Harper Creek in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a seasonal stream, generally dry in the summer months. But in the spring, water flows through the creek and over large slabs of polished granite, creating an enticing series of pools where you can cool your feet or just sit and relax.
After the unprecedented rains of last winter, we were hopeful that even on a hot early summer day, there might still be enough water in the creek to make a visit worthwhile. We chose to park at the Visitor Center, which required a $10 day use fee. You can park at one of the many free turnouts and staging areas in the park if you’d prefer to avoid the fee, but the Visitor Center offers bathrooms and the opportunity to check out the ruins of the historic Dyar House next to the parking lot, as well as the shortest route to Harper Creek. We also picked up a couple of t-shirts from the Visitor Center shop after our hike – support your parks, yo!
Around the .3 mile point we came the Sweetwater River crossing. A horse-friendly crossing lay to the left, while the hiker crossing went pretty much straight. There was also an unmarked trail leading off to the right. We followed the sign pointing towards the hiker crossing in front of us.
The water wasn’t terribly deep, but we were glad to have our waterproof shoes on – otherwise we’d have had wet socks for sure. We made our way across the shallow river and through the resident willows.
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Take I-8 East to the CA-79 N/Japatul Valley Road exit. Turn left and follow 79 north (towards Julian). After 2.7 miles, there is a sharp left to stay on 79 – make sure not to miss this turn (follow signs for 79 and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). Continue on 79 for 6.2 miles to the turn off for the Visitor Center on the right. Park in the lot just south of the Visitor Center. map
|Total Distance:||3.3 miles|
|Total Ascent:||350 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Dogs not allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes not allowed|
|Facilities:||Restrooms and water in parking lot|
|Fees/Permits:||$10 day use fee per vehicle|
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View route or download GPX from CalTopo