11842 California 79
Descanso, CA 91916
Hike to waterfall: 1/4 mile Level: Easy
Dogs-Friendly: Not on trails but allowed at campground Kid-Friendly: Yes
Among San Diego’s many treasures is Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, a 24,700 acre wonderland in the northeast part of the county that is bursting with beautiful scenery. At its highest points one can see Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the east or the Pacific coastline to the west. Over half of the park’s acreage is designated as state wilderness. During a recent visit we hiked to Green Valley Falls which lies within the park off of Highway 79 midway between Descanso and Julian.
The falls lay within a campground which offers 74 campsites, although we did not stay and therefore cannot speak to its accommodations. They are located at an elevation of 4,000 feet where the Sweetwater River spills over boulders on its 55 mile trip southwest to San Diego Bay. The river runs through the campground, and produces a variety of cascades and shallow pools. I imagine the cold water would be great for cooling off on hot days. The hike itself was short but very scenic. After exploring the initial falls, we headed down stream where we were greeted with more pools and a competitor for Potato Chip Rock. We will definitely be back for a return visit.
On our hike we saw what looked to be metates, although I can’t verify that’s what they were. I do know that the presence of Indigenous peoples in the area dates back a minimum of 7000 years. Traces of their ancient and pre-contact civilizations are found in the park, and there is evidence that it was the site of summer camps and villages. The name “Cuyamaca” is a Spanish version of the name for this area used by the Kumeyaay peoples. They called it Ah-Ha Kwe-Ah Mac, meaning “the place where it rains.”
There are over 100 miles of trails to accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Please keep in mind that in the late summer the water is dry so sadly no waterfall! For most of the year it is running though.
There are beautiful manzanita trees all over:
After you enjoy the main waterfall, keep heading downstream for more watery goodness!