3 Sisters Waterfall

Last Saturday’s hike was an interesting little trip down to 3 Sisters Waterfall(s), out near Descanso. We met at a couple different park and ride locations to carpool, because parking is difficult and it’s a long trip out there with some parts of it on a dirt road. Despite all that, there was a huge group signed up for this…seems it’s something to cross off some list. Thanks to a couple of people for group photos.


The parking is all on a road that is barely wide enough for two cars and goes around a tight curve. We were amazed by how many cars were already there.

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This is the entrance to the “unofficial” trail, with warnings about heat killing and no cell service once you’re out there (true that). It doesn’t look so bad from here.

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Hiking with this many people on a flat trail is a little strange, but honestly, when we got to the hilly section, it wasn’t a big deal. And surprisingly, we all made it back out.

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The weather was nice…started out not too cold, not too warm.

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Lots of those big California oaks…

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And hills and blue sky on either side.

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Rolling hill vistas…

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There were lots of people taking photos…

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And then we started down into that space over there on the right, where the falls are located…

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That part was pretty easy…until we had to come back up it at the end. But it was a relatively mellow downhill into this nice green area, obviously being fed by water.Mar 29 14 023 small

Hiking through the overhanging trees seems really nice…

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Until you realize what’s surrounding you…like everywhere…reaching out to grab you…yes that’s poison oak.

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We came by one young couple and their dog was standing right in the middle of it. Um. Excuse me. Your dog? Don’t touch it until you wash it well, and maybe not even then. I suspect a lot of the less-experienced hikers on the trail (not in our group) are currently nursing pretty bad-ass poison-oak rashes from that hike, based on the lack of protective clothing and protective behavior that we saw. It was nice and green, though…

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And then we got our first view of the falls…

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Realizing then that those little dots on the slope careening before us were the first part of our group (I was in the middle at that point). Oh. Hmm. OK. Downhill. When I hike, I am always aware of the fact that if it’s not a loop, I have to go up whatever I went down. Although sometimes down is harder.

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Here’s the view on the way down. It didn’t seem too bad at this point, although this is my going AROUND the ropes section (I did go UP the ropes on the way back).

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And in this one, you can see the line of people above. We were a really LONG line of people today.

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This is the second rope section…again, I found an easier way down, but went up it on the way back.

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After a brief rest (trying to get most of our group together) at the bottom of that slope, we started the next part of the hike, rock scrambling. There wasn’t always a clear path up the stream, so you’d often have to stop and go back the way you came, looking for something more doable, whether it was getting over the rocks or getting past the poison oak. Both were an issue.

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I wore gloves for this part. Saved my hands. But path? For instance, see the arrow? Good…path. See all the greenery? All of that is poison oak.

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Our whole group found about 5 trails going up this section. It was very pretty though.

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The mountains were towering above us on both sides. Mountain goat territory.

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This is looking up towards where the waterfalls are.

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And then we were there. Along with 30 million other people. Seriously, I don’t know where half of them came from, but many of them were high-school or college-aged, and they were sliding (bump bump BUMP) down that rock on the right into the kinda shallow pool below. We were sure on a regular basis that people must have to be life-flighted out of there.

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There’s no cell coverage though, so you’d have to hike back out first just to call life flight.

It was a Darwinism moment. There’s the lower pool. The rock just drops off and they fall a couple of feet into the pool. Mom brain is worried about these boys (and a few girls) hitting the back of their heads on the way down.

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Despite all that, we enjoyed the day and the view. Sat in the shade for a bit to cool down…

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Ate some food, and then sat out in the sun because it felt good.

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This is looking up toward the upper portion of the falls. I did not climb up to the upper section because I could clearly see people having a hard time coming back and I didn’t feel like doing it.

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See? Thirty million people. OK, not really, but here in San Diego, we joke about the number of people on Cowles and Iron mountains, weekend hikers who mess up the trails and won’t follow trail rules (damn, that sounds elitist, but seriously? Don’t hog the trail and get off the slope.)…this kinda was like that except mostly people were polite and helpful as they tromped around you with hardly any clothes on, right through the poison oak.

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We’re all spread out on this boulder to rest. The key was to find a butt-shaped impression in the boulder. Notice my socks pulled up to protect me from the poison oak.

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I rarely have the right clothes for these hikes. But I still don’t have a rash and it’s been almost a week! So I did it! (thanks to Maritie for that photo and some of the group photos)

Here’s the falls from another view. No, they weren’t sliding down THAT rock (although I kept waiting to see one of them try it).

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And a view of the people up top.

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This guy was doing yoga poses on a rock in the bigger pool.

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No, I don’t know why, but it was amusing to watch. You can see the landscape next to the waterfall and see people going up and down the slope.

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There was a lot of people-watching going on. We stayed at the falls for about 45 minutes and ate lunch and enjoyed the view. Then realized THAT below, that trail, was what we had come DOWN…

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And if you zoom in, you can see the little people climbing back UP it.

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And those little people would be us in a bit.

So we slowly gathered ourselves together and headed back out…past the rushing water…

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Back through the pretty poison valley…

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Looking back the way we came…

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There were lots of wildflowers, but my camera still sucks at taking pictures of those, so this is all you get…

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On the way back, I went up this lower rope portion (that’s actually me at the top, post-ropes; the guy behind me is coming up the rope section). You needed the gloves for pulling yourself up and along on a lot of this hike.

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I used the ropes there because I remembered the dirt going down as being really loose and I didn’t want to try to go up that. But then I went up this…

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Which mostly was easier because you were just pulling yourself up the rocks…until you get to the second ropes portion…

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Which stretches from where I’m standing past the first woman to the second woman, who is still climbing at the very top. That was a bit of a challenge. No matter how much upper-body weightlifting I do, I’m not super strong in the arms, so there was a time when I thought…crap. Rest? Can’t. There’s someone coming up behind me. Interestingly, my arms and shoulders didn’t hurt the next day; my quads did, and my right way worse than the left. I didn’t stop hurting until Wednesday. So definitely somewhat strenuous. I think it was the rock scrambling that did that…being short and having to pull yourself up with your legs is hard on the quads, and apparently I often start with my right leg.

The way back was hot hot hot (a few had heat stroke, at least a mild version of it) and long and climbing, but we took it slowly and drank and ate as needed…

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And eventually made it back to the cars. The trail was about 4.4 miles (although quite a bit of that was straight up or down, it seemed). It took us about an hour and half each way, maybe a little longer on the way back. I wouldn’t hike this alone…there was a lot of helping people up and down slopes and ropes and up and over rocks. The group was really amazingly good with that. I will say that if it had been any hotter, there would have been a lot more casualties…I think it was in the high 70s, low 80s that day, and it was definitely noticeable and made the trip back more difficult.

There were younger kids out there, and there’s a couple things to be said about that…sometimes kids are way better at scrambling up and down than us old people, but they also would be more prone to running right through the poison oak, so it’s kind of a crapshoot as to whether you would take them or not…I would think a healthy, fit 10-year-old would be OK (with plenty of water and food), but only if you go over the poison oak stuff before you go and make sure they’re covered as much as possible. The dogs were an issue…they mostly could handle the hike (but you better take lots of water for them, even with the falls at the end), but they don’t know to stay out of the poison oak, and the oil carries on their fur, even if they don’t get the rash…you will, as soon as they brush up against you. Plus we saw some dog owners taking their little dogs out there, up that crazy slope to the upper falls, and one of the dogs on the way down looks at the path down, stops, and then looks at her mom, like “WTF? I’m not going down that.” And then mom picked her up and carried her, which is really dangerous on a slope like that, not to have both hands ready to catch yourself.

So a lot of crazy people out there, unprepared and sometimes annoying, but it was a cool hike and destination, so now I can cross it off the list. I did actually enjoy it, even the crazy parts, so I guess technically I’m one of the crazies. And I took a nap when I got home, thus proving that I am officially an old person.

2 thoughts on “3 Sisters Waterfall

  1. Looks like a tough hike! But beautiful scenery.
    I post signs warning of poison ivy all around my back yard and guests still insist on walking where I tell them not to.


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