San Diego’s mining history is rich, and evidence of it can be found on several hiking trails within the county. The Copper Creek Trail is a prime example of this, a trail that leads to an area that was once used to mine copper in the early 1900’s. The mines consisted of three vertical shafts, two horizontal shafts and a small processing mill. When the price of copper rose during World War I, the mines produced about $1,900 between 1915 and 1917. When one last attempt to revive the mines failed in 1925, they were blasted shut and have been closed ever since. Today, little remains of the mines, which supposedly were located near two small seasonal waterfalls and an old dam.
If a bit of mining history doesn’t spark your interest in Copper Creek, the lush vegetation and two waterfalls may. Unlike the brutal climb back out of Three Sisters Falls, and the long trek to get to Cedar Creek Falls, the Copper Creek Falls are easy to get to. The trail to the falls and back is about 2.5-miles, with an option to extend the hike further if desired.
The trailhead picks up at the site of an old San Diego County Solid Waste facility off to the right-side San Elijo Road. There will be a large sign that reads 1601 San Elijo Road. There is no trailhead marker at the parking area, and minimal signage except a wood sign that discloses no dogs are allowed on the trails here. Walk past the sign, and follow the trail that veers to the left, away from the rolling hills. Continue to follow the trail farthest to the left, walking right alongside the waste facility.
As you pass the waste facility, you’ll find yourself approaching the creek and a metal gate. You’ll also find a wooden kiosk her, describing the rich history of this area and warnings of Red Diamond Rattlesnakes, which are sometimes seen in this area. Proceed past the gate and follow the trail as it takes you through thick vegetation and along a quiet creek. We heard rustling in the bushes nearby at several points near the creek, evidence that the area is full of wildlife. This is a good reminder why it’s best to take a friend with you on your hike to Copper Creek Falls.
The trail remains straightforward until you reach a trail marker with a sign leading uphill. This sign confused us, but we quickly learned not to venture uphill and instead remain on the same path walking along the creek. You’ll approach several wooden bridges, etched with names of donors. This is a sign you are getting close to the falls.
Once you’ve crossed your third bridge and emerge from beneath the covering of trees, you’ll see the falls on your left. It is a relatively easy walk down to the falls and the dam, even a child could probably make it down with the help of an adult. The falls were close to their best when we went after heavy rainfall.
After you’ve spent time taking in the beauty of the two falls, you can either retrace your steps back to the beginning, continue on the Whiptail Loop Trail or follow the Copper Creek Trail uphill until it reaches a dead end.
Copper Creek Trail
Tip #1: Hike with a friend. Red Diamond Rattlesnakes and other wildlife are often seen in this area. Stay safe and bring a friend.
Tip #2: Leave your dogs at home. Dogs are not prohibited on this trail.
Tip #3: Wear long pants. There is a lot of overgrowth on the sides of the trail that could scratch your legs.
Tip #4: Do not venture off the trail. As mentioned before, rattlesnakes are prevalent in this area.
Tip #5: Don’t use Google Maps. It will direct you to a shopping center instead of the correct trailhead.
Tip #6: Visit after heavy rainfall for the best views of the falls.
From downtown San Diego, take I-5 N toward Losa Angeles for 26.8 miles. Take the Leucadia Blvd exit. Use the right 2 lanes to turn onto Leucadia Blvd. Continue onto Olivhain Rd. for 1.0-miles. Continue onto Ranche Sante Fe Rd for 2.8 miles. Turn right onto San Elijo Road. The trailhead will be on off to the right side of the road, where you will likely see other hikers parked.
Dog Friendly: No
Total Distance: 2.5 miles
Trailhead Address: 1601 San Elijo Rd, San Marcos, CA 92078