- Location: Cleveland National Forest, in the foothills southeast of the Palomar Mountains near Santa Ysabel. From Interstate 15 south of Temecula, take highway 76 west for 30.3 miles. Just before Lake Henshaw, turn left on East Grade Road (county road S-7). Drive 3.3 miles and look for a big turnout on the left side of the road. It used to be signed for Love Valley, but the sign is no longer there. 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: 300 feet
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Palomar Observatory
- More information: Trip report here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 8
This short but very scenic trip is one of the most enjoyable in the Palomars, and the wide vistas are not unlike the famous Panorama Trail of Yosemite National Park. Although there are no waterfalls, the views of Lake Henshaw and the Volcan and Cuyamaca Mountains to the east are quite something; very much a pleasant surprise for hikers of San Diego and elsewhere.
The actual destination of the trail, Love Valley, is a wide open meadow, and it makes a great place for a picnic. At 3,300 feet above sea level, it’s likely to be reasonably cool even into the summer months, and there are plenty of oak trees for shade. There’s also a big red barn, completing the Americana feel.
From the parking area, walk around the metal gate and begin heading downhill on the fire road. Soon you get some great views of Lake Henshaw and the mountains across the way. The trail descends for 0.8 miles before arriving at a split. Here, you can either walk straight and head to the barn, or you can go left (south), where you soon arrive at a small knoll dotted with oaks. A short climb over some rocks gives you nice views of the lake. The fire road becomes a single-track and continues south for a little ways, but this makes a good turnaround point.
To be sure, this hike is a little bit short to justify driving all the way from Orange County or L.A., but it certainly makes a nice trip from San Diego. It can also easily be combined with a visit to the famous Palomar Mountain Observatory Trail, or perhaps Cuyamaca Rancho or Anza-Borrego State Parks. It’s well worth making the effort to visit.
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.