People tend to get pretty excited about waterfalls, especially in San Diego where fresh water in any form is pretty rare. Kitchen Creek Falls isn’t the biggest or most impressive set of falls you’ll ever see, but this is still a fun little hike. It’s not as busy as some of the larger falls in the area (like Cedar Creek or Three Sisters), and if you head out early there’s a decent chance you’ll be able to have some time to yourself to enjoy the serenity of the creek. Like most waterfalls in San Diego, timing is everything. You’ll want to go during the wet season to ensure some flowing water.
We headed out early on a cool March morning. Fog shrouded the highway as we drove out, and we were wondering if we’d brought enough layers. We also anticipated encountering some PCT thru-hikers on the trail since most of them were setting off from the border during March and April. This section of the PCT was about two to three days in for most of them.
We found the parking area with no difficulty and posted our Adventure Pass. Thanks to the US Forest Service’s web site, we could actually be certain it was necessary. Directly across the road from our parking spot was a large oak tree. As we approached, we spotted the tell-tale PCT trail blaze affixed to the trunk and knew we were in the right spot. We crossed a small ditch and found the trail running parallel to the roadway. Turning left, we set off.
The trail turned again, making its way under the massive twin bridges of Interstate 8 above us. We could hear cars passing overhead, but the noise was somewhat distant and muffled, adding to the surreal feeling of the foggy early morning.
We soon left the noise of I-8 behind as the trail wound around the hillside. Tall brush on either side of the trail included the usual mix of chaparral and sage scrub. Some lovely stretches of towering manzanita provided some shade.
As we continued up another hill, we heard some singing and the intermittent barking of a dog ahead of us. From atop a large boulder on the trail, a small furry canine face peered down at us. On the other side of the rock we met our first PCT thru-hiker of the day: Michael, and his furry companion Gepetto.
They had found one of the few areas along the trail wide enough to support a small campsite, and appeared to be getting ready to break camp and begin their day. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, and Michael’s sheer joy at being on this adventure was contagious. (Seriously, check out that guy’s smile!) He told us “We’re just going to take our time and go as far as we can. We have no set itinerary or plans.” I thought about my immediate post-hike plans of going home and preparing for another week of work and couldn’t help but feel envious.
Finally, a little beyond the 2.1 mile mark we found the turn-off we were looking for. Just beyond a PCT marker as the trail bent sharply right, we spied a narrow use trail on the left. We left the PCT and headed into the brush along the use trail.
We came to the edge of the gorge and were able to see down to the creek below. While it wasn’t exactly raging,there was clearly some water flowing. We continued downhill to the right as the trail descended somewhat steeply.
There were a couple of different routes that appeared to lead down to the creek. We took the first, and what later appeared to be the sketchiest, path down. We managed to avoid injury and finally reached the creek bed. A rainbow of colorful rocks surrounded us, enhanced by the refreshing stream of cool water that flowed over the gleaming granite.
The falls were just upstream of where we had descended. While the water level was fairly low, there were still some spots where water cascaded down the rocks into a small pool below. We were pleased to have found any water at all.
We put down our gear and set about exploring the area. The water-polished rock was extremely slick, and I found that taking off my shoes and socks and going barefoot provided much better traction. To make it more fun there were a handful of prickly pear cactus along the edge of the creek as well, waiting for my unprotected feet.
It was a beautiful day and the sound of running water made for a peaceful and relaxing respite. Eventually, we put our shoes back on and hiked out the way we had come.
Take I-8 east to the Buckman Springs Road exit. Turn right onto Buckman Springs Road, then turn left onto Old Highway 80. Proceed approximately 2 miles to an unmarked parking area on the right, shortly before the Boulder Oaks Campround. map
|Total Distance:||4.7 miles|
|Total Ascent:||912 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes not allowed|
|Fees/Permits:||Adventure Pass Required|
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