Upper Green Valley/La Cima Loop (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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  • Location: Pedro Fages monument on the Sunrise Scenic Highway (county road S1) in eastern San Diego County. From Highway 79, six miles south of Julian and 17 miles north of Interstate 8, head southeast on the Sunrise Scenic Highway (turn right if you are coming from the south or left if you are coming from the north). The monument will be on the left side of the road in 1.6 miles.
  • Agency: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June (possible snow during the winter)
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good at the trailhead and on the portion of the trail adjacent to the road; weak to none for most of the route
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: None (the nearest campgrounds are Paso Picacho and Green Valley in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)
  • Recommended gear: Sun hat, sun block, hiking poles
  • More information: Trip descriptions (longer route starting from the Sunrise Trail Head) here and here
  • Rating: 7

Updated August 2019

Most hikers think of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park as being worlds apart. In fact, these two large state parks in San Diego County border each other and this enjoyable hike, which can be done in a few hours, straddles the boundary that they share. Sitting at elevations ranging from 4,450 to 4,850 feet above sea level, this trip can be done on warm days, given an early or late start, adequate sun protection and water. Highlights include desert and mountain views and solitude, the stretch next to the road notwithstanding.

The loop can be done in either direction. If you hike counter-clockwise, as described here, you can descend, rather than ascend, the steep and exposed Soapstone Grade Fire Road. Pick up the trail on the west side of the road opposite the monument. Soon you come to a junction where the California Riding and Hiking Trail heads straight and your return route, the La Cima Trail, heads left. Follow the California Riding and Hiking Trail as it ascends gradually, drops and turns south, passing along the edge of a meadow. A few large oak trees amount to false advertising; there is very little shade on the route. Across the meadow you will get clear views of Cuyamaca Reservoir, Stonewall Peak and the three Cuyamaca summits. Along the way, you pass the boundary into Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

At 2.3 miles from the start, you reach the Soapstone Grade Fire Road, which is also part of the Stonewall Creek/Soapstone Grade loop. Turn left and drop into upper Green Valley, losing almost 400 feet in 0.7 mile. At the bottom, turn left on the unsigned Upper Green Valley Trail and begin the return leg of the hike. The single-track climbs steadily, picking up 450 feet over the next 1.3 miles and crossing back into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The Upper Green Valley ends at a junction with the La Cima Trail. Bear left and continue north on the La Cima Trail, heading back toward the Pedro Fages monument. The annoyance of traffic noise on the Sunrise Scenic Highway is offset by views of the Anza-Borrego Desert.

The Pedro Fages monument
Junction of the La Cima Trail and California Riding & Hiking Trail
False advertising: oaks on the California Riding & Hiking Trail
Stonewall Peak as seen from the California Riding & Hiking Trail
Rolling hills on the California Riding & Hiking Trail
Descending the Soapstone Grade Fire Road
Looking south from the La Cima Trail
Dusk in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

Text and photography copyright 2019 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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