Hike Copper Creek Falls And Mine

Copper Creek Falls and Mine

Just a short drive away, the Copper Creek Falls hike in San Marcos has become a popular north county hiking trail. Copper Creek Falls is a family friendly hike located in San Marcos. The short 3 mile hike is great for beginners. This hike offers a seasonal waterfall and panoramic views from Denk Mountain. Along the way, you’ll come across the debris of an old copper mine from the early 1900’s.

Here are the Deets:

  • Trailhead: Google Maps Link
  • Coordinates: 33.09368,-117.20460
  • Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Difficulty: easy to moderate
  • Pet friendly: No
  • Bathrooms: none
  • Parking: free on the side of the road
  • All trails link (Copper Creek Loop)

Copper Creek Loop vs. Copper Creek Trail

There are two main hiking paths for Copper Creek.

Copper Creek Trail has significantly less elevation gain making it more of a family friendly hike. This trail is an out-and-back trail, meaning you’ll hike back the same way you came. Here’s the AllTrails link.

Copper Creek Loop is a 3.3 mile loop. This hiking path is rated as moderate on AllTrails because there’s about 650 feet of elevation gain. This is the route I took and really enjoyed. I always prefer a hike with some elevation gain so I can work up a sweat.

Both hiking paths will take you along the creek and by the mines. To see the seasonal waterfall at Copper Creek Falls requires some scrambling to get a better viewpoint. As always, hike at your own risk. 

Parking for Copper Creek Falls

Finding the trailhead can be a little confusing. All trails takes you to Eden Sports Complex. I do not recommend parking here since there’s no saying when they will close those parking lot gates.

The trailhead itself is actually just before the gates to Eden Sports Complex. Parking is free on the side of the road. I did this hike on a weekday after work and had no trouble finding parking although I can imagine these limited spots fill up fast on the weekends. 

What to Expect On The Trail

Copper Creek Falls Trailhead
Copper Creek Falls Trailhead

If you hike Copper Creek Loop clockwise, you’ll start hiking along the sports complex and soon reach the true trail head. Doing the loop clockwise means you’ll reach the creek and the falls first. Keep in mind, to get a good view of the seasonal waterfall requires some scrambling.

The hike starts off well shaded but this doesn’t last very long. After hiking along the creek, you’ll start climbing up some switchbacks to the summit. The elevation gain is doable but as always take breaks as needed. 

There is some signage along the trail to help guide you to the summit but I recommend keeping the AllTrails map handy. Copper Creek Loop crosses with a lot of other smaller trails so it can be confusing at times knowing which turn to take. 

Copper Creek Falls hiking path
Copper Creek Falls hiking path

The hiking path itself is primarily packed dirt with some sections containing a lot of loose rocks. The trail is also really popular for mountain bikers so come prepared to share the hiking path. 

If you wanted to, you could always do Copper Creek Loop counterclockwise to come down the switchbacks (instead of up) and reach the creek/ falls toward the end rather than the beginning. 

Copper Creek Loop Summit (aka Denk mountain)

Denk Mountain Summit Views
Denk Mountain Summit Views

If you were to follow the AllTrails map to a T, you would end up missing the true summit of Copper Creek Loop called Denk Mountain. I highly recommend doing the extra ½ mile or so to Denk Mountain, where you will get ocean views. This ½ mile is a fire road and is very rocky. You’ll see a sign for it once you get closer to the top. 

At Denk Mountain you’ll also find a picnic table and benches with some shade so you can take a break and soak in the great views. 

About Rancho La Costa Preserve

The Copper Creek Falls hike is a part of the Rancho La Costa Preserve. There are a total of 1,640 acres of land which is managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. There are a total of 15 miles of hiking trails within the preserve. Mountain biking is only allowed on select trails, including Copper Creek. Dogs are allowed on all trails at the preserve except Copper Creek.

Copper Creek Mines History

While hiking, you’ll come across the remains of an old copper mine that once was in full swing during the early 1900’s. This copper mine, owned by the Encinitas Copper Mining, was a crucial effort in World War 1. Although the vertical shafts were blown to bits, the dam that was part of the operation still remains. 

The Best Waterfall Hike in San Diego

Copper Creek Falls is a very seasonal waterfall. While there’s no waterfall during the hotter summer months, hiking by the creek and the summit views are still worth the hike. 

But the best waterfall hike in all of San Diego is Three Sisters Waterfall. Located in Julian, it’s a much farther drive and a harder hike but worth the effort. You can read more about this hike here. 

Tips for hiking Copper Creek Falls

Copper Creek Falls Hiking Path
Copper Creek Falls Hiking Path
  1. If you’re on the hunt for the small waterfall, wait until after a heavy rainfall. During the summer the creek could dry up.
  2. Start early during the hotter days. There’s minimal shade on this hike. 
  3. If you want to save the best part for last then hike Copper Creek Loop counterclockwise. You’ll summit Denk Mountain first and head down the switchbacks ending at the falls and the creek. 
  4. Leave fido at home. Dogs are not allowed on the Copper Creek Trail. 
  5. To shorten the hike, turn around after reaching the creek/falls. This is about a 2 mile hike round trip.

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