I just want to start this with a thank you to travel insider for showing me this particular video and convincing me for some reason that this hike was good idea. Whoever said life was about the journey and not the destination clearly hasn’t taken the hike to get to the Three Sister’s Waterfall hike in San Diego’s Cleveland National Park.
That being said, the destination made the brutal hike totally worth it.
It took an hour and a half to drive from Orange County to the parking lot that would lead to the entrance of the hike, which was deep in Cleveland National Park and involved going off road for a solid 10 miles. Not something my car was exactly equipped for but me and my friends survived so that’s always good…? The road gets very twisty and anyone susceptible to car sickness can easily get nausea from this road trip. Very Easily.
The hike starts off deceptively calm. The first quarter mile of the 2 mile hike is mostly just up and down slopes in gravel and sand. Beware the poison ivy though, there is definitely a lot that you have to walk through. But, nothing too major, right? Then all of the sudden the first cliff drop appears and you have to scale down a ridiculous incline with the help of several ropes that have been tied to nearby boulders by previous hikers.
Pro Tip: Definitely bring gloves because one wrong move and you can slip (which I did) and end up with really nasty rope burns (which also happened to me).
Then it’s a matter of going up and down hills that are basically just made out of rocks and sand. Not only that but they’re incredibly slippery rocks too, so make sure to wear shoes that have amazing grip or you’ll be slipping and falling into the nearby river or to your death off the cliff (either one).
There are multiple ways to make your way through the hike and get to the waterfalls but the easiest way is directed by bright red arrows that have been spray painted onto the rocks. Don’t try to go any other way, you’ll just end up either lost or taking a harder/longer way around.
The whole thing will take about an hour and a half to get through if you go at a reasonable pace. By the time you reach the destination though, you’ll want to keel over and sleep. Water was so important, as were the Cliff Bars we bought at the gas station before even embarking on our trip. I brought two huge water bottles and finished both by the end when we got back to the car at 6PM. There was a third water bottle waiting for me in the trunk that I basically chugged.
The waterfalls were beautiful. Like actually stunning. And a perfect place to get your Instagram post fix if you wanted to have a helluva amazing picture on hand. The first waterfall of the three, you have to hike a bit higher to get to– but the waters from there lead to the second waterfall. The second waterfall is the one that the hike initially leads to and ends in a pool of crystal clear water that feels cool and refreshing. I was so glad that I wore my bikini under my hiking clothes, because you best believe we all stripped down to jump into the water after that miserable hour and a half hike.
Fair warning though: The currents are particularly strong and can lead you to be pushed around and at some point off the edge of the pool, and onto the third waterfall. That’s usually the waterfall everyone slides down because a natural rock slide has formed and it’s so incredibly smooth that it makes sliding easy. Plus at the bottom of the third waterfall is a sand pit pool so it makes the landing incredibly soft. No danger of impaling yourself on rocks then. But you want to slide down by your own choice and not because currents decided to push you down, sending you tumbling down rocks with the help of very forceful water.
Honestly sliding down the third waterfall was so exhilarating and made the trip worth it. As an adrenaline junkie it was everything I could hope for. Fast, slightly dangerous, and entirely rewarding.
It’s funny (well not really) because we heard so many helicopters fly over the waterfall. The hike is known for people getting broken legs and arms so there is always a need for someone to be air lifted at some point or another. All of us were taking bets on who would have to end up needing the helicopter (and thus footing the bill) for all of us to fly back to civilization. Most of the money was on me because I’m so accident prone.
Luckily we all survived. LOL.
Anyways, to round this whole thing up. The hike was brutal but the waterfall slide definitely made the whole thing worth it. Just make sure to go on a sunny day, avoid the poison ivy/oak, bring climbing gloves, have shoes with really great grip, and charge your phones because you might end up calling a helicopter. Ta ta!