Fry Creek Loop Trail
- Location: Cleveland National Forest near Pala. From Interstate 15 south of Temecula, take highway 76 west for 21 miles. Turn left on county road S-6 (South Grade Road), and head north for 7 miles. Stay on S-6 at the junction with S-7. Continue 2.6 miles (just past the Observatory campground) and look for the signed Fry Creek Campground on the left. Park on the side of the road, by the gate. A National Forest Service Adventure Pass ($5 for a day or $30 for the year) is required. Click here to purchase.
- Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Mountain Ranger District
- Distance: 2 miles
- Elevation gain: 450 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: Palomar Observatory
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 6
This short loop, almost exactly across the street from the Palomar Mountain Observatory trailhead, takes in some of the area’s attractive high country. Despite its brevity, the hike presents a few challenges: some people might feel the effects of the thin air; also the trail has some sharp drop-offs, which can be treacherous in the winter if there is snow or ice.
From the road, walk into the campground to the bulletin board at the entrance, and head right on the signed trail. You switchback uphill, through a mix of oaks and pines that is typical for the area. Less than a quarter mile in, you’ll cross a creek which may or may not have water. The trail levels out, crossing a second creek and arriving at a road in 0.8 miles.
On the opposite side of the road, continue uphill, quickly veering to the left. A few minutes of walking over some rocks brings you to a wide, open space where several trees have been cut down. The trail begins to swing around toward the east, heading back to complete the loop. It hugs the north side of a ridge, passing through a thick grove of pines that may remind hikers of the San Jacintos near Idyllwild or perhaps the slopes of Mt. Wilson.
At 1.8 miles, the trail makes a hairpin turn to the left and descends, arriving back at the paved road. Turn right and complete the loop. The Fry Creek Loop trail makes a nice side-trip if you’ve come to visit the Palomar Mountain Observatory Trail or the state park nearby.
Text and photography copyright 2012 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.