San Diego Trails: Cottonwood Creek Falls


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San Diego Trails – Cottonwood Creek Falls

Cottonwood Creek Falls, Laguna is just about the easiest trail to a waterfull in the country. It’s just under a mile and it’s mostly downhll (remember, what goes down must come back up again) and descends around 500 feet through the dense, bushy chaparral until you reach the open habitat of arroyo willow, cottonwood (must be something to do with the name) and the wonderful oak trees lining Cottonwood Creek. Be prepared for some company on the trail, whether you like it or not there’s a large population of flies waiting to buzz around your ears.  Fear not, as soon as you get to the bottom of the creek bed the running water and the lovely breeze will soon see them off.

Cottonwood Creek does flow year-round, although there’s generally a lot less water in the summer months. With a bunch of falls to enjoy it’s certainly worth the hike, and you can just imagine that it’s looked the same for thousands of years and hikers before you. There are a number of cascades, but do be warned, the largest of the lot is the third one you’ll come to, but the rocks can be pretty slippery on the way so do take care. The trail is dotted with lots of lovely things to see so do keep your eyes peeled (and watch out for the flutterbies, sorry, I mean butterflies).

Finding Cottonwood Creek Falls

Make sure that you’ve got a Cleveland National Forest Adventure Pass, you’ll need one to park on the forest lands. They only charge $5 for a day pass, or $30 for an annual one (it’s so great you’ll want to visit again and again). You can purchase your pass at the ranger station or from one of the retail shops a little further along.  The trailhead can be found by heading out east on Interstate 8 to exit S1, Sunrise Highway, northerly. Continue until you’ve just passed mile marker 15 and there’s a large turnout to park on the eastern side. Head towards the north of the parking area for the head of the trail (close to the power lines). You’ll actually follow the power lines down the canyon, but as you get to the bottom you need to turn a sharp left and join Cottonwood Creek.  You need to allow a couple of hours for the 2 mile round trip, and it’s certainly a couple of hours well spent.


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