- Location: Near Fallbrook in north San Diego County. From Riverside County, take I-15 to Mission Road (exit 51). Turn right and make a quick left onto Old Highway 395. Go 1.8 miles and turn left on Stewart Canyon Road. Cross under the freeway and park in the lot on the corner of Stewart Canyon Road and Pankey Road. From San Diego, take I-15 north to Highway 76. Turn left, cross over the freeway and turn right on Old Highway 395. Go 2.6 miles, turn right on Stewart Canyon Road and cross under the freeway. Park in the lot on the corner of Stewart Canyon and Pankey.
- Agency: Fallbrook Land Conservancy
- Distance: 3.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (steepness, elevation gain, terrain)
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: November – May
- USGS topo map: Bonsall
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
- More information: here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 6
There aren’t many 1,567-foot summits from which one can see the ocean, Mt. Baldy, Old Saddleback, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, but on clear days, all of the above are visible from Monserate Mountain. The hike loses a few points due to the constant noise from nearby I-15, but it is convenient to inland San Diego County and Temecula/Murrieta, and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. It can also be a great place to watch the sunset; the descent heads west, and the lights from the freeway make night-time navigation easy. Be careful of the terrain however.
From the parking area, cross Pankey Road and begin climbing. The trail ascends a steep and rocky slope. At 0.3 miles, you start making some switchbacks and get some nice views to the south. At 0.8 miles (and over 600 vertical feet) you reach an abandoned service road (Pala Mesa Mountain Drive on some maps), where you’ll head left.
A brief flat stretch brings you to a clearing where the trail swings to the right and resumes its steep ascent. This spot is a nice place to catch your breath and enjoy the view.
The trail climbs again, passing some metal poles and following the south side of Monserate. At 1.3 miles from the start, you’ll make a hairpin turn to the right and begin the final push to the summit. Soon after, the main trail continues south, and you’ll take a spur heading left and up to the summit.
On the top, there’s a cairn, a summit register and a few rocks on which you can sit and enjoy the view. The Agua Tibia range is prominent to the east; beyond it you might be able to see San Gorgonio and San Jacinto. To the west, you can see the ocean and the flat shape of San Clemente Island.
If you enjoyed the hike, consider making a donation to the non-profit Fallbrook Land Conservancy, which manages the land. The Conservancy oversees several pockets of open space in the Fallbrook area, including the Santa Margarita River.
Text and photography copyright 2013 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.