Difficulty PG13 Distance 5.1 to 10 miles General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 San Diego County - Mountains & Eastern county Season: Late Winter/Spring

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)


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Summit of Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA
Looking northeast from Oakzanita Peak
Foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA
Fall foliage on the Lower Descanso Creek Trail

Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, inland San Diego County.  From San Diego, take I-8 east to Highway 79.  Head north for 2.7 miles, turn left and continue another 3.2 miles on Highway 79 to a small turnout on the right side of the road.  From Julian, head south on Highway 79 for 17 miles.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo maps: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here; Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA
0:00 – Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Oakzanita Peak as seen from the Lower Descanso Trail Head

Oakzanita Peak (elevation 5,054) is the southernmost major summit in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Panoramic views from the top and a good variety of scenery on the way up make it a superior hiking destination. The route is known both for fall foliage and spring wildflowers. While the views are best on clear, cool days, the summit can be quite windy so plan accordingly.

Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA
0:20 – Oakzanita Peak as seen from the East Mesa Fire Road

From the trail head, follow the Lower Descanso Creek Trail which follows–you guessed it–Lower Descanso Creek. Even when the creek is dry, the stroll through the oaks is enjoyable. After an easy 0.7 miles, during which you gain only about 200 feet, you reach the East Mesa Fire Road. Turn right and follow the road for a short distance, during which you get a nice view of Oakzanita Peak, towering above the meadow.

Take the Descanso Creek Trail, which dips down to the stream bed and then begins a steady climb along the north east slope of the mountain. As you climb, you get views of Cuyamaca Peak and later Stonewall Peak’s characteristic triangular shape comes into view.

View of Cuyamaca Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA
0:52 – Cuyamaca Peak as seen from the Descanso Creek Trail

At 2.1 miles from the start, a large granite outcrop provides a perfect rest spot with excellent views to the north and east. Farther up, you reach a junction (2.4 miles) where you get a good view to the south. Head right on the spur signed for Oakzanita Peak, making the switchbacks and climbing over a few rocks to reach the summit.

Trail to Oakzanita Peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego County, CA
1:00 – Approaching Oakzanita Peak from the top of the ridge

The views aren’t quite as dramatic as those of Stonewall Peak, but Oakzanita’s location does have the advantage of providing a true 360-degree perspective, due to its distance from Cuyamaca Peak. You can see the East and West Mesa, the Laguna Mountains and El Capitan. If visibility is particularly good you can see the ocean, the Coronado Islands, the Santa Ana Mountains and the Santa Rosa Mountains.

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.

Oakzanita Peak southwest view
1:20 – Looking southwest from Oakzanita Peak
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