Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles Rating: 7-8 San Diego County - Mountains & Eastern county Season: All year

Lower Doane Valley/Lower French Valley (Palomar Mountain State Park)


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Pines, meadows and hills in French Valley
Pines, meadows and hills in French Valley
Oak woodlands on the Lower French Valley Trail
Oak woodlands on the Lower French Valley Trail

Lower Doane Valley/Lower French Valley (Palomar Mountain State Park)

  • Location:  Palomar Mountains in northeastern San Diego County.  From I-15 at Fallbrook, take highway 76 east for 21 miles, and take a left on county road S6.  Follow it for 6 1/2 miles and take a left on S7 (signed for the park).  Drive 3 miles and enter the park, where a $8 per day fee is charged.  At the first intersection, turn right and drive 1.8 miles to the Doane Pond day use area, making a right turn at the only intersection along the way.  The road is narrow and drops off sharply, so be careful.
  • Agency: Palomar Mountain State Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 300 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map:  “Boucher Hill”
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
0:00 - Doane Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Doane Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This pleasant loop in the lower country of Palomar Mountain State Park is like a longer version of the Doane Nature Trail, with which it shares its first and last segments.  Highlights include an impressive variety of trees, open meadows, a seasonal stream and nice mountain views.  The hike isn’t at all difficult but there are a few stream crossings and logs to duck under; parents with kids will want to exercise extra caution.  There’s also a significant amount of poison oak; most of it is away from the trail but keep an eye out for it nonetheless.

0:11 - Stay right at the junction with the Weir Trail
0:10 – Left turn onto the Weir Trail (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the Doane Nature Trail across a footbridge and service road.  You cross a seasonal stream and reach a junction (0.3 miles) where you’ll turn left on the signed Weir Trail.  You follow it through the forest, passing a junction with the Baptist Trail on the left and getting a glimpse of French Valley on the right.

0:15 - Fallen pines, Weir Trail
0:15 – Fallen pines, Weir Trail

At about 0.9 miles, you’ll cross Pauma Creek (either wading, jumping or walking on a wooden board) and reach another junction.  Turn left and go 0.1 miles, following the stream (watch out for poison oak) to a pool above which an abandoned stone tower stands (built in the ’20s to test the hydroelectric potential of the stream.)  This is a nice place to sit and enjoy the trickling sound of the stream while dunking your feet.

0:24 - Creek crossing
0:24 – Creek crossing

After retracing your steps to the junction, turn left, walk a short distance through the valley and make another left turn on the French Valley Trail. You follow it for a pleasant third of a mile, walking past tall pines with rolling hills in the distance. At a junction, you make a hairpin right turn (look for a fallen sign on the ground indicating the trail) and head back toward the Doane Valley Campground. You enter a grove of massive oaks; a nice place to sit for a spell (although watch out for poison oak growing between the rocks.)

0:29 - Abandoned gauging station
0:29 – Abandoned gauging station

Shortly beyond the grove, you’ll have to cross under a massive fallen oak and climb around another one. You pass junctions with the Lower Doane and Doane Valley Nature Trails and reach the campground (2.5 miles from the start.) Turn right and follow the paved road half a mile back to the parking lot by Doane Pond. As an alternate, just before the campground you can make a hard right on the Doane Valley Nature Trail and follow it back to the junction with the Weir Trail, then turn left and head back to the parking area.

0:40 - Left turn on the French Valley Trail
0:40 – Left turn on the French Valley Trail

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.

1:05 - Low bridge (heading back to the campground on the French Valley Trail)
1:05 – Low bridge (heading back to the campground on the French Valley Trail)
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