Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve


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  • Location:  1107 Farmer Road, Julian. From the town of Wynola (3 miles east of Santa Ysabel via Highway 78; 16 miles east of Ramona and 35 miles east of Escondido) take Wynola Road east for 3.3 miles. Turn left (north) on Farmer Road and go 0.1 mile to a small dirt turnout on the right side of the street. A small sign indicates the entrance to Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve.
  • Agency: San Diego County Parks/Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve
  • Distance: 5.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • Dogs: allowed on leash (exercise caution on warm days)
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: None (nearest camping is at William Heise County Park)
  • More information: Volcan Mountain Foundation page here; Yelp page here; trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 8

Updated April 2018

Mountain, foothill, desert and ocean views, impressive oaks, pines and cedars and a little bit of local history are some of what this terrific hike has to offer. Previously, the summit of Volcan Mountain (elevation 5,353) was only available during special events but now it is accessible year round, except following heavy rains or during fire alert conditions (check the link above for up to date information).

Begin by following the gravel pathway from Farmer Road to the entrance to the preserve. The gate, designed by local artist James Hubbell, is one of the preserve’s recognizable landmarks. From there, head uphill on the fire road, enjoying panoramic views of the Santa Ysabel Creek drainage to the west. You enter the woods and reach a junction with the Five Oaks Trail just under half a mile from the start. The trail is off limits to equestrians and cyclists but hikers can enjoy a more moderate and scenically varied ascent on this trail, returning on the fire road.

The Five Oaks Trail is named for the five species of oak trees native to the preserve: coast, scrub, canyon, black and Engelmann. The trail curves around the south slope of the mountain, providing views of the Cuyamacas, Viejas Mountain, El Capitan Mountain and more. A bench about halfway up the trail makes for a suitable resting spot to enjoy the view.

At 1.6 miles from the start, the trail rejoins the road. Continue through the meadow, ascending into a grove of pines and cedars, before reaching a junction. Make a hard right (the other two routes are closed) and make the final push to the summit. On the right, a tall chimney stands by itself; its presence might be confusing if not for a plaque indicating that it is all that remains from an observatory that was once on this site. The spot was considered for the Hale Telescope, which ultimately was placed twenty-five miles northwest on Palomar Mountain.

Follow the summit ridge, now enjoying desert views as well as the western panorama. There’s no one spot on the summit that provides a 360-degree view but by walking around a short loop below the KBBN radio tower, you can take it all in. The best views are of the Anza-Borrego Desert and of Toro Peak, Rabbit Peak and the rest of the Santa Rosa Mountains rising above. A use trail leads to a bench with views of the Cuyamacas and Banner Grade to the south. In the spring, the slopes are dotted with golden poppies.

After enjoying the summit, retrace your steps down to the junction, this time continuing on the fire road. While the road isn’t quite as scenic as the Five Oaks Trail, it does offer some shade and some good views to the west. In 0.9 mile it reaches the bottom of the Five Oaks Trail. From that point simply retrace your steps downhill back to the entrance gate and then Farmer Road.

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Entrance on Farmer Road
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
View from the bench on the Five Oaks Trail
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Black oaks, one of the five types of oaks on the Five Oaks Trail
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Fire road at the top of the Five Oaks Trail
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Cedar and pine woodlands near the summit
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Observatory site near the summit
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Golden poppies on the summit
Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, Julian, CA
Dusk on the fire road

Text and photography copyright 2018 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.

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2 thoughts on “Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

  1. This looks like it would make for a beautiful spring time hike. I can just picture the photo above with a carpet of green and lupines peeking out.

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