Boucher Lookout and Scott’s Cabin Loop (Palomar Mountain State Park)

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View from the Boucher Lookout
View from the Boucher Lookout
Crossing through the field on the Adams Trail
Crossing through the field on the Adams Trail

Text and photography copyright 2010 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. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Boucher Lookout and Scott’s Cabin Loop (Palomar Mountain State Park)

  • Location:  North of Pala, in northeastern San Diego County.  From I-15 at Fallbrook, take highway 76 east for 21 miles, and take a left on county road S6.  Follow it for 6 1/2 miles and take a left on S7 (signed for the park).  Drive 3 miles and enter the park, where a $8 per day fee is charged.  Follow the signs for the Boucher Lookout.
  • Agency: Palomar Mountain State Park
  • Distance: 3.3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot in  the summer, snowy in the winter – call the park to check the conditions)
  • USGS topo map:  “Palomar Mountain”; “Boucher Hill”
  • Recommened gear: Insect Repellent
  • More information: Park home page here; trip descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8

This loop samples the various delights of Palomar Mountain State Park: tall pines and oaks, open meadows, mountain views and aerial panoramas of western San Diego County.  The hike visits three of the park’s landmarks: the Boucher Hill Lookout, Scott’s Cabin and the Cedar Grove Campground.

The loop can be done in either direction (and you can also use the Silvercrest Picnic Area as a starting point.) In this post it will be described counter-clockwise. From the lookout, follow the Boucher Trail east and downhill as it threads its way between two paved roads. To the left you’ll get a glimpse of the Palomar Mountain Observatory; on the right is Pauma Valley and the distant Cuyamaca Mountains.

At 0.7 miles, you reach a five-way junction. Head straight (not downhill) and follow the road a short distance to the signed Scott’s Cabin trail, across from the Silvercrest Picnic Area. Turn left and follow the single-track through pine and oak woodlands, meeting a T-junction (1.1 miles from the start.) Turn left, follow the trail past the site of Scott’s Cabin (just a few logs remain of this homestead) and descend though the woods.  Stay left at another junction with the Cedar Trail, which heads toward Doane Pond, and cross Doane Valley Road.  The entrance to the Cedar Grove Campground is just ahead on the left.  This is about the half-way point in terms of distance, although most of the climbing still remains.

You walk into the campground and look for the Adams Trail branching off to the left.  Follow it through a meadow and then into a woodland, crossing Nate Harrison Road at 2.4 miles.  On the opposite side, a sign incorrectly lists the distance back to the lookout as 1.7 miles (it’s about half that.)

Follow the single track – now the Boucher Trail – as it steadily ascends the west side of the hill.  Your efforts are rewarded with panoramic vistas that may include the Santa Ana Mountains and the ocean, pending good visibility.  There are a few spots where the trail is a little overgrown, although it’s not too hard to follow.  It finally returns to the parking lot at the lookout, completing the loop at 3.3 miles.  If you didn’t do so before you started the hike, take a moment to read the historical markers and sit on the benches that provide a few of the valley below.

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