Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
721.00 ft (219.76 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
4.69 mi (7.55 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Venture out east of San Diego to experience the chaparral landscapes and seasonal wildflowers of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, fed by the sparse water sources that run through this environment. A lesser-known half-day adventure is that of the 4.7-mile trail to Kitchen Creek Falls that features sweeping desert and dry forest landscapes, Kitchen Creek and waterfall, and natural pools in the rainy season. After rain has fallen on the desert, make your way to this trail to swim in the refreshing pools after this moderate hike under the Californian sun.

After parking off Old Highway 80 at the Boulder Oaks Campground, carefully cross the road and look for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) marked on the opposite side. Following this trail, you will venture through a dry forest, cross under a highway, then ascend slowly until you reach an entry gate. Moving through the gate, you will continue along the PCT ascending along the rolling hillsides with beautiful foliage and forest surrounding. Wildflowers are particularly abundant in the spring season, so be prepared for orange flowers if you are hiking at the right time!

There are sprawling vistas of the chaparral to behold as you climb higher. Keep an eye out for a fork marked by a PCT trail marker, where you will turn left and off the PCT to scramble down toward Kitchen Creek. The rocky path can be crumbly, and the trail is a bit steep, so make sure to stay focused on the trail ahead. When the river is flowing, you will hear it before you see it! There are pools once you reach the river in which you can swim. The waterfall that is the namesake of the trail is located just left of where you will first encounter the river, but traveling along the rocks is a bit treacherous and can be very, very slippery. Do take a dip if the conditions are safe, and enjoy the refreshing, chill waters after your hike in the sun! Return along the same path from which you came, which fortunately is mostly downhill the whole direction out.

Especially during wildflower season in the spring (March through April), Kitchen Creek Falls Trail is very pleasant to hike in the early morning or late afternoon. The relative seclusion of this waterfall compared to some of the busier trails around San Diego might allow you to swim in the pools and enjoy the serenity of the setting with little interference. Do make sure to prepare for the heat of the midday by bringing more water than what you think you might need; temperatures can top 90 degrees even in the spring/fall months. If you do encounter trekkers on this trail, wish them well on their journey north from the border of Mexico along the Pacific Crest Trail!

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Waterfalls. Wildflowers. Big vistas.

Cons

Exposed.

Trailhead Elevation

3,105.00 ft (946.40 m)

Highest point

3,826.00 ft (1,166.16 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Waterfalls
Wildlife
Family friendly
Big vistas
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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