- Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County. From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 12 miles to the Paso Pacacho Campground on the left side of the road, past the fire station. (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 11 miles and turn right into the parking area. Day parking is $8 per vehicle.
- Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 900 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
- More information: Trip report here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 9
Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in San Diego County, and with the phenomenal views from the top, it’s no surprise. The hike provides a lot of scenic rewards for only moderate effort. For a lot of people, the real challenge is driving to the remote location, which is an hour from San Diego, about two hours from Orange County and three from downtown L.A. Still, it makes a great weekend or long day trip.
From the Paso Picacho campground, cross Highway 79 (there’s not likely to be much traffic, but be careful anyway) and begin your ascent on the fire road signed for Stonewall Peak. You ascend through a meadow filled with trees that were burned in the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, and after 0.3 miles, the trail bends to the north and becomes a single-track.
For the next mile and a half, you ascend the switchbacks, taking in nice views of Lake Cuyamaca to the north and Cuyamaca Peak to the west. Giant pink and orange rocks and more burned trees help create a feeling of utter foreignness to the landscape.
At 1.8 miles from the start, the trail reaches a junction. Head right and begin your final push to the summit. The trail gives way to some rocks, so a little scrambling may be involved, but it’s not too difficult. For the last few yards, a metal railing separates the trail from a sheer drop to the east, and it encloses the tiny summit.
From the top, at 5,730 feet, the view includes the Cleveland National Forest and Laguna Mountains to the south and east, the bulk of Cuyamaca Peak to the west and the lake, surrounded by a wide valley, to the north. The rocks drop off sharply in all directions; while some people might be bummed that the railing encloses the summit, others will be grateful for it – it’s a LONG way down on all sides.
Although I give Garnet Peak a slight edge over Stonewall as the best hike in San Diego County, this one is a close second, and a must-do for any So Cal trail head.
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.