Public Safety

Hikers Warned to Take Precautions on Difficult Trails

Since January, San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies have rescued 17 distressed people at two popular, but arduous, hiking trails in the Cleveland National Forest.

Many of those rescues have come in the last few months, and with plenty of long summer days ahead, deputies are asking hikers to use caution and be aware of the risks on the Cedar Creek Falls and Three Sisters Falls trails.

Among those rescued, one 19-year-old woman later died at a hospital after suffering heat stroke at Cedar Creek Falls. Her death came just months after access to the trailhead was re-opened. Both entrances to the trailhead were closed last summer after a teenage boy fell to his death from a cliff. The East entrance, located off Eagle Peak County Road near Julian was re-opened on April 1, but the western entrance, from the Thornbush Trailhead, remains closed.

Rangers are currently working on a management plan that will allow access to the Cedar Creek Falls western entrance said District Ranger Joan Friedlander of the U.S. Forest Service. The plan will address issues of public safety, overcrowding and impacts to the natural environment.

But now an adjacent area, Three Sisters Falls, which is not an official trail, has recently seen a spike in the number of visitors and rescues, officials said. Of the 17 rescues this year, 12 of them were from the Three Sisters Falls area, Sheriff’s Lt. Todd Richardson said.

While the number of rescues remains high, it is actually half of what they have been in previous years, said Friedlander. Still, it is a critical concern for the Forest Service and the county to educate people about safety for themselves and pets.

People often bring their dogs with them to Cedar and Three Sisters Falls, and dogs are dying on the trails in some cases, said Friedlander. Last month, a sheriff’s helicopter ferried one dehydrated dog out when deputies stopped to check on its owners.

Most of the time, people don’t bring enough water for themselves and so they certainly don’t bring enough for their pets, officials said.

Friedlander said neither trail is for the novice hiker. Both falls areas are dangerous because of the difficulty of the trails; the Cedar Creek Falls trail is seven miles roundtrip and is uphill on the way out. Usually people drink all their water on the way down to the falls and then don’t have any for the strenuous path back up. That’s when they get in trouble.

The Three Sisters Falls is a user trail only, meaning it is not created nor maintained by forest rangers, and it has ropes in two areas to help hikers scramble up some rocks.

“People need to just really be careful, even those who think they are in very good shape,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Caldwell. “It’s very deceiving out there. You feel great, you start walking and you don’t realize how much water you are missing. And when you do notice, it’s often too late.”

Another danger is the diving that occurs in the Cedar Falls area, said Friedlander. People jump 75 to 90 feet off a cliff into a shallow pool and risk hitting the rocks around it. The U.S.Forest Service has prohibited alcohol use and jumping and diving in the area and often has a ranger in the area for education and enforcement, particularly on weekends, she said.

“We’re out there and we’re doing the best we can, but they are still jumping,” Friedlander said. “It’s absolutely Russian roulette.”

Hiking safety tips:

  • Let someone know where you will be and when you plan to return
  • Hike with others, never alone
  • Take plenty of water, one bottle is not enough
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take a mobile phone
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, ventilated clothing
  • Wear sturdy shoes with traction for slippery rocks
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Take breaks in shade, if possible
  • Follow all posted safety rules

For more information on hiking at Cedar Creek Falls in the Cleveland National Forest, visit,


Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact