By Miriam Raftery
April 2, 2012 (Cedar Creek) – When Ed Hale read that the National Forest Service (NFS) was reopening one of two entrances to Cedar Creek Falls starting yesterday, he and a friend headed east to hit the trail--and brought back a firsthand account of their experiences as well as some changes at the popular hiking site.
“I’ve taken numerous groups through there over the last five years but with the closure, it meant one of the winter hiking spots was now off the list,” said Hale, a Mission Bay resident who said he spends a lot of time in East County and read about the reopening in East County Magazine.
Cedar Creek Falls had been closed since July 2011 due to a fatality accident in which an El Cajon teen reportedly slipped and plunged over the top of the falls onto rocks below. On Sunday, the Eagle Peak entrance near Julian reopened, though the popular second entrance near Ramona’s San Diego Country Estates remains closed for now, while authorities grapple to solve issues of parking and overcrowding.
“We got to the Eagle Peak trail head about 0730 (7:30 a.m.) and though the closed signs were still up, based on the NFS website, the route was open so we headed down. The trail has grown up a bit, hopefully stopping some the erosion problems that were becoming worse each year.”
Those weren’t the only changes. “They now have signs posted closing the saddleback area, preventing access to the top of the waterfall and the upper creek,” Hale told ECM. “At the bottom, the signs state that you can only go as far as the last rock ledge at the edge of the pool and climbing on the cliffs is illegal. Still the waterfall itself was running pretty well and about 98% of the garbage is gone along with the graffiti so the place looks much better.”
In contrast to crowded days in the past, when a hundred or more visitors often frequented the falls, Hale reports, “ We were the only ones down there, but on the way out we passed a group of about 20 that came in from the Ramona trail head” despite the Ramona trail officially remaining closed. “When we got back to the Eagle Peak trail head, one of the NFS guys was taking the signs for the closure down and seemed pretty interested in getting the other trail head closed back down.”
Interestingly, he observed, “One of the funniest things he said was that the SD Estates residents wanted to still use the trail but keep it closed to everyone else.” Startled at the notion of residents demanding a private entrance to a publicly owned treasure in Cleveland National Forest, Hale added, “I was a bit disturbed by that, but amused by the NFS's response of 'But you are the public as well.’”
As Hale and his companion headed out, he noted, “One Sheriff's Department truck and two NFS LEO trucks were pulling into the lot, though I’m not sure if they were just checking the place out or responding to something else.”
If you’re considering a trip to the falls, the NFS advises that is a “challenging” hike. The reopened trail is accessible off Eagle Peak Road, a somewhat rough road out of Julian. The Eagle Peak trail to the falls is a steep seven-hour round trip hike and lacks the improvements made on the Ramona trail, which remains closed.
Still, the lure of the falls is strong—and the attraction remains one of the most beautiful and breathtaking sites in all of East County.
If you go, Hale offers this advice. “Overall this is a great hike,” he concludes. “If you spend a bit of time preparing yourself with adequate clothing and water, there is nothing difficult about just hiking to the bottom, seeing the falls, and hiking back.”