A hike to the Green Valley Falls is one of the more popular outings at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. An early-morning start is recommended because of the limited amount of day-use parking near the falls. Follow the signs to the Green Valley Falls Trail, taking time to explore the cascading falls from the top by traveling down the trail while making forays to the ponds with some boulder scrambling for the best pictures. The Sweetwater River water flows over granitic boulders with the longest drop at 15 feet. The pools are at different depths and sizes with rock slabs and boulders creating people magnets for sunning spots after wading in the cold water.
Towards the base of the falls, find the Green Valley Falls Trail signpost and follow directions 0.1 miles to the Falls Fire Road. Turn left at the Falls Fire Road, stopping for a view at the Tom Crandall Memorial Bird Station bench and panel. This is one of the four “Birds of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park” identification stations in the park that honors volunteer interpreters.
Continue south on the Falls Fire Road for a total of 0.8 miles, passing the right or west branch of the South Boundary Fire Road. The road seems to be still the Falls Fire Road due to the “T” intersection, but at this point on it is now the “left turn” of the South Boundary Fire Road for a short distance where the trail crosses to the east side of Sweetwater River. Check on both sides of the trail for logs or stones to walk on or wading may be needed depending on the water depth. There is then an abrupt turn to the right onto the Sweetwater Trail to continue in a south direction on the east side of the river. The trail will descend to a meadow. There are various signs found in the meadow that will help guide you on this loop.
The trail passes a Sweetwater Trail sign. Continue to the right as you pass a Merrigan Fire Road post. Again, continuing to the right will be a Saddleback Trail sign that will lead back to the Falls Fire Road. There will also be signs marking the State Wilderness Boundary and other signs indicating that no bicycles are allowed. The trail along the west side of the creek is a good place to stop for a snack or to enjoy the Indian paintbrush if in bloom. After a rest, continue on the Saddleback Trail through the meadow where there will be a large fallen oak and sections lined with juncus to another “T” crossing for a right turn towards Green Valley Falls. Turn right again after approximately 0.5 miles onto the South Boundary Fire Road, then turn left on the Falls Fire Road to complete the loop.
We’ve rated the difficulty for this hike easy, with approximately 300 ft of elevation gain. Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open. More detailed information about the area can be found at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Please note there is a $10 parking fee.
At the bird identification stations, look for northern flickers, Anna’s hummingbirds, Steller’s jays, and western flycatchers among the hawks and other birds found in the riparian, chaparral, and meadow habitats.
Watch for hawks over the river gorge and chaparral plants that include mountain-mahogany, sugar bush, and southern pink (Silene laciniata), a plant with many names that also include Indian pink, Mexican pink, campion, and cardinal catchfly, which is the reason that scientific names are so important to plant identification. There can be many common names that may be the same for various plants, but there is only one distinct scientific name with both the genus and specific epithet that could be further broken down to the subspecies or variety level. Southern pink is an herbaceous perennial almost one foot tall with flowers that have five fringed red petals.
CA-79 turn west into the Green Valley Campground,16 miles south of Julian and 7 miles north of I-8. Following the signs to the day-use parking lot past campsite #76. Trailhead GPS: N32.90241, W116.58235
Looking for more great hikes? Check out our Canyoneers page or purchase the book, Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.
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