William Heise County Park
- Location: Eastern San Diego County, near Julian. On Highway 78, about 35 miles east of Escondido and a mile west of Julian, at the town of Wynola, head south on Pine Hills Road, signed for the park. After a mile, turn left on Deer Park Road, go 2.1 miles to Frisius Drive and turn left. Follow Frisius Drive to the park. Day use parking is $3. From the main entrance, follow the road about half a mile to the Canyon Oak day use area, shortly before Group Camp 2 and Camping Area 3.
- Agency: William Heise County Park (San Diego County Parks and Recreation)
- Distance: 3.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 700 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: Year-round but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter; plan accordingly
- USGS topo map: Julian
- Recommended gear: hiking poles; sun hat
- Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here (Canyon Oak trail only); Yelp page here
- Rating: 8
Located on the outskirts of Julian at nearly a mile above sea level, William Heise County Park offers dramatic mountain and desert views as well as secluded woodlands. Despite damage from the 2003 Cedar Fire, the park is still home to an impressive collection of trees including black oaks, pines and incense cedars. William Heise is perhaps best known as a camping destination, featuring both camp sites and log cabins, but it also features 10 miles of hiking trails. The 3.5-mile loop described here uses the Canyon Oak, Desert View and Nature Trails, sampling the best of the park’s scenery.
From the day use area, the Canyon Oak Trail ascends a natural staircase through a grove of oaks and pines where an interpretive plaque describes the history and effects of the area’s wildfires. From here you enter an open area where you briefly descend, taking in views of North Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to the south. After passing by Group Camp 1 (half a mile from the start), stay left as another trail merges in from the right. The trail then climbs through a fire-ravaged landscape on a westward facing slope, reaching a vista point with a bench where you can catch your breath while enjoying a panoramic view.
At about 1.3 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the Desert View Trail. Turn left and begin a steep climb up a manzanita-covered hill side. The good news is that the views are even better than from below. You follow a ridge, briefly descend and then climb again to a junction where a spur leads to Glen’s View (elevation 4,940). Here you get the best view of the hike, including the desert to the east, the Palomar Mountains to the north, the Cuyamacas to the south and if the air is clear, the ocean to the west. A view-finder points out some of the spots of note, including Toro Peak and Rabbit Peak in the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Salton Sea and more.
After taking in the vista, head back to the Desert View Trail which begins a steep descent, sometimes over rather rough terrain. At a T-junction (about 2.7 miles from the start) you can extend the hike by heading left on the Nature Trail, which drops into an attractive woodland. A few interpretive plaques describe the plant life, which includes incense cedars and sagebrush. The Nature Trail ends at a paved road near Group Camp 2. Follow the road a short distance back to the day use area.
In case you were wondering, William Heise was a local businessman who donated the land for this park back in the 1960s.
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.