Stonewall Creek Fire Road view

Stonewall Mine/Los Vaqueros Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

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  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The trail head is on the south end of Lake Cuyamaca on Highway 79, 9.5 miles south of Julian, 3.7 miles south of the split with the Sunrise Highway and 13.4 miles north of Interstate 8 (10.7 miles north of the junction with Old Highway 80). If you are coming from the south, the trail head will be on you right; if you are coming from the north it will be on your left.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 5.3 miles (longer or shorter loops possible)
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Best season: Year-round
  • Recommended gear: Sun hat, sun block
  • Dogs: Not allowed
  • Cell phone reception: Good for most of the route; weak to fair in some spots
  • Water: Available in sinks at Los Vaqueros Group Horse Camp
  • Restrooms: Chemical toilet at the trail head; vault style toilets at the mine site; full restrooms at Los Vaqueros Group Horse Camp
  • Camping/backpacking: The Trout Pond/Los Vaqueros trail head is open only for day use. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park features two campgrounds (Paso Picacho and Green Valley) plus options for primitive camping. Click here for more information.
  • More information: Trip descriptions (exact routes vary) here, here, here and here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 7

Even if there’s no chance of discovering gold anymore, mining sites tend to be popular hiking destinations. The Stonewall Mine in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which operated from 1870 to 1923, is one of the park’s most visited destinations. The loop described here visits the mine but also tours the fire roads and single-track trails in the lightly traveled northeastern corner of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

From the Trout Pond Trailhead (listed as Los Vaqueros on Google Maps), follow the Marty Minshall Trail east. If there have been recent rains, the terrain may be somewhat damp as you make your way through woods and along a sloping meadow. Though you will hear traffic from Highway 79 at first, it soon fades. To the north, the landscape is dominated by North Peak and Lake Cuyamaca, a manmade reservoir that was built to provide water for the local mining operation and for the city of San Diego. In 0.4 mile, you reach a junction with your return route, the Los Vaqueros Trail. Continue half a mile to another junction where you have your choice of continuing along the lake shore on the Minshall Trail or heading into the woods on the Stonewall Mine Horse Trail. (The horse trail gains about 150 feet more than the route around the lake for those who want a little extra elevation gain in what is a fairly level hike. The Stonewall Mine Horse Trail splits a few times but soon rejoins itself). If you continue along the lake, you can also visit Fletcher Island via a causeway for additional exploration. (The distance and elevation gain in the description assume you will be taking the horse trail).

The two paths rejoin at the Stonewall Mine site. Unfortunately the mine itself is off limits but you can still explore a former cabin that has been converted into a museum with photographs and interpretive plaques describing the area’s history. Mining equipment is also on display here.

Many visitors turn around at this point but to add some distance and solitude, continue east on the Minshall Trail through an attractive mixed woodland of oaks and pines. The trail bends south, crosses a service road and enters a meadow with impressive views of Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak. At 2.25 miles from the start, the trail again meets the service road. If you want to cut the hike short, you can continue on the Minshall Trail to the Los Vaqueros Group Horse Camp, but to add some distance and scenic variety, head left (east) on the Stonewall Creek Fire Road. The trail heads uphill gradually for a mile, taking in some panoramic views of the meadow with the rounded peaks of the northern Laguna Mountains beyond.

At the intersection (part of the Soapstone Grade/Stonewall Creek loop) turn right and head downhill. In only 0.1 mile, turn right on the Vern Whitaker Trail, a single-track that cuts through the meadow below Stonewall Peak’s northeastern flank. In half a mile, you reach the Los Vaqueros Group Horse Camp where there are picnic tables and restrooms.

To continue, follow the paved road out of the campground to the Los Vaqueros Trail. Stay left at the first junction (the right fork is the southern portion of the Minshall Trail, which leads back to the service road). The trail heads northwest in almost a straight line, cutting across a pine-dotted meadow. You cross the service road again before dropping down to rejoin the Minshall Trail, completing the loop (4.9 miles from the start). From here, turn left and retrace your steps back to the trail head.

Trout Pond Trail Head, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, CA
Start of the hike on Highway 79
Lake Cuyamaca, San Diego County, CA
View of Lake Cuyamaca from the Minshall Trail
Stonewall Mine, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Mining cabin museum
Stonewall Mine, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, CA
Interpretive display in the cabin
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, CA
Woodlands on the Marty Minshall Trail east of Stonewall Mine
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, CA
Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak from the Minshall Trail
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, CA
Start of the Vern Whittaker Trail
Los Vaqueros Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Heading back on the Los Vaqueros Trail

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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