Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (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 7.3 miles on Highway 79 to the West Mesa Parking Area, on the right side of the road. From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 13 miles. The parking area will be on the left side of the road.
- Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
- Distance: 8.3 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
- Suggested time: 4 hours
- Best season: September – June
- USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
- Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
- More information: Trip description here; description from a mountain biking website here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
- Rating: 7
This loop explores several mesa, valleys and canyons east of Stonewall Peak, whose distinctive shape can be seen for much of the hike. The views aren’t as varied or as panoramic as from the summits, but it’s still an enjoyable hike that explores some of the park’s remote terrain. Most of the ascent happens on west-facing slopes, so on warm days, if you get an early start, you can climb in the shade (assuming you hike clockwise, as described here).
Begin by following the trail signed for the Cold Stream Trail. After crossing the creek bed, turn left on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it a short distance to the Cold Spring Trail. Bear right and follow it for a pleasant, if not particularly memorable, 1.2 miles. After reaching a ridge, it drops down to cross the Stonewall Creek bed, which is usually dry. This brings you to the Stonewall Creek Fire Road.
Bear left and start climbing gradually, soon reaching a meadow, across which Stonewall Peak stands impressively. You enter a pleasant grove of oaks and after passing the turnoff for the Whitaker Trail, you reach the Soapstone Grade Fire Road (2.8 miles from the start).
Now, with most of your climbing done, you can enjoy a great view of the valley to the north; on clear days you can see up to the Palomars and perhaps even the Santa Rosa Mountains. Turn right and follow the road as it contours along the south edge of the valley. Adding to the appeal of this stretch is the likelihood of a cool breeze along the ridge. After about a mile, the California Riding & Hiking Trail splits off and you begin a steep descent, reaching the Upper Green Valley Fire Road (4.5 miles from the start.)
Turn right and begin a more gradual descent along the Sweetwater River. Most of the oaks and pines are still recovering from the fires of 2003 and 2007, but a few still provide some shade. After about two miles, a particularly tall oak with a few flat granite boulders beneath it makes for a perfect picnic spot.
Continuing along, you’ll bear right at the next intersection and follow the Upper Green Valley Fire Road to its junction with the lower end of the Stonewall Creek Fire Road. Continue south, passing a short spur leading to a view point beneath a pine where an interpretive plaque describes some of the park’s avian wildlife.
At 7.3 miles from the start, turn right on the Hill Trail, a single-track which climbs to a ridge and then drops back down to the Cold Stream drainage. Turn right on the Cold Stream Trail and follow it for a pleasant 0.7 miles back to your starting point.
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.