52 in 52, Episode 13: Los Peñasquitos Waterfall
Last Updated on April 1, 2022 by Polly Dimitrova
Though a full night of heavy rain and an overcast morning threatened the completion of Episode 13 of the 52 in 52 series, the Californian weather, fortunately, was on our side and the sun started to appear behind the clouds on Sunday midmorning. We quickly grabbed our hiking gear and headed towards Los Peñasquitos Waterfall! The preserve had been on our list for a while, and the recent rainy weather seemed like the perfect opportunity to chase some waterfalls! Keep reading as we are sharing our full guide on hiking to Los Peñasquitos Waterfall!
Getting to Los Peñasquitos Waterfall Trailhead
Conveniently located between the I-5 and I-15 in Southern California, Los Peñasquitos Preserve is a popular weekend destination for San Diego locals. With its 4,000 acres, the park offers both Western and Eastern accesses along with trails following on both sides of the creek. Based on how much time you have and what is more convenient for you, you can choose between a large variety of entrances, all of which lead to the beautiful Los Peñasquitos Waterfall. It is definitely worth checking the map when planning your visit.
For our first visit to Los Peñasquitos Preserve we opted for a Western approach as it was closer to the I-5 and easier to get to. The trailhead we chose started from a large parking lot along Sorrento Valley Boulevard and we really enjoyed it. The Eastern trailhead of Los Peñasquitos Canyon is more popular – which also makes it a bit more crowded, especially on weekends. A Western approach is also a great option if you are planning on visiting with children as the trail is relatively flat, wide and easy to follow. The free parking on the western trailhead is a nice bonus as well.
When to Visit Los Peñasquitos Waterfall
Despite being a year-round waterfall, the lack of snowfall and often ample rain in Southern California does not provide for a large, powerful flow. An early spring (middle of March) visit to Los Penasquitos Waterfall is your best bet if you would like to admire a slightly more spectacular and grander deluge.
A good idea is to check the weather forecast and take this hike immediately after rainfall. As previously mentioned, we visited after a full night and morning of heavy rain and were treated to a fairly full and rushing cascade!
Keep in mind that a large portion of the western trail also takes you through vast green fields with minimal shade – visiting earlier in the morning to avoid the heat is strongly advisable.
Distance: 5.5 miles round trip
Duration: 3 – 4 Hours
Elevation Gain: 200 ft
Access: Depending on the entrance you pick, you might have to pay the parking fee
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Starting Point: 32.9065531, -117.2067525
A large board at the end of the parking marks the beginning of the trail. It is a good idea to take a look at the map and get yourself acquainted with the preserve and all the possible trails to choose from. The wide dirt trail was quite muddy with small puddles serving as reminders of the morning rain. At this entrance to the preserve, large bushes and sycamore trees line the path creating a pleasant shade from the warm Californian sun.
Soon after the beginning, the scenery will change. The trail sign points to the left at the first junction, and you will have to continue under the overpass. Immediately after you will be greeted by a small but steady incline. Take your time if you have not hiked in a while and take a second to catch your breath!
The trail continues meandering through vast green fields. While the refreshing wind gently sweeps across the grass fields, charming sounds of crickets fill the calm air, creating a truly serene countryside ambiance. This was an experience we have not had the chance to encounter so far in the always hectic San Diego County area. What a fabulous treat for a relaxing weekend!
Before we knew it, we had already hiked through the fields for more than half of a mile and we reached another trail sign. On one side of the trail was the familiar dirt path, while on the other – tiny yellow wildflowers were sprouting between the small pebbles covering the trail. Don’t you love welcoming the spring with flowers and trees blooming and infusing the air with their delicate fragrance?!
We continued our pleasant jaunt with occasional small inclines and descents as we kept making our way through the rolling hills. San Diego was treating us to a beautiful sunny day after the heavy rain. Slowly the vegetation started growing denser with more trees and bushes lining each side of the trail.
Approximately 2 miles into the hike, we noticed a ‘Sycamore Crossing’ sign in the distance. We had decided that we will cross the creek and follow the Northern trail to reach the waterfall. We took the left path eager to reach the creek. Unfortunately, the small wooden bridge was completely covered in water. Despite Alex’s best efforts to make it to the other side of the river, we were not able to cross the creek and had to continue along the same trail we had followed previously. We quickly got over our disappointment as we were hoping for a fuller and more grand waterfall!
A trail sign advised that there are only 0.6 miles to the waterfall and our excitement served as motivation to pick up the pace! Another small hill was conquered and we finally got to catch a glimpse of the Los Peñasquitos Waterfall in the distance! The water was rapidly rushing through the rocks. We climbed another short incline to find ourselves even closer to the waterfall. At this point, we could hear the water burbling in the distance!
My eagerness to follow the sign pointing towards the waterfall did not stop my husband’s desire to go on a little rock climbing adventure of his own! Eventually, Alex did not die and we continued on! We finally made it down the steps and reached the waterfall. The trail seems to end with a cluster of massive rocks which block the view of the small waterfall. We needed just a few moments to find the small path between some bushes to the left, taking you behind the rocks! With a bit of scrambling, we found the perfect spot for a lunch with spectacular views!
Sitting on top of the rocks, we could admire the water lively cascading over the rocks! Los Peñasquitos Waterfall is unquestionably not the biggest or most spectacular waterfall we have ever seen, but it was our first one in the San Diego area and we absolutely enjoyed the picturesque scenery.
Note: During our visit, the water seemed to be filled with an unrealistic amount of foam. The water was predominantly white covered by sparking and slightly chemical-looking bubbles. We never got to understand what was the reason for that. If you have been to Los Peñasquitos Waterfall, please let me know in the comments below if you had the same experience! We speculated it may have been run off from slightly upstream after the rains.
After taking the necessary break, we had to continue our exploration of the creek. The large rocks on each side of the river were excellent for climbing and scrambling and getting even closer to the water. As usual, please be careful as they can get extremely slippery and you might find yourself too close to the creek!
We had so much fun hopping around the rocks and admiring the small but scenic Los Peñasquitos waterfall! Due to the high water level, crossing the river was impossible without fully getting into the water and we decided that it is not worth it. We did see a few enthusiasts, though, who bravely plunged into the waterfall and were able to cross to the other side!
One thing we did notice was a lot of families enjoying the waterfalls and their own snacks. With the unnatural foam in the creek, it did make us a bit sad about the state of the environment. Please remember to keep the environment clean for future visitors to enjoy. If you take it in, take it out. Please do not leave trash on the trails!
We followed the same trail back and enjoyed the peacefulness and quietness of Los Peñasquitos Preserve for a little longer. While the waterfall was our goal for this hike, we loved the trail taking us through the endless green fields, reminding us of the tranquillity of countryside living!
We are certainly planning on going back to Los Peñasquitos Preserve and checking out the Eastern trail in the future as well! Let me know down below – have you been to Peñasquitos Canyon or the waterfall? Are you planning a trip? Do you feel confident you can correctly say it without fumbling the sounds? I’d love to hear what you have to say! In the meantime, make sure to come back next week for Episode 14 of the 52 in 52 series – another canyon and a favorite among the San Diego Locals!
What a great article! The waterfall is absolutely beautiful and the surrounding rocks look like they offer so many opportunities for adventures!
Fantastic pictures as well! Can’t wait for the next episode!
Thank you! 🙂 Next episode coming up soon!
Linda (LD Holland)
We will always head out and chase waterfalls. Good to know there are two different trails to get to the Los Penasquitos Waterfall. We would probably choose the path or timing that was less crowded. And plan for a spring visit when the flow was the highest. I do love that sound of roaring water! But I would be cautious about crossing the water when it was running hight. Looks like a loverly spot.
Yes, we were very happy that we saw the waterfall a bit fuller than it seems to be usually, so we definitely planned well with the recent rain that we had! Yes, it did not seem safe to cross so we decided to skip this time – maybe on another visit 🙂
I love a good waterfall hike! There was actually more water here than I expected from a Southern California waterfall! Good tip about going right after it rains.
Yes we were surprised by the amount of water as well!
Los Penasquitos Waterfall looks amazing andthe hike tothis must be soul elevating. I would also like to undersatnd the reason for so much foam. I have been to many waterfalls but never seen this kind of foam. Good tips to explore such a wonderful place.
I know I was wondering why so much foam as well!