Wilderness Gardens Preserve

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Wilderness Gardens Preserve, Pala, CA

View of Wilderness Gardens Preserve from the Upper Meadow Trail

Oaks and sycamores in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

Oaks and sycamores on the Upper Meadow Trail

Wilderness Gardens Preserve

  • Location: Highway 76 between Pala and Pauma Valley, 27 miles east of I-5 and 9.7 miles east of I-15. Turn right onto Bodie Blvd, signed for the park.  From the Riverside/Temecula area, take I-15 south to Temecula Parkway. Turn left and go 0.9 miles to Pechanga Parkway. Follow it for a total of 9 miles (it becomes Pala Road and Pala-Temecula Road en route) to its ending at Pala Mission Road. Turn left and follow Pala Mission Road 0.5 miles to Highway 76. Bear left onto Highway 76 and follow it 3 miles to the park entrance. Parking is $3 per vehicle (cash only).
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: October-June; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – 4pm. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Pala
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; articles about the park here and here
  • Rating: 6
Wilderness Gardens Preserve trail head, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This attractive 676-acre park occupies the site of a former retreat of Los Angeles newspaper magnate Manchester Boddy. The park’s vegetation is a mix of non-natives such as eucalyptus, holly, oleander and native oak, sycamore and even a few cacti.

Fire road in Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:02 – Junction with the Upper Meadow Trail (times are approximate)

There are several miles of trails, making for multiple possible routes. One can enjoy a stroll here without having a particular destination or itinerary but a complete circuit of the park, as described here, doesn’t take much time or effort.

From the parking area, follow the main dirt road heading west, almost immediately crossing the San Luis Rey River (virtually dry as of this writing, but during rainy winters, expect calf-high water) and arriving at a junction with the Upper Meadow Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction but by going counter-clockwise, as described here, you’ll save the most interesting scenery for last.

Indian motreros, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:07 – Motreros

Follow the fire road, keeping an eye out for some Indian morteros in a rock on the left. You pass by a few nice oak specimens before arriving at a junction. The two routes soon rejoin so take either. Once they meet up again, turn right and walk a short distance to the Pond Trail. Turn right and follow it 0.2 miles around the circumference of a small seasonal pond and continue to a junction with the Camelia View Trail. This 0.7 mile loop (part single-track, part fire road) can be hiked in either direction, taking you to the western boundary of the preserve.

Pond at Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – The pond

After completing the loop, head back, following the trail past the pond to the beginning of the Upper Meadow Trail. You begin ascending (the only significant climbing on the entire route) through an attractive oak and sycamore woodland, arriving at Upper Meadow, where you get a good view of the Palomar Mountains. Shortly beyond is a bench located at a spot with panoramic views to the west of the entire preserve and beyond.

Upper Meadow Trail, Wilderness Gardens Preserve, San Diego County

0:50 – Start of the Upper Meadow Trail

After enjoying the vistas, make a steep descent on a wooden beam staircase, soon arriving back on the river bed floor. Bear right and follow the trail back to the first junction and to the trail head. If you have time consider exploring the half-mile Alice Fries Nature Trail, which starts and ends in the parking lot.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

0:58 - View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

0:58 – View of the Palomars from the Upper Meadow Trail

 

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

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Panoramic view from the trails of East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

Looking west from the Walker Loop

Rolling hills and grasslands, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

Ascending the Walker Loop

East Walker Ranch (Santa Clarita)

        • Location: Santa Clarita, Placerita Canyon.  From L.A., take the 14 Freeway north to Placerita Canyon Road.  Turn right and go 3.4 miles and look for a dirt turnout on the left side of the road.  From Lancaster, take the 14 Freeway south to the Sand Canyon Road exit.  Turn left on Soledad Canyon Road and make a quick left on Sand Canyon.  Go 3.3 miles and turn right on Placerita Canyon.  Go 1.5 miles and park in the turnout on the right side of the road.
        • Agency: City of Santa Clarita
        • Distance: 3 miles
        • Elevation gain: 550 feet
        • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
        • Difficulty rating: PG
        • Best season: October – June
        • USGS topo maps: Mint Canyon
        • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
        • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here
        • Rating: 6
Trail head for Golden Valley Ranch and East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:00 – Trail head at Golden Valley Ranch (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Named for local settler Frank Walker who lived in the area in the early 20th century, Walker Ranch is a 140-acre open space adjacent to Placerita Canyon Park and operated by the city of Santa Clarita. Highlights include the panoramic views of the Santa Clarita Valley, majestic oaks and the ruins of Walker’s homestead.

Ruins of the Walker Homestead, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:07 – East Walker homestead (times are approximate)

The various trails that cross the property, allowing for multiple possible hikes. The 3-mile route described here samples the park’s best scenery and can be lengthened or shortened as needed. This post assumes you will be starting at the Golden Valley Ranch trail head, the closer of the two trail heads to the 14 Freeway and hiking clockwise, allowing yourself a chance to warm up on a level grade before tackling the first steep ascent, while enjoying excellent westbound views on the way down.

Trail head at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:18 – Alternate access point 0.6 miles from the start

From the parking area, head into Golden Valley Ranch and almost immediately take a right on a footbridge. You follow the trail through rolling grasslands to another footbridge and continue east, following Placerita Canyon Road. At 0.3 miles, you reach a short spur leading to the ruins of the homestead, now little more than two stone columns.

Pine tree in a clearing, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:27 – Clearing at the end of the gravel road before the ascent on the single-track

After retracing your steps, follow the trail under the road through a narrow metal tunnel (ignore the unmaintained trail that continues east, following the road.) On the south side of Placerita Canyon Road, you face your first ascent, a short but steep (100 feet in just over a tenth of a mile) climb that will likely have your calves burning when you reach the top. This is followed by a descent and another climb of about the same distance, bringing you to a parking lot that serves as an alternate trail head (0.6 miles.)

Panoramic view of the Santa Clarita Valley from East Walker Ranch, California

0:48 – Looking north from the vista point

Follow a paved road out of the lot to a junction. Head left (the right route gets you to the same spot but is steeper and not as scenic) and walk along a gravel road to a clearing with a tall pine tree (0.9 miles.) A single-track trail passes through a fence on the opposite side of the clearing, steadily ascending a grassy hill side. As you climb, you enjoy views to the north including the formations of Vasquez Rocks and the San Gabriel Mountains straight ahead to the east.

At 1.2 miles, you reach a bench where you can catch your breath and take in a good view to the west. More climbing brings you to a Y-junction (1.5 miles.) The Raynier Trail heads off to the left; this shaded but not as scenic route is an option if you want to extend the hike. To continue following the Walker Loop, bear right and make a brief ascent to another vista point.

Sunlight through trees at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

0:51 – Four-way junction (stay straight)

The trail then descends to a four-way junction (1.7 miles.) Head straight on the Allen Trail, reaching a third vista point shaded by an impressive oak (2 miles.) The trail then makes a short but steep and loose descent into the upper reaches of Placerita Canyon. As you follow the trail downhill, you can pick out the Los Pinetos Trail in Placerita Canyon State Park, ascending the ridge on the opposite side of the valley on its way to Wilson Canyon Saddle and Manzanita Peak.

Sunlight through oak branches, East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita, CA

1:00 – Vista point on the descent

At 2.8 miles, the trail reaches a junction at the bottom of the hill. Turn right and follow the trail back to Placerita Canyon Road, carefully crossing it to complete the loop. If you still have time and energy, Golden Valley Ranch Park offers multiple miles of challenging and scenic trails, as does Placerita Canyon Park down the street.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Dusk panorama at East Walker Ranch, Santa Clarita Valley, CA

1:10 – Looking west at dusk in upper Placerita Canyon

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

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Looking east from Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

Strawberry Peak with Mt. Baldy distant from Josephine Peak

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak, Angeles National Forest, California

View of Big Tujunga Canyon from just below Josephine Peak

Josephine Peak via Colby Trail

    • Location: Angeles National Forest. From I-210 in La Canada, take Highway 2 (Angeles Crest Highway) northeast for 10 miles to a dirt turnout by mile marker 34.55 (shortly beyond the Switzer parking area, about a mile past Clear Creek Junction). The trail head is unsigned. While no signs indicate that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is required and while the new policies don’t require a pass at unimproved trail heads such as this one, if you want to be safe and purchase one ($5 per day or $30 for the year) click here.
    • Agency: Angeles National Forest/Los Angeles River Ranger District
    • Distance: 8.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 2,050 feet
    • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
    • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo maps: Condor Peak
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sunblock; sun hat; insect repellent
    • More information: Trip description here; Summitpost page here; Everytrail report here; description of the route via the fire road here
    • Rating: 8
Colby Canyon Trail Head, Angeles Crest Highway, San Gabriel Mountains, CA

0:00 – Trail head on the Angeles Crest Highway (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Popular Josephine Peak (elevation 5,558) was one of the last Angeles National Forest destinations to reopen following the Station Fire. It is now possible to legally hike to the summit, either via the Josephine Peak Fire Road or, as described here, from Colby Canyon. The route via Colby is quite steep but scenically rewarding, with excellent views of Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and a nearly aerial perspective on the canyon. Terrain isn’t too much of an issue, but a few spots are washed out, loose and rocky, requiring your attention on the descent, which will likely be on tired legs. Keep an eye out too for poodle dog bush, common in areas such as this that were recently burned.

Waterfall in Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:03 – Seasonal waterfall in Colby Canyon (times are approximate)

Start hiking on the faint, unsigned (it was burned in the fire) trail at the west side of the turnout. Immediately you are immersed in scenic Colby Canyon, soon passing a seasonal waterfall. You begin climbing out of the canyon, following a ridge over the top of another intermittent waterfall at about 0.4 miles. The trail then clings closely to the side of the ridge, dropping sharply into Colby Canyon, before crossing the stream again and reaching a bench (0.9 miles.)

Aerial perspective of Colby Canyon, Angeles National Forest, California

0:21 – Aerial view of Colby Canyon before the intensive climbing begins

Now the work begins. The trail ascends relentlessly, making switch backs up the exposed south-facing slope before finally reaching Josephine Saddle, just over two miles from the start and almost 1,400 feet higher. Here you can rest and enjoy the reward for your efforts: an excellent view of Big Tujunga Canyon to the northwest and Strawberry Peak, Mt. Wilson and the canyon to the southeast.

With the hardest work behind you, continue west (bear left) on the unsigned Josephine Peak Trail, which is pleasantly flat and shaded by pines. Soon the peak itself comes into view. After an easy 0.6 miles, you join the fire road from Clear Creek Station and begin a moderate ascent. The shaded, north-facing slope is forgiving and progress is quick. You make a pair of long switchbacks and soon find yourself just below the antennas of the summit. The fire road then gives way to a short but steep and somewhat loose single-track leading a few dozen yards to the top.

Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle, Angeles National Forest, California

1:14 – Mt. Wilson and San Gabriel Peak as seen from Josephine Saddle

Although the antenna installation blocks some of the view, the panorama is still impressive. To the east, Strawberry Peak, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Wilson dominate but you can still see Baldy behind them. No peak in the Angeles west of Josephine is taller, so the views in that direction are the best: the Santa Monica Mountains, downtown L.A., the Verdugos, the Sierra Pelona, and the ocean. If visibility is optimum, San Clemente can be seen as a flat mass behind Catalina; Santa Barbara is visible as a lone bump on the ocean with remote San Nicolas faint behind it and the peaks of Santa Cruz Island can be seen west of the Santa Monicas. After enjoying the vista, return via the same route, or if you’ve arranged for a car shuttle at Clear Creek, you can descend via the fire road.

1:33 - View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

1:33 – View of the summit shortly before the fire road junction

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

View of the ocean from the summit of Josephine Peak, Angeles Nationanl Forest, California

2:11 – Ocean view from the summit

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

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View of Rodriguez Mountain in the Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

View of Rodriguez Mountain on the descent to Hell Creek

Sunset, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

Sunset in Hellhole Canyon

Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve

  • Location: Inland San Diego County near Valley Center. From San Diego, take I-15 north to E Via Rancho Parkway. Turn right and follow Via Rancho Parkway, which soon becomes Bear Valley Parkway. After 6 miles, turn right on East Valley Parkway and go 1.3 miles. Turn right on Lake Wohlford Road and go 5.9 miles. Turn right on Paradise Mountain Road and go 3.3 miles. Turn right on Los Hermanos Ranch Road and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive (signed for the preserve). Go 0.5 miles to the end of Kiavo Drive and turn left into the parking lot. From the north, take I-15 to Gopher Canyon Road. Turn left, cross the freeway and turn right on Champagne Blvd. Go 0.2 miles and turn left on Old Castle Road. Go 5.5 miles and continue onto Lilac Road for another 3.3 miles. Turn right on Valley Center Road, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Woods Valley Road. At 3.9 miles, Woods Valley Road crosses Lake Wohlford Road and becomes Paradise Mountain Road. Follow it for another 3.3 miles to the intersection with Los Hermanos Ranch Road. Turn right and make an immediate left on Kiavo Drive. Follow it half a mile to its end and turn left into the preserve. Parking is free but donations are encouraged.
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 750 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: November – May; preserve is open Fridays through Mondays, 8am – sunset. Closed during the month of August.
  • USGS topo map: Rodriguez Mountain
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • Recommended gear: sun screen; sun hat; hiking poles
  • More information: here; Yelp page here; trip description here; Friends of Hellhole Canyon page here
  • Rating: 7
Trail head, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

How does an attractive wilderness preserve in northern San Diego County get a name like “Hellhole?” One explanation is that in the 1800s, ranchers had a “hell” of a time getting their wagons across the creek, a tributary of the San Luis Rey River. Indeed, history abounds here in the remains of the Escondido Canal which diverted water from the San Luis Rey River to Escondido Creek.

Oaks on the banks of Hell Creek, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:19 – On the banks of Hell Creek (times are approximate)

There are over 13 miles of trails throughout the preserve, making several possible routes of varying difficulty levels. The balloon-shaped hike described here offers a good workout that takes in a nice sample of the area’s scenery. Keep in mind that like most hikes in the preserve, it’s a reverse hike that requires a 300-foot ascent out of the canyon on exposed terrain, notoriously hot during the summer.

From the parking area, descend the main trail, enjoying an excellent view of Rodriguez Mountain and an aerial perspective on Hell Creek. On the way down, interpretive plaques describe the plant life including black sage, inland scrub oak and laurel sumac. At about 0.7 miles, you reach the stream bed (dry as of this writing, but sometimes high waters can make it treacherous). You climb along the north side of the creek under the shade of some oaks before entering the open again.

Trail junction, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:32 – Junction with the Horsethief Trail

At 1.3 miles, you reach a junction with the Horsethief Trail. The loop can be hiked in either direction, but by going clockwise, you can hold off on the major climbing. Follow the trail over a footbridge and continue around the side of Rodriguez Mountain. An interpretive plaque points out the canal, visible on the opposite side of the creek.

Canyon View Trail, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

0:50 – Start of the Canyon View Trail

At 1.9 miles, stay straight as the Horsethief Trail rejoins. Soon after you reach another junction where you’ll stay straight, now on the Canyon View Trail. You begin a steady ascent, ignoring a side trail branching off to the left just before you briefly drop down to a shallow and usually dry stream bed. At 2.6 miles, you reach the high point of the loop, a junction with the trail leading higher still to Rodriguez Mountain. Here, you an enjoy a panoramic view of the valley before continuing.

Trail crossing over a stream bed, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:00 – Crossing a stream bed on the slopes of Rodriguez Mountain

From here, the trail descends and makes one more ascent to a junction with the Paradise Mountain Trail (3.2 miles from the start). Take a hard right and continue downhill, soon meeting up with the Horsethief Trail. Bear left and follow it a short distance to the main Hell Creek Trail. Turn left and retrace your steps back to the parking area.

Text and photography copyright 2015 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Panoramic view from the slope of Rodriguez Mountain, Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, Valley Center, CA

1:10 – Panoramic view from the junction with the Rodriguez Mountain Trail (high point of the loop)

 

Top 14 hikes of ’14!

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View of San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak from Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park

San Jacinto and San Gorgonio from Ryan Mountain

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

View of Millard Canyon from the Cape of Good Hope, Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

Trees at Horsethief Creek, Santa Rosa Wilderness

View of the coastline of Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Looking east from mid Santa Cruz Island en route to Del Norte Trail Camp

Greetings readers and hikers, I hope this has been a happy, fun and successful year for you all! As is tradition on this site, for the last post of the year we present a list of the highlights from the last 365 days. It was a banner year for NHLA – we passed one million total page views, set a single-day record for traffic, started a relationship with Sports Chalet, continued to network with other sites and publishers promoting hiking, such as the “Longest Straw” crew. More than one hundred hikes – from Santa Barbara to the high desert to Joshua Tree to the Anza-Borrego Desert – were written up and here are the best of them. Enjoy!

#14) Devil’s Punchbowl

Definitely one of the best short hikes in all of Southern California, the Devil’s Punchbowl showcases unusual geology, panoramic views of the high desert and the towering north slope of the San Gabriel Mountains.

#13) Rattlesnake Canyon

Steep but scenic, this is one of Santa Barbara’s most popular hiking trails. Your efforts for 1,700 feet of climbing are rewarded with outstanding ocean and mountain views.

#12) Butler Peak

Home to the highest lookout tower in the San Bernardino National Forest, the hike to Butler Peak leads through lofty pine forests with views all around.

#11) Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve

It’s hard not to like the little mountain town of Julian. Case in point: this large pocket of open space, where you can lose yourself in the wide open fields and rolling hills.

#10) Romero Canyon

Excellent ocean vistas, mountain views and shaded oak woodlands are among the highlights of this popular Santa Barbara hike.

#9) West Mesa Loop

Alpine meadows, oak and pine forests, excellent mountain views and the historic Airplane Monument make this hike one of the best in all of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

#8) Horsethief Creek

In the dry transition zone between the Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa Mountains, Horsethief Creek is a pleasant surprise, offering a truly remote hiking experience and a variety of geological and botanical scenery.

#7) Del Norte Trail Camp

Want to escape the crowds on Santa Cruz Island? The middle portion of this largest of the Channel Islands is lightly traveled and Del Norte Trail Camp is a perfect day hike destination (or, as its name suggests, a camping destination).

#6) Agua Tibia Wilderness

This remote and rugged area of north San Diego County challenges hikers but also rewards them with excellent views of the Palomar Mountains, the Santa Rosas, Garner Valley and more.

#5) Mt. Wilson/Devore Camp Loop

Mt. Wilson as a reverse hike? Why not? This 11-mile loop descends via the Kenyon Devore Trail and returns via the Gabrielino and Rim Trails, providing passage through Mt. Wilson’s remote north slope.

#4) Ryan Mountain

With 360-degree summit views including San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountain, there’s a reason why Ryan Mountain is Joshua Tree’s most popular summit

#3) Mt. Lowe Railway Loop

History and phenomenal views come together in this hike, which explores the route of the Mt. Lowe Railroad. The Sam Merrill and Echo Mountain Trails provide vistas of the L.A. Basin while the Castle Canyon Trail explores some of the area’s geological features. In between is Inspiration Point, where almost all of So Cal is visible.

#2) High Point

The highest point in the Palomar Mountains offers predictably exciting scenery. Supposedly a fire 200 miles away in Santa Barbara was once spotted from this lookout and when you experience the views from the summit, it’s not hard to believe.

#1) Mt. Hawkins Loop

The best NHLA hike of 2014 is this outstanding 13-mile loop in the Angeles National Forest. Visiting both South Hawkins and Mt. Hawkins, this epic route provides amazing views of the L.A. Basin, the high desert, San Gabriel Canyon and more.

Well, it’s been a great year and thank all of you readers for making this site your go-to resource for information about hikes. Let’s all get out there and have a great 2015!

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Summit of Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Looking northeast from Oakzanita Peak

Foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

Fall foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 3.2 miles on Highway 79 to a small turnout on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 17 miles.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:00 – Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Oakzanita Peak as seen from the Lower Descanso Trail Head

Oakzanita Peak (elevation 5,054) is the southernmost major summit in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Panoramic views from the top and a good variety of scenery on the way up make it a superior hiking destination. The route is known both for fall foliage and spring wildflowers. While the views are best on clear, cool days, the summit can be quite windy so plan accordingly.

Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:20 – Oakzanita Peak as seen from the East Mesa Fire Road

From the trail head, follow the Lower Descanso Creek Trail which follows–you guessed it–Lower Descanso Creek. Even when the creek is dry, the stroll through the oaks is enjoyable. After an easy 0.7 miles, during which you gain only about 200 feet, you reach the East Mesa Fire Road. Turn right and follow the road for a short distance, during which you get a nice view of Oakzanita Peak, towering above the meadow.

Take the Descanso Creek Trail, which dips down to the stream bed and then begins a steady climb along the north east slope of the mountain. As you climb, you get views of Cuyamaca Peak and later Stonewall Peak’s characteristic triangular shape comes into view.

View of Cuyamaca Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

0:52 – Cuyamaca Peak as seen from the Descanso Creek Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, a large granite outcrop provides a perfect rest spot with excellent views to the north and east. Farther up, you reach a junction (2.4 miles) where you get a good view to the south. Head right on the spur signed for Oakzanita Peak, making the switchbacks and climbing over a few rocks to reach the summit.

Trail to Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA

1:00 – Approaching Oakzanita Peak from the top of the ridge

The views aren’t quite as dramatic as those of Stonewall Peak, but Oakzanita’s location does have the advantage of providing a true 360-degree perspective, due to its distance from Cuyamaca Peak. You can see the East and West Mesa, the Laguna Mountains and El Capitan. If visibility is particularly good you can see the ocean, the Coronado Islands, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Oakzanita Peak southwest view

1:20 – Looking southwest from Oakzanita Peak

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

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Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail

Old Saddleback seen from the Sandtrap Trail

Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Oak on Limestone Canyon Road

Shoestring/Sandtrap/Limestone Ridge Loop (Limestone Canyon Regional Park)

  • Location: Silverado, in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.  From the 55 Freeway, take the Chapman Ave. exit and head east for a total of 7.7 miles (Chapman becomes Santiago Canyon Road en route).    Shortly past Irvine Lake, look for the Augustine Staging Area, turn right and park as directed in the lot.  From I-5, take El Toro Road and head northeast for a total of 14.2 miles (El Toro becomes Santiago Canyon Road).  The Augustine Staging Area is on the left, 1.8 miles past Silverado Canyon Road.
  • Agency: Irvine Ranch Company; Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 10.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season:  September – June; accessible only during specific times (check Irvine Ranch Company link above for schedule)
  • USGS topo maps: “Santiago Peak”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • More information: Limestone Canyon info here; Everytrail report here; description of upcoming hike on Friday, December 5th here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop is a longer version of the popular Shoestring Loop in Limestone Canyon Wilderness Park.  Like the Shoestring, this hike can be done on Wilderness Access Days in Limestone Canyon or as part of one of several docent-led hikes scheduled through the year (it will be next offered on Friday, 11/14 and Friday, 12/5).  Click the Irvine Ranch Company link for available dates.  The full version described here is more than 10 miles long, but if you are hiking independently on a Wilderness Access Day, you can shorten the loop to just under 8 miles.  On the guided hikes, the volunteer docents may give the group the option of shortening the hike, but be prepared for the full route–almost all of which is exposed.

0:20 - Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy's hikes)

0:20 – Approaching the fire road from the Shoestring Trail (times are approximate, reflecting the pace of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s hikes)

Begin by heading toward the Hicks Haul Road.  Turn right and follow it for a short distance to the Shoestring Trail, a single-track.  Cross a wooden footbridge and follow the Shoestring Trail for about 0.7 miles as it parallels Santiago Canyon Road, making its way up and down a few short but steep hills.

0:41 - Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

0:41 – Morning mist on the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail

At just under a mile from the start, turn left and begin an ascent on a fire road.  After about a mile of steady climbing, you reach the Loma Ridge Jeep Trail, where you get some good views to the southwest.  You follow this trail southeast for about 1.4 miles, making several more small ascents and descents, before reaching a junction with the paved Hicks Haul Road.  (This would be your return route on the 4.5 mile Shoestring Loop.)

1:12 - Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

1:12 – Right turn on the Hicks Haul Road toward East Loma Ridge

To continue toward the Sandtrap Trail, bear right on the Hicks Haul Road and go a short distance to the East Loma Ridge Road.  It climbs for about a mile, taking in some excellent views in all directions, finally reaching a junction with the Sandtrap Trail.  Turn left and make a brief ascent to the highest point on the hike, just over 1,600 feet in elevation.  Enjoy some more views, which may extend to the San Gabriels if visibility is good, before beginning a steep descent.

1:33 - Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

1:33 – Looking north toward the San Gabriels from the start of the Sandtrap Trail

The Sandtrap Trail follows a curving ridge that drops almost 700 feet in 1.4 miles.  At 6.3 miles, you reach a T-junction in oak-shaded Limestone Canyon.  If you want to end the hike here, turn left and follow Limestone Canyon Road about 1.4 miles back to the trailhead.  To extend the hike, turn right and follow the fire road up a gradual incline for a mile, enjoying a little bit of shade from sparsely spaced oaks and sycamores, to the Raptor Trail.

2:11 - Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

2:11 – Heading up Limestone Canyon Road at the bottom of the Sandtrap Trail

The single-track Raptor Trail crosses a footbridge and begins a rather steep climb, gaining 250 feet in half a mile.  At Limestone Ridge, turn left and follow the trail up and down some bumps, noting the characteristic sandstone geology of Black Star Canyon in the distance.  A steep descent brings you back into the canyon (9.2 miles from the start) where you bear right on Limestone Canyon Road and follow it just over a mile back to the parking lot.

2:40 - View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

2:40 – View from the top of the Raptor Trail, Limestone Ridge

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

3:10 - View of Black Star Canyon's geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon

3:10 – View of Black Star Canyon’s geology before the descent back into Limestone Canyon