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In Black Canyon, water amply illustrates its mindless yet artistic ability to sculpt stone. Every once in a great while, a gush of sediment-laden storm runoff tears through the canyon bottom, carving and polishing the bedrock slabs, drilling potholes ever deeper, toppling trees, and pushing rounded boulders downstream. In a normal spring season, like this one, the stream of water in Black Canyon is often fairly placid: it happily splashes over small waterfalls, pauses in pools, slides along inclined slabs, and finds hidden passages beneath immense boulders.

The short little ramble up along Black Canyon’s lower end is consistently enchanting, but it is no mere stroll. Rock scrambling is required. Although kids are often adept at such moves, they must be watched carefully and perhaps assisted at a couple of spots. The most serious hazard is the slippery surfaces of rocks at or near the stream.

To get to the starting point, drive east from Ramona on Highway 78 and turn north on Magnolia Avenue. Magnolia soon becomes Black Canyon Road, and later becomes a narrow, twisting, graded dirt road. At 7.3 miles from Highway 78, just short of the bridge over Santa Ysabel Creek, you meet the road coming down from Sutherland Dam. (This road, which is rough and rocky for one mile between here and Sutherland Dam and paved south of there, connects to Highway 78. This is an alternate route for your drive into or out of the area.) Turn left over the bridge and continue 200 yards on Black Canyon Road to a junction with a gated, descending road — the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail. Park at the top of this road, and (since this is Cleveland National Forest territory) don’t forget to display a National Forest Adventure Pass in your parked car.

Walk 0.3 mile down the descending road. This once was the entrance to the Black Canyon Campground, closed about 30 years ago. At the bottom, the road fords Black Canyon and doubles back to contour along the north slope of the Santa Ysabel gorge. Don’t cross the ford but stay right, following the oak-shaded floodplain on the south side of Black Canyon’s creek.

After about 0.3 mile, the canyon narrows and scrambling begins. Perhaps 20 to 40 minutes later, depending on how much time you wish to dawdle amid the fine scenery, you’ll come to a wide, shallow pool fed by a 20-foot waterfall. That’s a good place to pause before turning back.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

Black Canyon
Enjoy mini-waterfalls and potholes in Black Canyon, outside Ramona.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 44 miles
Hiking length: 2 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate

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