Starting at the Peñasquitos Creek Park, enjoy a flat trek through open meadow and dewey forest. Many side trails can make it fun to explore - including the quick out and back diversion to check out the footbridge at Carson's Crossing
. You can also follow the signs to take trails that are just for foot traffic and horse riding, to avoid mountain bikes whizzing by. The trail system parallels the creek for this whole route, and after 2 miles brings you to a waterfall with seemingly endless rocks for climbing and clambering around. Or you can just sit and enjoy the air and the sounds of the falls.
It's not necessarily a place to come for solitude, though. On a weekday morning, there were maybe 4 or 5 groups in addition to our family; and from what I understand, it gets quite busy later in the day and on weekends. Above the waterfall there's a viewpoint with a bench, as well as receptacles for both trash and recycling. No water sources, and no restrooms (though various maps show restrooms at the start/end point of Peñasquitos Creek Park, we looked around and couldn't find any).
There are many, many trails in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon County Preserve, and many parking lots and possible entrances. I wanted to take my whole family to visit the waterfall, including my 13-year-old son who is athletic but antsy, and my 70-year-old father who is in good health but not at all active other than daily yardwork around his property. There might be informal access points to the trail system that start closer to the waterfall, but I used the list of published entrances from the city website to find the shortest route to the falls. This starting point, Peñasquitos Creek Park, is well marked and easy to find. We did expect the park to have restrooms based on various sources, but never saw any.
We started at the obvious trailhead on the west side of the park's parking lot. The sign at the trailhead includes warnings and other pieces of information, but no map and as far as we could tell, not even a trail name. We started down the Camino Del Sur Parking Lot Connector
trail, and even from here there were various trails branching off with no signs in sight. You need a map, or at least knowledge of the general direction you're trying to go (since the trails you choose will mostly take you to the same place).
You quickly reach the (unmarked) main trail, Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail
, and the parallel trail that is closer to the creek is Los Peñasquitos Creek Trail
. The Canyon trail leaves you directly in the sun, whereas the creek trail is shaded as it goes through the trees. Both are flat and very easy; the canyon trail is much wider. The creek trail allows young ones (or anyone needing a little variety) to run down to the water every so often to play and explore.
To confuse you further, both trails are large loops—so there's a north and south side to each trail. We're on the north for the entirety of this route. We took the canyon trail in, enjoying the sun during the cool morning; and the creek trail out, needing the shade as it had heated up by then.
Starting at this entrance point (as opposed to further east), you miss out on a couple bridges, Eichar's grave, and the ranch -- so a little over a mile in, we took a short detour to check out the well-marked Carson's Crossing
footbridge. It's kind of a picturesque little spot, nice for photos.
Back on the canyon trail, the various trails continue until you reach Peñasquitos Creek Falls Crossing
, well-marked to take you to the waterfall. You can follow the signs to go up to the viewpoint, which doesn't actually provide a view of the falls but is a nice way to see the land all around you. The viewpoint, with a smooth path and large bench, was the preferred spot for my father who wasn't interested in climbing around with the rest of us.
To go down to the waterfall, the path is short but rocky and uneven. Once you reach the creek and falls, there's lots of climbing around and exploring to do. Unfortunately there was a good amount of litter as well, but you can bring an extra plastic bag or two and help clean up by taking the trash to the receptacle up at the viewpoint! The use of the area when we visited was moderate, and wouldn't be as enjoyable when more heavily trafficked. The available walking and sitting areas are narrow, and it can be easy to lose sight of your other group members even when no one else is there.
We are used to visiting creeks and being able to take a dip and cool off, but signs here said no swimming and everyone abided by that rule when we were there. The climbing up and down and around and under and over is virtually endless, and provided more than enough diversion to keep my kiddo not just occupied but not wanting to leave.
Taking the creek trail back, rather than the canyon trail, was nice to have a change of scenery. Overall, this route was a success in terms of pleasing all family members, and we greatly enjoyed it!