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Easy-to-reach Cottonwood Creek Falls channels snowmelt and runoff descending from the Laguna Mountains.

Hidden in the apex of a valley just below Sunrise Highway, near the town of Pine Valley, a small stream has worn its way down to the metamorphic bedrock that underlies much of the Laguna Mountains. Engorged to one degree or another by the current winter rains, the stream pulses with energy, alternately spurting over ledges or inclined slabs and pausing in placid pools. This is no Yosemite Falls, to be sure, but one of the many secret beauty spots tucked away on San Diego County's public lands. Known as Cottonwood Creek Falls, it should remain attractive through spring and early summer. By August or maybe September, summer's heat or Santa Ana winds will likely suck it dry.

Access to the falls (over land in the Cleveland National Forest) is by way of a brushy draw leading down from Sunrise Highway. Drive up the highway two miles from Interstate 8 and park in either of the large turnouts past mile marker 15.0. Don't forget to display a National Forest Adventure Pass on your car.

On the right (south) side of the road, follow a narrow, partly overgrown trail that descends beneath power lines. Soon, the trail widens to the semblance of an old road. In March or April, you should see fine displays of white-blossoming ceanothus, beard tongue, and woolly blue curls by the trailside.

As you approach Cottonwood Creek, about three-quarters of a mile down, turn sharply left and go upstream past some large oaks toward the cascades. After some rock scrambling and two crossings of the stream, you'll reach the uppermost fall, where the stream drops ten feet into a crystalline pool about head-high deep. By May or June the water will warm to a temperature suitable for comfortable soaking. After that, the flow in the creek will slacken, and unappealing growths of algae will appear in the water.

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Hidden in the apex of a valley just below Sunrise Highway, near the town of Pine Valley, a small stream has worn its way down to the metamorphic bedrock that underlies much of the Laguna Mountains. Engorged to one degree or another by the current winter rains, the stream pulses with energy, alternately spurting over ledges or inclined slabs and pausing in placid pools. This is no Yosemite Falls, to be sure, but one of the many secret beauty spots tucked away on San Diego County's public lands. Known as Cottonwood Creek Falls, it should remain attractive through spring and early summer. By August or maybe September, summer's heat or Santa Ana winds will likely suck it dry.

Access to the falls (over land in the Cleveland National Forest) is by way of a brushy draw leading down from Sunrise Highway. Drive up the highway two miles from Interstate 8 and park in either of the large turnouts past mile marker 15.0. Don't forget to display a National Forest Adventure Pass on your car.

On the right (south) side of the road, follow a narrow, partly overgrown trail that descends beneath power lines. Soon, the trail widens to the semblance of an old road. In March or April, you should see fine displays of white-blossoming ceanothus, beard tongue, and woolly blue curls by the trailside.

As you approach Cottonwood Creek, about three-quarters of a mile down, turn sharply left and go upstream past some large oaks toward the cascades. After some rock scrambling and two crossings of the stream, you'll reach the uppermost fall, where the stream drops ten feet into a crystalline pool about head-high deep. By May or June the water will warm to a temperature suitable for comfortable soaking. After that, the flow in the creek will slacken, and unappealing growths of algae will appear in the water.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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