Indian Flats Trail to East ForK San Luis Rey River hike Warner Springs Cleveland National Forest Indian Flats Campground creek hiking

Located in the Cleveland National Forest near Warner Springs, The live oak-shaded Indian Flats Campground is the start of a short trail to a trickling river fork. It is a 0.5-mile round trip hike from the campground down to the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River, which flows down a mountain slope covered in granite boulders filled with interesting pools and passageways to explore.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Jerry Schad, the author of Afoot and Afield San Diego County and several other hiking guides, probably knew the trails of San Diego County better than anyone, and he though Indian Flats Trail was perfect for children, writing:

What better way is there to pique a child’s interest in nature than to introduce him or her to a shallow, lazily flowing river full of tadpoles and frogs?

This short trail has just 75 feet of elevation change, making is easy for kids of any age to reach the pools, which could fascinate them for hours. Plan an overnight trip to Indian Flats Campground and young and old can enjoy a great weekend in the outdoors.

Indian Flats Campground Trail to East Fork of the San Luis Rey River
Hiking down Indian Flats Trail

To hike to the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River, make your way to the far end of the single loop in Indian Flats Campground where a wooden panel is labeled Indian Flats. Next to it, you will find a worn path heading northwest on a gradual downhill grade. Most of the trail crosses exposed bedrock and there are numerous granite outcroppings along the trail. Pass through the oak woodland for just 0.2 miles to reach the river fork. There are a few spur paths along the way, so stick to the most worn trail. When you pass a boulder shaped like a mushroom on the left side of the trail, follow the main route as it curves to the right. You will quickly pass a wooden post and begin descending to the creek.

Indian Flats Trail to East Fork of the San Luis Rey River
Looking up the dry East Fork of the San Luis Rey River

When you reach the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River, turn upstream (to the right) where you will find water coming down a granite slope. Large boulders surround the stream, covering it in many places. There is only a small drainage for the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River, so you may find it quite dry outside of the wet winter season. If you are in the mood to explore, you can follow the water up the mountain slope, climbing around boulders or wading through shallows to reach miniature waterfalls and caves. Wildlife like frogs and snakes can be found in the pools. Explore as much as you like before returning the way you came.

Indian Flats Trail to East Fork of the San Luis Rey River
A pool in the rocks along the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River

No permit is required to hike Indian Flats Trail to the East Fork of the San Luis Rey River. Dogs are permitted on a leash. There is a $12 fee to stay overnight at Indian Flats Campground. Otherwise, you will need a National Forest Adventure Pass ($5 per day) to park at the trailhead. Indian Flats Campground has 17 sites with picnic tables, fire rings, charcoal grills, and vault toilets.

Trail and campground closure: Indian Flats Campground and Indian Flats Trail are closed to the public in April and May during the active season for the endangered arroyo toad, whose habitat includes the area around Indian Flats Campground. The specific closure dates may vary from year to year, so check the national forest webpage for Indian Flats Campground or call the Palomar Ranger District of the Cleveland National Forest at (760) 788-0250 before visiting in the spring. If you see an arroyo toad in the East Fork of San Luis Rey River, please do not approach it.

To get to the trailhead: Take Route 79 to Lost Valley Road in Warner Springs. Lost Valley Road is located 1.5 miles northwest of the center of the small town. In the other direction, the intersection is 18 miles southeast of Aguanga on Route 79. There will be a sign for Indian Flats Campground at the bottom of Lost Valley Road. Drive north up the narrow paved road for 7 miles to the campground at the end of the road. The trail begins from the far end of the loop. If you are not staying overnight at Indian Flats Campground, there is additional parking near the group camping area at the start of the loop.

Trailhead address: Lost Valley Road, Cleveland National Forest, Warner Springs, CA 92086
Trailhead coordinates: 33.349488, -116.661797 (33° 20′ 58.15″N 116° 39′ 42.46″W)

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Trail Map
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Elevation Profile
Click or hover over any spot on this elevation profile to see the distance from the start and elevation above sea level at that location, which will be highlighted on the map.

You may also view a regional map of surrounding Southern California trails and campgrounds.

Photos

Indian Flats Trail
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Indian Flats Campground
Indian Flats CampgroundIndian Flats CampgroundIndian Flats CampgroundIndian Flats CampgroundIndian Flats Campground

These photos were taken in March of 2013. Click to enlarge.
Nearby Trails
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The 5.1-mile hike travels between Observatory Campground and Palomar Observatory, crossing a pleasant mountain woodland with valley views along the way.
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This 4.4-mile loop begins with a 1 2/3-mile ascent that gains 1,200 feet to reach a panoramic summit and then descends along a ridge for even more views.
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Southern California Trails More hikes in Southern California
Explore more trails in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties.
Nearby Camping
Indian Flats Campground Indian Flats Campground
This 17-site campground in Cleveland National Forest offers first-come first-serve camping for $12 per night.
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Tagged with · Adventure Pass · Cleveland National Forest · Creeks · Palomar Ranger District
Distance: 0.5 miles · Elevation change: 75 feet

3 Comments on Indian Flats Trail to East Fork San Luis Rey River in Cleveland National Forest

  1. Gary Mercer says:

    I am slowly getting all my back packing gear and was wondering if it was allowed if I stayed in a camp site at Indian Flats but back packed into the falls for the night so I can start trying out the gear that I have bought. One night is all I am looking for. Is this possible to do there?

  2. johnny says:

    Does anyone have photos of the rock scupltures on the granite cliffs? if you are standing at the campground loop facing the “Tooth” boulder and look up at the mountain top you will see a boulder that makes a “mohawk” and the face of an indian head with a body. The arms meet together and under the arms is the head of a wolf. To the right is the head of a cougar/mountain lion, there are other animal heads such as bear and alligator, also I believe there were 2 or 3 fish. I am trying to find someone that would have photos of this. I camped out in the granite rock area above the main dirt road that meets the “Tooth” Boulder road to the campsite and I didn’t have a camera. It was my first time there and my camping friend spotted it and showed me it and we were both astonished. I now live in Washington and I only went to this campground once. But if I ever go back, I will definitely get photos.

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