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Los Peñasquitos Canyon Waterfall Loop

Oasis of water and nature with many trails in the metro area.

Hiking Moderate

8.9 km
127 m
127 m
1-2 hrs
Low Point
16 m
High Point
55 m
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Waterfall Loop Map

Los Peñasquitos Canyon is an oasis of green that you might not expect so close to San Diego. A stream with a waterfall flows year round, and nurtures a surprising diversity of plant and animal life. A trip to Los Peñasquitos is a quick escape from city pavement and noise. The canyon feels somewhat remote, despite is proximity to suburbs. Houses line the rim, but are mostly out of sight. In places you can smell a sewer system that runs beneath, unfortunately, but for the most part, the preserve is fairly pristine. It’s a sliver of nature surviving between urban development in Southern California.


The falls are not a singular drop, but a series of small cascades through water-worn volcanic boulders. There are numerous spots to dip your feet, sun on the rocks, or scramble around if you desire. The falls are the highlight for most, but the whole journey there and back is a pleasant tour of this valley’s unique streamside habitat and native residents, which include more than 500 plant species and 175 types of birds. You might also see deer, coyotes, raccoons, or other wildlife. The scenery is a mix of shady forest, open meadows, low shrubs, and freshwater marsh—a rare habitat in this part of California. You can also find impressively large oak trees and sycamores growing naturally near the creek.

As mapped, this route crosses the creek at the waterfall, but there is no bridge there. Rock steps lead down to the creek on both sides, but crossing requires a bit of boulder hopping or a brief wade in knee-deep water. For an easier crossing, you’ll have to use one of the bridges, either one mile downstream or one mile downstream from the falls.

There are quite a few miles of interconnected trails in the preserve, allowing for shorter or longer hikes than the one described, and other sights to see besides the waterfall. These include an adobe ruin, clifftop views, and the changing of the seasons. Spring brings higher flows in the creek and blooming flowers. Colder temperatures in fall add a tinge of color to many of the leaves. Come back on different days and at various times of year to experience more of Los Peñasquitos Canyon.

Note that trails in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve close during rain and for at least one day after, usually two. This is to preserve trail surfaces and sensitive habitat.

Sources: https://www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/osp/lospenasquitos http://www.penasquitos.org/trail.htm https://www.sandiego.gov/sites/default/files/legacy/park-and-recreation/pdf/penasquitoscanyon.pdf



Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


1 out of 4

Close to help in case of emergency.

Best time to visit

all year round


  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area