail Information

Official Dispersed Camping Information

Directions to Trailhead

Main image credit: Hotels.com

Stuff to know

  • Three Sisters Waterfall can dry up by late-summer and this trek gets hottt during the summer
  • Heat exhaustion is real out here. Bring at least 2 liters of water and refill your water supply whenever you can
  • Bear canisters aren't necessary in CNF, but store your food in critter-proof bags/containers
  • Campfires aren't allowed in the backcountry due to wildfires
  • Watch out for s-s-snakes! If you spot one, give it space and let it slither away.
  • Print out your Cedar Creek Falls permit and bring your ID on the trek. Each permit is good for four additional people.
  • Practice Leave No Trace! That means properly poopin' in the backcountry and leaving the outdoors as you found it.
Check the weather
Cedar Creek Falls

Dispersed camping

You can camp for free in CNF's backcountry, but there are a few rules:

  • You'll need to apply for a free permit at least two days before your trip
  • Campfires aren't allowed cuz' of wildfires
  • Camping isn't allowed within the Laguna Recreation Area, but you don't have to worry about that for this trek

The trek from Cedar Creek Falls to Three Sisters Falls is an out-and-back trail. It's 10.5 miles one-way with 2,305 feet of elevation gain, but you can customize the hike however you'd like. We suggest spending the first night around the 6-mile mark, and then camping the second night near Three Sisters Falls, but that would require hiking 10.5 miles back on the third day. Be weary that water levels can be low or totally dry during the summer months so plan a winter or spring visit, and fill up your water bottles whenever you have a chance.

Learn more

Three Sisters Falls
No items found.

Itinerary

Day One

Cedar Creek Waterfall
Cedar Creek Falls. Credit: The Coast News

Leave LA as early as you can cuz' traffic

  • Last pit stop · ARCO - 1015 Main Street in Ramona
  • Nearest grocery store · Stater Bros. Market - 1674 Main Street in Ramona

Park at Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead and hike to the waterfall

  • It's about a 3-mile one-way, downhill hike to Cedar Creek Falls
  • Layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles (at least 2L). There's a creek crossing near the falls.
  • Once you arrive, spend some time to relax and cool off with a swim!

Backtrack 0.3 miles and take Eagle Peak Road towards Three Sisters Waterfall

  • Hike about another 3 miles until Eagle Peak Road intersects with Cedar Creek
  • Water sources can dry up depending on the season so plan on camping at least 100 feet away from the creek, but near enough so you can refill your water
  • The next water source might be Three Sisters Waterfall, another 5 miles away, so carefully assess how far you can hike in one day

Chill and cook up dinner

  • You did it! Enjoy your first night in Cleveland National Forest!

Car to camp: 6 miles - 4 hours

CNF was created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and named after former president Grover Cleveland.

Day Two

Three Sisters Falls
Three Sisters Waterfall. Credit: I Hike San Diego

Pack up, top off your water bottles, and hike to Three Sisters Waterfall

  • It's about a 6-mile one-way hike, with 214 feet of elevation gain, to Three Sisters Waterfall
  • Set out early to hike in cooler temps

Enjoy lunch and a swim if you're in the mood

  • At the bottom of the valley near the creek, there a number of “cave-like’ shelters that might be good campsites
  • Remember to set up camp at least 100 feet away from water sources!

Set up camp and relax by the waterfall

  • Cook up your last dinner in Cleveland National Forest.
  • Tomorrow is going to be a long hike so get plenty of rest! 

Camp to camp: 6 miles - 214 feet of elevation gain - 4 hours

For millennia, only desert and coastal tribes, like the Kumeyaay, Luiseños, Cahuilla and Cupeño, knew about the lands within CNF.

DAY THREE

Ramona Family Naturals Market
Ramona Family Naturals. Credit: Yelp

Pack up and leave camp by 8 AM

  • Cook up brekkie, pick up any random pieces of litter around camp and save some snacks for the return trek
  • Layer on sunscreen, bug spray, and fill up your water bottles!

Hike 6 miles back to your first dispersed campsite

  • Fill up your water bottles!

Continue for another 5 miles to Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead

  • YAY. You made it.

Treat yo' self to Ramona Family Naturals for lunch

  • Diners love their smoothie bowls, fresh sandwiches, and salad bowls
  • Located at 325 6th Street in Ramona
  • Open Mondays to Saturdays · 8 AM to 7 PM and Sundays · 8 AM to 6 PM

Head home!

Camp to car: 11 miles - 6 hours

CNF is the southern-most national forest in California

Packing List

Essential Items
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Clothing
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Personal Stuff
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Camp Kitchen
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Shared Gear
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Recommended gear

Essential Items

FIND YOUR NEXT TRIP

View all itineraries