This one may be a bit off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the trip. Cahuilla Mountain stands between the Palomar and San Jacinto ranges, only a little over an hour’s drive from Riverside and Palm Springs, and doable as a day trip from San Diego, Orange County or L.A. While it may appear to be located in a desert wasteland, the mountain’s high elevation (5,635 feet) helps it support a variety of trees and plants; with an early start and good sun protection, the trip can be done in the warm months. The views, which include the San Bernardino, Santa Ana, San Jacinto, Santa Rosa and Palomar ranges, are great. If you are approaching from the southwest via Highway 371, you will see the long ridge of the mountain from a good distance out. The trail ends at the southern peak, probably the highest of several bumps on the ridge, although it has been speculated that another bump farther south may be a shade taller.
From the dirt lot, follow the trail past the information board and up the north slope of the mountain. You get some nice views of the San Jacintos and distant Santa Rosas, and the Anza Valley below. After traversing the rim of a deep canyon, you enter a pleasant woodland of pines and oaks at 1.4 miles, where you can sit and enjoy the shade. This is the approximate half way point.
The trail continues its ascent, reaching a scenic meadow and saddle at about two miles. Here, you can look back and get great views to the east, and the summit itself comes into view. The trail then descends onto the west slope of the mountain, providing great views of the Temecula Valley. After entering another grove of trees, you reach a junction at 2.5 miles. The right fork leads to a spring (marked by an actual metal spring) and the left fork leads to the summit.
The final ascent takes you through another meadow and past more trees before arriving at the summit ridge. You get a great view first to the south and then to the north before climbing to the top. The trees prevent the summit from being a true 360-degree view, but you can still get some impressive vistas in all directions.
In case you were wondering, the mountain’s name, like that of the local tribe, is pronounced “ka-WEE-uh.” The mountain is also notable for the historical events that took place around it, which inspired the famous 19th century novel “Ramona.”
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.