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Story, photos and video by Elena Peña

June 29, 2011 (San Diego’s East County)--Nestled in between slopes in the Cleveland National Forest lies a gem known as Cedar Creek Falls, often referred to as The Devil’s Punch Bowl. A wondrous waterfall is the picturesque background to the swimming hole at the end of this approximately four-mile hike.  The location used to be accessed mainly from Julian.  But due to a newly revamped trail out of Ramona, it’s now more accessible than ever before--and more populated, especially on weekends and holidays. 


The trailhead is located behind a residential area, which can be easily reached by punching in this address: 15519 Thornbush Rd, Ramona, CA 92065 into your GPS or a search engine such as Google Maps. It’s highly advised to watch your speed while driving through the residential area since it’s been a cause for concern among the people who live there. Once you reach the destination, it’s not difficult to spot the parking lot at the end of Thornbush Road.


As with any other hike, especially during summer months, it’s important to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and maybe some snacks. The trail leading to the waterfall consists of downhill slopes, but the flat surface makes it easy to walk without worrying about tripping over any boulders or rocks. Since the terrain is far from treacherous, it’s not necessary to bring any extra hiking equipment; a pair of sturdy tennis shoes will do the job. There are absolutely no tall trees or shade to cover you from the sun, so bringing along a hat would be a good idea.


There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains and the spring flowers blooming all around, making for a beautiful photograph backdrop on your way down.


After about 40 minutes, you’ll reach the bottom of the mountain and spot a cluster of green trees up ahead; a sure sign that your getting closer to your destination.


You’ll eventually reach a shaded area that will feel like heaven, after walking under the hot Ramona sun. This area will also have the first of three streams that you will have to cross in order to continue on the trail. If the water isn’t too elevated you will be able to skip your way across some rocks, otherwise you’ll have to cross barefoot if you don’t want to get your socks and shoes wet. After a couple minutes of walking you’ll come to a clearing with three different paths, just stay on the one in the middle and continue on. You’ll have to cross two more streams before you get to a shaded area; the sound of falling water will be an indicative that you’re almost there.


There were about 20 people sitting on the rocks around the swimming hole and another 10 in the water. The majority of the visitors seemed to be in their late teens and early twenties. I can imagine it being quite peaceful and relaxing when there is no one there, which nowadays seems to be a very rare occasion.

On the other side of the swimming hole, next to the waterfall, is a little tree with a rope tied to one of the branches. There were several people taking turns swinging on it and landing in the water and a few brave ones climbed up on the rocks on the other side of the waterfall, jumping off about 15 feet into the swimming hole.


While hundreds of people each week visit and enjoy Cedar Creek Falls safely, San Diego Sheriff’s Search and Rescue officials advise against jumping or diving off slippery rocks at our local waterfalls, since water depths vary with weather conditions and unseen rocks may be hidden beneath the surface. Fatalities have occurred here in the past.  (Several rescues have been conducted this season at the falls due to serious injuries.)


The trail back to the car was completely uphill and definitely not something to look forward to, but the beauty of Cedar Creek Falls is worth the hike back. As you reach higher elevations there are sporadic bursts of breeze that although not necessarily cool, are definitely refreshing.


The new trail is easily accessible and the hike is moderately strenuous on the way back, especially for those who aren’t used to hiking. It’s a nice getaway from the sounds of the city and hectic daily schedules.


If there’s one thing I have to point out that was a bit of a disappointment, it’s the trash encountered along the way. Carrying a backpack or a bag in which to put your garbage in after you’re done eating would help keep the trail clean.


If you haven’t visited Cedar Creek Falls yet, I suggest braving the heat and embarking on this magnificent hike—or tackle it on a cooler day in the off-season. Once you get there, you won’t be disappointed.


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