Rock Mountain (Fallbrook)

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View from Rock Mountain, north San Diego County

Morning sun near the top of Rock Mountain

Looking north from Rock Mountain

Looking north from Rock Mountain

Rock Mountain (Fallbrook)

    • Location: North San Diego County, between Fallbrook and Temecula. From the Inland Empire, take I-15 to Rancho California Road in Temecula. Turn right and go 2.5 miles to Avenida del Oro. Turn left and go 0.3 miles to Sandia Creek Road. Turn left and go 7.3 miles and look for a small dirt parking lot and the trail head on the right (De Luz Heights Road = too far.) From the south, take I-15 to Old Highway 395. Turn left and go 0.2 miles to East Mission Road. Go 4.9 miles and turn right on Pico, which becomes De Luz and then Sandia Creek. In 4.2 miles, just after De Luz Heights Road, look for the trail head on the right. From Highway 76, 12.6 miles east of Oceanside, head north on South Mission Road. In 6.7 miles, turn right on West Mission Road and then almost immediately turn left on Pico. Follow it 4.2 miles to the trail head as described above.
    • Agency:  Fallbrook Land Conservancy
    • Distance: 1.2 miles
    • Elevation gain: 550 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 1 hour
    • Best season: October – May
    • Recomended gear: sun hat
    • USGS topo map: Temecula
    • More information:  All Trails page here; Flickr photo gallery here
    • Rating: 5
0:00 - Rock Mountain Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Rock Mountain Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This short but steep hike yields some panoramic views of north San Diego County and southern Riverside County. The hike sadly loses points due to graffiti (particularly on the summit) and trash, but the scramble up the rocks to the summit is still worth doing if you’re in the area. Expect to use your hands as much as your feet and allow extra time for the descent.

Following the trail up Rock Mountain, San Diego County

0:09 – Hard left at the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the signed trail up a wooden staircase. The first half of the hike is fairly easy going as the trail winds around the base of Rock Mountain. There are no shade trees but the slope faces west, so if you get off to an early start the sun will be blocked out.

At about a quarter mile, stay straight as a trail branches off to the right. Soon after, take a hairpin left turn and head west, soon arriving at a clearing (about 0.4 miles from the start) where an abandoned car sits.

Steep stretch of trail on Rock Mountain

0:12 – Steep climb after the abandoned car

From here, the hike becomes challenging. Head straight, climbing up a loose, rutted slope and continue your steep ascent for another tenth of a mile. The trail, sometimes faint but usually pretty obvious, appears to dip downhill and fade out at this point. Look for a use trail on the right, heading straight up through the sage scrub, soon arriving at a saddle where you get some striking aerial views of the landscape below. You also see the summit of Rock Mountain on your left.

Climbing through the brush on the way to Rock Mountain's summit

0:16 – Follow the “use trail” through the brush, about half a mile from the start

Head left and follow a thin ridge toward the peak and then pick your way up over the boulders to the summit. Your exact route may vary but you will generally stay on the south side of the peak, keeping it on your left.

View of Rock Mountain, San Diego County

0:20 – Rock Mountain’s summit, as seen from the saddle

On the top, you can sit on any of the jumble of boulders and enjoy an excellent view which on clear days may include the Palomar Mountains and the ocean. You also get a bird’s eye look at Sandia Creek Road, winding its way through the hills below. When you’re done enjoying the view head back down, respecting the steep and loose terrain on the descent.

View from just below the summit of Rock Mountain

0:22 – Looking south from the ridge below the summit

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.

Aerial view of the Fallbrook, CA area from Rock Mountain

0:25 – Looking down from the summit of Rock Mountain

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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

Arroyo Burro Loop

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Dusk on the Arroyo Burro fire road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

Sunlight through the trees on Arroyo Burro Road

View of the Santa Ynez River Valley, Arroyo Burro Road

View of the Santa Ynez River Valley, Arroyo Burro Road

Arroyo Burro Loop

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, take Highway 154 north for 7.8 miles to East Camino Cielo. Take a hard right and follow the winding road for 6.2 miles. Park in a large dirt turnout on the left side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 7.4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance, terrain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season:  October – June
    • USGS topo maps: San Marcos Pass; Little Pine Mountain
    • Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; photos here
    • Rating: 8
Start of the Arroyo Burro Loop, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:00 – View from the trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Not to be confused with the section of the Arroyo Burro Trail in Santa Barbara’s front country, this hike explores the hills above the Santa Ynez River Valley, providing panoramic views and a good amount of shade from several thick oak groves. The loop, which is comprised of a single-track trail and a fire road, can be hiked in either direction, but since the single-track is far steeper, hiking the loop clockwise, as described here, allows for a more moderate ascent. This is a reverse hike, although it can also be done as a slightly longer conventional hike starting from Paradise Road in the valley below. With a car shuttle, it can also be done point-to-point.

Start of the Arroyo Burro Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:05 – Turnoff for the Arroyo Burro Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the dirt road past a metal gate. You pass by a shooting range and  another gate before reaching a junction with an easy-to-miss trail on the left. This is the Arroyo Burro Trail, which takes a hard left away from the road and begins its largely shaded descent.

Stream crossing on the Arroyo Burro Trail, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:35 – Stream crossing

You drop steadily, crossing Arroyo Burro and its various tributaries several times, making your way in and out of oak woodlands. As you enjoy the shade and seclusion, keep an eye out for poison oak.

At about 2.5 miles from the start, you reach a T-junction. Head right, soon reaching a dirt road where you again stay right, passing a water tank and the upper end of White Oak Camp.

Trail junction in Arroyo Burro Canyon, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

1:10 – Turn right at the T junction at the bottom of the Arroyo Burro Trail

Arroyo Burro Road then begins its long climb back to the trail head. The ascent is steady but never too steep, providing ample time to enjoy the wide-ranging views of the valley. After about a mile of ascent (about 4 miles from the start), stay straight as a trail heading toward Matias Potrero Camp branches off to the left. Soon afterward you enter another attractive stand of oaks and the majority of the hike’s remainder is shaded.

Arroyo Burro Road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

1:18 – Approaching Arroyo Burro Road; start of the ascent

More ascent brings you to the upper reaches of Arroyo Burro Road where you complete the loop and return to Camino Cielo. Arroyo Burro’s name likely comes from its history as a miners’ supply route and the burros that carried the equipment.

Oak woodland on Arroyo Burro Road, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

2:00 – Into the woods on the Arroyo Burro Road ascent

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.

2:25 - VIew from near the top of Arroyo Burro Road

2:25 – View from near the top of Arroyo Burro Road

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

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Panoramic view of Chino Hills State Park from the North Ridge Trail

View from the North Ridge Trail shortly before the junction with the Sycamore Trail

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park

Oaks in Telegraph Canyon

McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

    • Location: Yorba Linda.  From the 57 freeway, take Orangethorpe exit and head east for 4.2 miles.  Turn left on Kellogg, go 1.8 miles and turn right on Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 1.6 miles and turn left on Rim Crest.  Follow Rim Crest to its end and park on the corner of Blue Gum and Rim Crest.  From the Riverside area, take the 91 freeway to Yorba Linda Blvd.  Go northwest on Yorba Linda Blvd. for 2.4 miles, and turn right on Village Center.  Go a mile and turn left on Fairmont.  Go 0.3 miles and turn right on Rim Crest.
    • Agency:  Chino Hills State Park (home page here)
    • Distance: 8 miles
    • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
    • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
    • Best season: October – May
    • USGS topo map:  Yorba Linda
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 6
Trail head on Rim Crest Drive, Chino Hills State Park

0:00 – Rim Crest trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This loop explores some of the lightly traveled high country in the middle sector of Chino Hills State Park.  To be sure, the views and scenery aren’t as varied or attractive as they are on more popular destinations such as Gilman Peak or Water Canyon–expect power lines and barbed wire–but the hike still offers a solid workout from the conveniently located (and free) Rim Crest trailhead.  On clear days, the vistas from the North Ridge Trail include Old Saddleback, the Orange County coastal plains, the ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains and more.

Sycamore Trail and Telegraph Canyon, Chino HIlls State Park

0:40 – Junction with the Sycamore Trail (times are approximate)

From Rim Crest, follow the Easy Street trail half a mile as it drops into Telegraph Canyon.  Turn right and head east, gradually uphill on Telegraph Canyon, Chino Hills State Park’s main artery, passing the turnoffs for Gilman Peak and the Little Canyon Trail.  As you ascend, the terrain becomes more pleasantly shaded, both from oaks and sycamores.

Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

0:57 – Picnic table in Telegraph Canyon

At 1.6 miles, you reach a Y-junction with the Sycamore Trail.  This is the start of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction.  By going counter-clockwise, as described here, you can continue your moderate ascent in the shade of the canyon.  At 2.3 miles, you pass by a picnic table; this is a nice place to rest for a few minutes before continuing east.

At 2.9 miles, you reach the McDermont Trail, a fire road which leaves the friendly confines of the canyon.  The next mile or so is the most thankless section of the hike, as the McDermont Trail heads sharply uphill on exposed terrain.  The grade levels out after about half a mile and the trail bends east, reaching a T-junction (3.8 miles from the start).  Turn left and make another steep but short climb on a connector trail, bringing you to North Ridge.  Here you get a panoramic view of Telegraph Canyon with San Juan Hill, the highest point in the park, to the south.

McDermont Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:15 – Start of the McDermont Trail

Turn left and head west on North Ridge, following the trail through several ups and downs, taking in views on both sides.  At 5.2 miles, turn left on the Sycamore Trail, which heads back toward Telegraph Canyon.  A group of oak trees makes for a nice rest spot on the descent.  The trail makes an S-curve, passes by a rusted water tank and drops back into Telegraph Canyon, where it completes the loop at 6.4 miles.  Retrace your steps on the Telegraph Canyon and Easy Street Trails back to your starting point.

North Ridge Trail, Chino Hills State Park

1:45 – Left turn on the North Ridge Trail

As a variation, you can make the lower portion of this hike into a loop by using the South Ridge and Little Canyon Trails either on your way out or in.  This adds about 100 feet of elevation gain.

Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail, Chino Hills State Park

2:20 – Oak tree on the Sycamore Trail

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.

Warner Springs to Eagle Rock via Pacific Crest Trail

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Eagle Rock, northeast San Diego County

Appropriately named Eagle Rock

Panorama from the Pacific Crest Trail, northeast San Diego County

Lone tree on the Pacific Crest Trail on the way back from Eagle Rock

Warner Springs to Eagle Rock via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Across from Cal Fire Station 52, 31049 Highway 79, Warner Springs. The location is 38.7 miles east of Interstate 15, 6.8 miles north of Highway 76 and 13.8 miles north of Highway 78. Park in the narrow dirt turnout across from the fire station by the Pacific Crest Trail decal.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 6.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: Warner Springs
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here
  • Rating: 8
Pacific Crest Trail head on highway 79, San Diego County

0:00 – Trail head on Highway 79 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Everything enjoyable about inland San Diego County hiking can be found on this stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail. The destination is Eagle Rock, 3.3 miles from Warner Springs, but even just a short stroll is worthwhile. Scenic highlights include geology, open fields, shaded canyons and a who’s who of San Diego mountains.

Fence on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County

0:10 – Gate before the junction with the CR&H Trail (Times are approximate)

From the turnout across from the fire station, carefully cross Highway 79 and enter the metal gate, signed as a Pacific Crest Trail access point. It drops down to a stream bed and heads east, passing the fire station and school before reaching another gate and a junction with the California Riding & Hiking Trail. The CR&H Trail heads left; the P.C.T. heads straight, entering an attractive canyon filled with oaks, sycamores and willows.

Oak woodlands, Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County

0:27 – Woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail

You follow the P.C.T. generally east for a very pleasant mile plus, weaving in and out of woodlands, before emerging at a meadow. Here, you can see Hot Springs Mountain, the tallest point in San Diego County, dominating the landscape to the north. You begin climbing, reaching the top of a ridge at about 2 miles from the start. On the way up, keep an eye out for the Palomar Mountain Observatory perched high on the hills to the west, resembling a golf ball.

Meadow and mountains on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

0:37 – Meadow with distant mountains

On the opposite side of the ridge, the landscape becomes more desert-like, with manzanita trees and even a few cholla and prickly pear cacti. You gradually descend into a valley, taking in views of the Vulcan Mountains on the way and then make another climb to a saddle, where you can see Eagle Rock in the distance. The P.C.T. makes another descent before climbing gradually to a spur leading to the giant granite formation.

View from the top of a ridge on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County

0:47- View from the top of the ridge

From the back side, Eagle Rock’s resemblance to its namesake is quite striking. In addition, the views in all directions are outstanding, making this a perfect spot to sit and enjoy some solitude before heading back.

Manzanita on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA

0:51 – Manzanita on the Pacific Crest Trail

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.

View from Eagle Rock, San Diego County, CA

1:20 – View from Eagle Rock

Nicholas Ridge Motorway

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Ocean view, Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains

Ocean view, Nicholas Ridge Motorway (turnaround point is the hill in the center)

View from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, western Malibu

Looking west toward Nicholas Flat

Nicholas Ridge Motorway

    • Location: Northwest of Malibu. From Pacific Coast Highway, 21 miles south of Ventura and 25 miles north of Santa Monica, take Decker Canyon Road (Highway 23) north for 2.4 miles to Decker School Road (a Y-intersection that is easy to miss). Bear left onto Decker School Road and follow it 1.5 miles to its end, where there are a few parking spots in a small lot shaded by oaks. From Highway 101, take the Westlake Blvd/Highway 23 exit and head south for 9.3 miles. Take a hard right on Decker School Road and follow it 1.5 miles to its end. (Note: if you’re coming from the north, don’t turn on Decker School Lane; you want Decker School Road which is about a mile farther south.)
    • Agency: Leo Carillo State Park; Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
    • Distance: 4 miles
    • Elevation gain: 900 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Suggested time: 2 hours
    • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
    • USGS topo map: “Truinfo Pass”
    • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
    • More information: Trail map from Go Breadcrumbs here (stops at the “official” ending point of the motorway); map of parcels of land adjacent to Leo Carillo State Park that the NPS hopes to acquire, including the lower end of the Motorway (in black) here
    • Rating: 6
Nicholas Pond Trail Head, Leo Carillo State Park, Malibu CA

0:00 – Start of the hike, Nicholas Pond Trail (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Nicholas Ridge Motorway is a fire road running down the eastern edge of Leo Carillo State Park, following a ridge between Nicholas Canyon and Decker Canyon. The road runs, in one form or another, all the way from the Pacific Coast Highway to the Nicholas Flat area of Leo Carillo State Park but the lower section of the trail is steep, loose, rocky, overgrown and not all that enjoyable, except for diehards. The 4-mile hike described here, which descends to an overlook and climbs steeply back up the exposed fire road, is the most sensible way to explore the Nicholas Ridge Motorway. This lightly traveled trail is a good destination for hikers who feel as if they’ve seen it all when it comes to the Santa Monica Mountains.

0:10 - Start of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

0:10 – Start of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Nicholas Pond Trail through an attractive grove of oaks. Enjoy the shade; it’s the last of it you’ll see. At about a third of a mile, you meet a T-junction. The right fork heads toward the cattle pond and the interior of Leo Carillo State Park’s high country; the Nicholas Ridge Motorway heads left. Follow it through a meadow where it climbs through a thicket of chaparral to a saddle, dips briefly and climbs to a second bump.

Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu CA

0:17 – Beginning the descent on the Nicholas Ridge Motorway

Here, you can enjoy a nearly 360-degree view including the ocean, the Boney Mountain complex, Nicholas Flat and more, before beginning the descent. Head right (the left fork leads to private land) and follow the ridge, gradually at first, then steeply. After passing by an abandoned trail branching to the left, the motorway skirts the edge of Decker Canyon, providing some dramatic views.

Ocean view from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:28 – Looking west from the Nicholas Ridge Motorway near the first turn-off

A second trail (1.5 miles from the start) branches off to the right, but again you stay straight. A sign marks the end of the motorway but the trail continues downhill, bending southeast, passing by a fence marking off the Malibu Riding & Tennis Club’s property. (Some maps show the motorway descending to the west, but as of this writing, that leg is clearly off limits.)

Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:38 – Note the pole on the right marking the “official” end of the trail past the second turn off, about 1.5 miles from the start

Your descent continues to a knoll about 800 feet above sea level. Here, you can an enjoy a 180-degree view before making the steep climb back to the Nicholas Pond Trail.

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.

Ocean view from the end of the Nicholas Ridge Motorway, Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu, CA

0:48 – Ocean view from the turnaround point

Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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Panoramic view of fields, mountains and sky, Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Panorama from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road

Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Upper Green Valley Fire Road

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
Trail head, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

0:00 – Trail head, West Mesa Parking Area (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

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).

Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek

0:35 – Crossing the bed of Stonewall Creek (times are approximate)

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.

Panoramic view from the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:10 – Looking north at the junction with the Soapstone Grade 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).

Descending the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:35 – Starting the descent toward the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

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.)

Descending the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

1:50 – Upper Green Valley Fire Road

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.

Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:40 – Large oak on the Upper Green Valley Fire Road

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.

Hill Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2:58 – Start of the Hill Trail

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.

View of Stonewall Peak from the junction of the Hill Trail and Cold Stream Trails, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

3:10 – Stonewall Peak as seen from the bottom of the Hill Trail

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.