High Point from Oak Grove (Palomar Mountains)
- Location: Oak Grove Fire Station, northeast San Diego County. From I-15, take Highway 79 southeast for 24 miles to the Oak Grove Fire Station on the right side of the road. Turn into the lot and park in between the two buildings. 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: 13.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
- Difficulty Rating: R (Distance, elevation gain, steepness)
- Suggested time: 7 hours
- Best season: October – May
- USGS topo maps: Aguanga, Palomar Mountain Observatory
- Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
- More information: Trip descriptions here, here, here (slightly different route) and here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 9
High Point (elevation 6,140) is the highest point in the Palomar Mountains. The hike to reach High Point from Highway 79 is one of the most scenic and challenging in San Diego County.
From the parking lot behind the fire station, follow the paved road to the campground where signs will direct you to the trail. At 0.3 miles, bear left on a single-track (as of this writing, fallen tree branches block the way but they’re easy to circumvent.) The single-track joins a service road (0.5 miles) and then splits off again (0.7 miles.)
The trail soon begins an intense climb, ascending about 1,200 feet over the next 1.2 miles. To be sure, it’s a difficult stretch, but as you slug it out, you’re rewarded with great views including San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, Toro Peak and possibly Mt. Baldy if the air is clear. The lower part of the trail is exposed but as you get higher scrub oak provides a little shade.
At 2.1 miles from the start, the Oak Grove Trail ends at Oak Grove Road. Turn right (west) and continue your ascent. The grade is more moderate, although your legs will likely feel tired from the steep ascent before. The road follows the ridge, providing more panoramic views; you may be able to pick out Old Saddleback in the distance.
At 3.6 miles, just after you pass a gate, turn left at a fork and begin ascending High Point Road. You climb steadily for another 1.4 miles until the grade finally flattens and you can enjoy some great views to the east. You also might get a glimpse of the lookout tower on the summit, providing some motivation for the home stretch.
At 5.4 miles, you enter a pleasant oak woodland and come to another junction. This is a nice place to rest before making the final push to the top. Turn right and ascend on Palomar Divide Road, ignoring a side road coming in from the left. This is one of the more enjoyable parts of the hike, as oaks provide some shade and you can still get some good views on your right.
After making a hairpin turn the cover of oaks becomes even thicker, resembling parts of the Angeles National Forest. Take a left on a spur (6.4 miles) leading up to the summit.
The watchtower and some equipment sheds cut down on the view a little bit but it’s still a very impressive tableau: the mountains of Anza-Borrego; the Santa Rosas; the San Jacintos; the San Gabriels; the Santa Anas and the ocean. According to “Afoot and Afield”, if visibility is excellent, the Channel Islands can be seen. You also have an unusual view of the Palomar Mountain Observatory from above. Picnic tables allow you to sit and enjoy a snack before beginning the long trip back. Make sure you rest your legs before descending the steep Oak Grove Trail back to the campground.
Text and photography copyright 2014 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.