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What San Diego's backyard mountain ranges lack in terms of scale and grandeur is outweighed by the sublime and circumspect beauty to be found in some of its remote canyons. A case in point is a rugged little crease in the south flank of the Laguna Mountains called Kitchen Creek Falls. There, water from about 20 square miles of drainage upstream tumbles a total of 150 vertical feet over several cascades of various heights.

No road or trail leads directly to the falls, though the well-trod Pacific Crest Trail passes nearby. For the next couple of months, as a decent flow of water rushes down Kitchen Creek, the white noise of falling water gives away the falls' location as you approach; otherwise, finding the site may be a bit difficult. A short stretch of scrambling over jagged boulders is required to reach the cascades.

A good starting point is Boulder Oaks, site of a defunct store and campground, on Old Highway 80, two miles south of the Buckman Springs rest stop along Interstate 8. Starting out on foot from the old store, cross the road and follow the marked Pacific Crest Trail as it meanders beside oak-shaded Kitchen Creek and under the twin bridges of Interstate 8. Just past the second bridge, turn abruptly right and ascend several switchbacks up a slope. You then begin a gradual, meandering ascent through chaparral, high above and well away from the creek. Enjoy the aromatic fragrances of blue- and white-flowered ceanothus, manzanita, and many kinds of annual wildflowers -- all at their best in late March through early May.

After more than two miles of walking from Boulder Oaks, the trail pulls closer to the deeply creased canyon containing Kitchen Creek. Look for a narrow side-path on the left. It splits into several branches. Stay generally left and wander down the ridgeline just south of the creek to the falls area. The dry, water-polished rock on either side of the cascades provides fair traction. Beware of wet, slippery streaks on the rock. A misstep here could lead to a long, bone-crunching ride to the lowest pool.

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