McDermont and Sycamore Trails (Chino Hills State Park)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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.

About these ads

Warner Springs to Eagle Rock via Pacific Crest Trail

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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

Knapp’s Castle

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

View from Knapp's Castle, Santa Barbara, Los Padres National Forest

Looking northwest from Knapp’s Castle

View of the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, CA from Knapp's Castle

Looking northeast from Knapp’s Castle

Knapp’s Castle

    • Location: Los Padres National Forest north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, head north on Highway 154 for 7.8 miles.  Make a hard right on East Camino Cielo and follow it 3 miles (0.9 miles past Painted Cave Road). Park in dirt turnouts on either side of the road.
    • Agency: Los Padres National Forest/Santa Barbara Ranger District
    • Distance: 0.8 mile
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Difficulty rating: G
    • Best season: Year round
    • USGS topo map: San Marcos Pass
    • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes Around Santa Barbara
    • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Yelp page here
    • Rating: 7
View of the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Padres National Forest, Knapp's Castle trail head

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

Excellent views and historic ruins for very little effort (unless you use the more challenging Snyder Trail) make this understandably one of the most popular hikes in the Santa Barbara area. The hike is on private land but as of this writing, the public is allowed access by the grace of the owners.

The original owner was George Knapp, who completed his mansion in 1920. Unfortunately, like its counterpart in the Santa Monica Mountains the Tropical Terrace, the mansion fell victim to fire; the Paradise Canyon Fire of 1940 to be precise.

On the trail to Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest

0:08 – Junction with the Snyder Trail; stay right (times are approximate)

The hike to reach the mansion could hardly be simpler. From East Camino Cielo, follow the dirt road downhill, taking in outstanding views of the Santa Ynez Valley the entire way. At about 0.3 miles, stay right as the Snyder Trail heads left and downhill toward Paradise Road, almost 2,000 feet below. Pass a fence and follow the trail to the ruins of the house.

Here you can enjoy a 270-degree panorama. Stone arches that were once windows frame the landscape; the old chimney still stands in the midst of a small oak grove. After taking it all in, retrace your steps or, if you’ve left a car a the bottom of the Snyder Trail, you can continue downhill for a point-to-point hike.

Ruins of Knapp's Castle, Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara

0:11 – Chimney among the ruins of Knapp’s Castle

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.


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

2 Comments

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

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.

Mountain Home Flats

1 Comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Canyon of Mountain Home Creek in the San Beranrdino National Forest

Panoramic view of the canyon carved by Mountain Home Creek

Sunlight through the pines, Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Sunlight through the pines, Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Mountain Home Flats

  • Location: San Bernardino National Forest. The trail head is located by mile marker 18.45 and the coordinates are N 34 07.632, W 116 59.017 but the only practical parking area is a quarter mile north, across the bridge at a turnout on the right side of Highway 38, about 18 miles northeast of Redlands and 3.4 miles north of the hairpin turn at the intersection with Valley of the Falls Drive. While no signage indicates that a National Forest Service Adventure Pass is necessary for parking, many trail heads in the San Bernardino National Forest do require the pass. If you do not have the pass and want to be safe, click here to purchase. The pass can also be bought at the Mill Creek Ranger Station.
  • Agency:  San Bernardino National Forest/Mill Creek Ranger Station
  • Distance:  4 miles
  • Elevation gain:  1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Trail condition, navigation, terrain, steepness, elevation gain, altitude)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: April – November
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent; hiking poles; long sleeved shirt and pants
  • Recommended guidebook: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (Tom Harrison Maps); Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • USGS topo map: Big Bear Lake
  • More information: Trail maps here and here; video shot at the trail camp here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Start of the hike, a quarter mile north on Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Start of the hike, a quarter mile north on Highway 38 (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though it’s relatively close to civilization as the crow flies, the Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp feels very remote, accessible by an unmaintained trail leading into the wilderness from a hard-to-find trail head. In an only four mile round trip assuming a start from the turnout a quarter mile above the trail head) this hike presents multiple challenges, including navigation, negotiating fallen trees, difficult terrain and steep ascents. The bugs can be annoying as well.

Begining of the Mountain Home Flats Trail, San Bernardino National Forest, CA

0:07 – Start of the Mountain Home Flats Trail (times are approximate)

Despite these drawbacks, the hike is still a worthwhile experience, especially for those who want to enjoy the San Gorgonio Wilderness without having to tackle some of the more intimidating peaks in the area. Highlights of this trip include the peaceful destination of Mountain Home Flat, panoramic views of Mountain Home Creek, black oaks, pines and more.

Following the creek bed on the Mountain Home Flats Trail

0:17 – The trail drops to the creek and follows for a short distance

Assuming you start from the turnout, follow south on Highway 38 for a quarter mile. This is easier said than done: the shoulder of the road is narrow and becomes nonexistent at the bridge over Glen Martin Creek. Your safest bet is to stay outside the fence separating the road and pick your way through the vegetation, which tends not to be too thick.

Following a tributary canyon of Glen Martin Creek, San Bernardino National Forest

0:22 – Bear right at the tributary and leave Glen Martin Creek

At a quarter mile, you reach the beginning of the trail. The first half mile is fairly easy going, save for a few fallen tree trunks and one slightly difficult stretch that has been washed out. The trail dips down to the streambed of Glen Martin Creek (dry as of this writing) and briefly follows the north side before reaching a junction. Bear right, leaving the main stream bed for a tributary and head up canyon, negotiating more fallen tree trunks. Soon you come to another junction where you again stay right, continuing to follow the stream bed.

Fallen logs in the San Bernardino National Forest

0:24 – Climbing logs on the tributary of Glen Martin Creek

At about a mile from the start of the hike (3/4 of a mile on the trail), leave the stream bed by heading right, climbing over a fallen log and climbing through an attractive grove of black oaks. The trail then makes a hairpin right turn and engages in a steep series of switchbacks.

Leaving the canyon, heading toward Mountain Home Flats, San Bernardino National Forest

0:32 – Leaving the tributary of Glen Martin Creek

After huffing and puffing, you attain a ridge and are treated to an excellent view of the canyon carved by Mountain Home Creek. Your work, however, is not done: the trail now clings tightly to the north side of the canyon, often quite loose and washed out. A particularly tricky spot shortly after the ridge requires special attention; expect to use your hands as well as your feet. Shortly beyond, the trail makes an easy-to-miss “S” curve to the left before beginning its descent to Mountain Home Creek. Again, take extra care when negotiating the washed-out sections of the trail.

0:36 - View from the ridge, looking down into the canyon of Mountain Home Creek

0:41 – View from the ridge, looking down into the canyon of Mountain Home Creek

On the south side of Mountain Home Creek, the trail begins a series of switchbacks. The lower portion of the trail is somewhat loose. Keep an eye out for metal poles that once were part of a retaining wall but now unfortunately present tripping hazards. As you climb steeply up the south side of the canyon, the trail becomes more solid. After the sharp ascent, the trail levels out and finally reaches the destination, Mountain Home Flats trail camp.

Difficult stretch of the Mountain Home Flats Trail, San Bernardino National Forest

0:47 – Difficult stretch of the trail on the descent to Mountain Home Creek

Here, you can sit on a log beneath the shade of pines and oaks, charging your batteries for the steep descent back to Mountain Home Creek and the precarious cliff-hugging that awaits you on the return. The GPS coordinates of the trail camp are N 34 07.726, W 116 57.674 and the elevation is 6,373 feet.

Crossing Mountain Home Creek, San Bernardino National Forest

1:02 – Crossing Mountain Home Creek

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.

Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp, San Bernardino National Forest

1:25 – Mountain Home Flats Trail Camp

Sweetwater River Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

Leave a comment

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Pines and oaks on the Sweetwater River Trail

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sunlight through oaks on the Merigan Fire Road

Sweetwater River 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 on Highway 79 for 1.3 miles to Riverside Drive.  Bear left on Riverside Drive and follow it a total of 1.5 miles (along the way it becomes Viejas Blvd.) to the signed Merigan Day Use Area for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, on the left side of the road.  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 20 miles, past the main entrances to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and turn right on Viejas Blvd.  The trail head is on the right side of the road in 1.1 miles.  Parking is $8 per day (checks or exact change accepted).
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 850 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3.5 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Everytrail report here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Merigan Fire Road trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This balloon-shaped hike explores the lower country in the southern end of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.  You’re still between 3,400 and 4,100 feet above sea level and while much of the route is exposed, with an early start, it can easily be done even on warm days.  This hike doesn’t have quite the scenic variety of panoramic views that can be found in the park’s higher terrain, but it does offer a nice sense of isolation less than an hour’s drive from San Diego and about two hours from Orange County.

0:34 - Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

0:34 – Oaks on the Merigan Fire Road shortly before the junction (times are approximate)

From the parking lot, follow the Merigan Fire Road north through a field and into the shallow canyon of the Sweetwater River (which may be just a trickle or completely dry depending on the time of year and amount of rainfall).  At 0.7 miles, pass a junction with the Dead Horse Trail and continue north, eventually entering a pleasant oak woodland.

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

0:44- On the Saddleback Trail

At about two miles from the start, you reach a four-way junction in a pleasant meadow, where a tall pine stands above the oaks and chaparral shrubs.  The Merigan Fire Road bends right.  The Sweetwater Trail, straight ahead of you, is your return route.  Turn left and follow the Saddleback Trail, a single-track, down to the river.  (The loop can be done in either direction but by hiking clockwise, you have a more pleasant ascent).  The Saddleback Trail is overgrown in spots but never too difficult to follow.  It climbs steadily through the riparian habitat of the river, through some oak-dotted fields and finally gains the top of a ridge, where it meets the California Riding & Hiking Trail (3.6 miles.)  Here, you get the best views of the hike, notably imposing Cuyamaca Peak to the north and Oakzanita Peak to the east.

1:17 - Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

1:17 – Cuyamaca Peak from the top of the Saddleback Trail

Turn right and follow the CR&H Trail.  In addition to the views of the summits, if the air is clear, you may be able to get a glimpse of the ocean in the distance.   At 4 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the South Boundary Fire Road.  Bear right and begin a steep descent back into canyon.  At 4.4 miles from the start, turn right to continue following the South Boundary Fire Road down the canyon, under the shade of oaks.  After crossing the headwaters of the Sweetwater River, turn right on the Sweetwater Trail (4.7 miles).

1:27 - Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

1:27 – Junction with the Boundary Fire Road (bear right)

The Sweetwater Trail head south, paralleling the river bed, for just over a mile. At 5.7 miles from the start, you return to the four-way junction, completing the loop.  Retrace your steps on the Merigan Fire Road back to the parking lot.

1:38 - Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

1:38 – Heading south back into the woods on the Boundary Fire Road

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.

1:46 - Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop

1:46 – Start of the Sweetwater Trail, last leg of the loop