- Location: Montezuma Valley Road (county route S-22), southeast of Warner Springs in inland San Diego County. From Highway 79, 3 miles south of Warner Springs, 41 miles southeast of Temecula, 4.3 miles north of Highway 76 and 11 miles north of Highway 78, head east on San Felipe Road. In 4.7 miles, turn left onto Montezuma Valley Road. In one mile, just past mile marker 10, park in a large dirt turnout on the right side of the road.
- Distance: 9.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 750 feet
- Suggested time: 4.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance)
- Best season: November – June
- Dogs: Allowed (exercise caution on warm days)
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: None
- Restrooms: None
- Camping/backpacking: Eagle Rock could work as a campsite; there are several areas of the meadow that could work as well.
- Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
- More information: Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 7
Updated January 2019
Named for its uncanny resemblance to the bird, Eagle Rock is one of inland San Diego’s most popular hiking destinations. The rock, which also offers outstanding views of the surrounding mountains, is most commonly visited from the north, via a 3.3-mile trip from Highway 79. The route from the south, described here, is longer and less varied but still enjoyable, especially since it draws less visitation. In March and April, you may be joined by Pacific Crest Trail through-hikers and you also might see some cattle, but we’ll get to that later.
Indeed, this hike is a textbook “stroll through the country” – long and leisurely, through rolling hills and meadows. The route traverses a plateau between the higher peaks of inland San Diego County and the Anza-Borrego Desert and as such showcases a variety of vegetation including cacti, manzanita, sycamores and live oaks. Other than a few overhead powerlines and traffic noise for the first mile, there is very little evidence that this hike takes place in the fifth most populous county in the United States.
From the parking area, cross the street and begin heading north on the signed Pacific Crest Trail. Pass through the metal gate (watch out for the barbed wire) and follow the P.C.T. through a grove of oaks. There are a few use trails and private roads that cross the area but the main route is well marked. You gradually climb to a crest (1.3 miles from the start) where you get a panoramic view into the meadow below with the eastern end of the Palomars towering in the distance.
In the next 0.7 mile, you drop about 250 feet into the meadow (the only major sustained descent or ascent of the trip). For the next mile-plus, you cross the meadow, making a few gentle ascents and descents. There are mountains on all sides: Hot Springs to the north, the San Ysidros to the east, the Cuyamacas and Volcans to the south and the Palomars to the west.
At about 3.1 miles from the start, you enter the riparian habitat of San Ysidro Creek which is usually dry but still retains enough moisture to support a small population of oaks and sycamores. After half a mile of pleasant shade, the trail makes a sharp left turn, crosses the creek bed and climbs to a ridge. From here, you will see Eagle Rock to the northwest, half a mile as the crow flies and slightly longer by the trail. This last portion of the hike crosses another meadow where cows often graze.
A use trail leads to Eagle Rock, which sits on a small knoll. Here, you will likely be joined by hikers who have come from the north. With care, you can climb to the top of the rock for an impressive view of the surrounding area. After enjoying the scenery, retrace your steps or, if you have set up a car shuttle, you can continue another 3.3 miles to Highway 79.
Text and photography copyright 2019 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.