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January 13, 2017

Chasing Waterfalls – Cedar Creek Falls

Despite the wonderful song by TLC asking that we Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls, that is exactly what to do after a San Diego rain.

I chose Cedar Creek Falls, I have hiked in from both west (Ramona) and east (Julian) and the distance is about the same 6 miles out’n’back.  But Thornbush is now paved, with restrooms, parking and picnic area.  While Eagle Peak Road is still 12 miles of dirt (mud).  No brainer – west approach, from the Cedar Creek Falls Trailhead

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As of 2012 this is now a limited access area, requiring a permit – get yours here at the Recreation.gov site.  Each of the permits allows up to 4 additional hikers.  The group of 5 must remain together and be listed on the permit.  Tip – get the permit for 5 with yourself as the group leader, write in the other names if friends can join you at the trailhead.  Before committing to a date check out the NOAA weather forecast here.

On a cool uncrowded day I’d call this a moderate hike.  But people and animals have died from the summer heat and dumb-shit stunts at the falls.  One hiker used a road flare to signal for help started the county’s worst ever fire – the  2003 Cedar Fire, .  So now permits are required … probably a good thing.  The East County Magazine has a nice collection of articles on the hike.  Including a large black wildcat, panther? puma?

I took Wildcat Canyon Road out of Lakeside with a brief stop at Barona Casino on the way to the trailhead.
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Barona is definitely not a smoke-free casino! Altho the bathrooms are spotless and the grounds are well maintained and the staff friendly, I didn’t even walk the entire floor before leaving with burning eyes.  But it does offer RV parking.

From the Thornbush trailhead there is a clear view of a dusting of snow from last nights rain.
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I’m sure this sign went up after the Cedar Fire, but with all the rain in the past few days fire is not a concern.  Lots of grasses today along the long steep down hill, with no shade for the first couple miles. 
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The trail is well maintained and not at all muddy, with interesting rock structures along the way.
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Last time I was here the rock pile was a nice rest area, not any more they are now permanently off limits Sad smile.  The trail on the left will lead up to the trail to the top of the falls, or on to Eagle Peak Road near Julian.  I’ll meet up with it in the wash below, the falls are straight ahead.  This is about the halfway point where I’d like to take a break, but I should mention there really is not a bench or a decent sitting rock along the trail.
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After two miles of steady downhill the trail gets even steeper for the last half mile to the valley floor.  There is no shade nor resting bench on this 2+ mile section.   Something to bear in mind on the return. 

At the first water crossing I need to sit in the sand to remove my boots.  At my age and flexibility this is not as easy as it sounds.  I’ll leave them off now the rest of the way past the next 2 water crossings (~0.5 mi.) and in all of the way to the falls! another 0.25 beyond the last water crossing, I did mention there is not a decent place to sit and put them back on Smile
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The first view of the falls
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it’s a bit of a rock scramble to reach the ‘Punchbowl’ at the base of the falls.  But so worth the effort.
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I've reached a nice spot where I can soak my bare feet in the cold water and enjoy my PB&J burrito.
Swimming is still permitted and the rope swing is still in place, but no more cliff diving!  Dive and get hurt, pay the rescue bill
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I have the falls to myself for over a half hour.  After finishing the burrito it’s awesome just to take in amazing power and beauty of water.  Alas it’s over with the arrival of two young fellas taking selfies of themselves at the falls.

They have their boots on and as I return the first water crossing still barefoot I see they built a bridge!  Ha -  I don’t use it …
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It’s a short steep uphill and then a long uphill back to the trailhead.  There are restrooms (rustic) and picnic areas.  Since Fran has better sense than me, she skipped this hike.  I take advantage of the picnic table and quickly devour her PB&J burrito.  Whew – I was hungry!
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