A Guide to the Most Picturesque Waterfalls in San Diego

Nature lovers have been drawn to waterfalls since long before the dawn of recorded history. Something about the rushing water and scenic settings imparts an undeniable sense of calm, and connection with nature. Luckily, San Diego is home to many of these captivating environmental wonders waiting to be discovered. A caveat, however: some are seasonal, only active after mountain snows or rainfall, and/or past difficult-to-navigate terrain. Still, the views are worth the trip. Take a look at our visitors’ guide to the most beautiful waterfalls within day-tripping distance of San Diego, and start exploring! 

Oak Canyon Trail Waterfall (16.4 miles from the hotel)

This charming waterfall is nestled within Mission Trails Regional Park, a serene green space just west of Santee. The hike to reach the falls is approximately a 3-mile round trip of medium-to-challenging trail, but it shouldn’t prove too steep for most experienced hikers. The falls can be a bit tricky to find, as the primary slope is a bit off the beaten path. However, once located, this waterfall offers an incredibly placid, postcard-worthy view that’s worth the effort.

Oak Canyon Trail, San Diego, CA 92124

Los Peñasquitos Falls (20.3 miles away)

Los Peñasquitos (meaning “little cliffs” in Spanish) is a historic and aptly-named preserve just north of Mira Mesa. Its craggy terrain is reminiscent of the sandstone cliffs that line the beaches of La Jolla, so its abundant beauty attracts lovers of the outdoors. Hiking along the creek at the center of the canyon will reward the intrepid with an awe-inspiring view of the Los Peñasquitos Falls, approximately halfway between the western and eastern trailheads. 

12020 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129

Photo credit: @lerkina7

Cottonwood Creek Falls (52.5 miles away)

Cottonwood Creek doesn’t just offer one spectacular waterfall, but rather, a series of them spread out over a good distance. This is particularly remarkable, being as the waterway that feeds the falls cuts through an otherwise fairly arid region of desert-like terrain. The falls are most active in the waning winter months, especially after any measurable snowfall has found its way to Mt. Laguna. These falls may be a good distance away, but the journey is worthwhile.  

7432 County Rte S1, Pine Valley, CA 91962

Three Sisters Falls (60.5 miles away)

Three Sisters sits an imposing four-mile round-trip hike past its eponymous trailhead, just outside nearby Descanso. It’s one of the most popular waterfalls in the region, and for good reason. Its triptych of rises allows the falls to cascade gracefully along a nearly 150-foot drop when taken together. When you go, be advised — traversing from the trailhead to the falls and back can be a challenge for even experienced hikers, so proceed with extreme caution here.

Boulder Creek Rd, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070

Photo credit: @heribertol

Maidenhair Falls (82.1 miles away)

These gorgeous falls sit within Hellhole Canyon, just west of Borrego Springs northeast of the city. Don’t let the intimidating name of the area dissuade you from visiting, though — the terrain en route to the falls isn’t as aggressive as it might suggest. The falls are a somewhat-difficult 5.5-mile round trip from the trailhead, but it’s relatively easy going despite the distance. And the absolutely magnificent falls are more than worth the effort it takes to reach them. 

Montezuma Valley Road, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

Borrego Palm Canyon (88.1 miles away)

Head out to Borrego Palms if you’re looking for one of the most stunningly beautiful hikes in the area. The trails here wind past impressive rock formations, majestic rises, and old-growth palm groves. But the real rewards for waterfall-chasers land along the creek that runs through the center of the canyon, making several playful dips and plunges as it carves its way through the ancient rock.  

200 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004

Photo credit: @crismanu

Plan Your Stay

Ready to discover these beautiful waterfalls for yourself? Take a look at the exclusive special offers at Pacific Terrace and enjoy a carefree stay in San Diego.