Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail


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View of Hot Springs Mountain, highest point in San Diego County from the Pacific Crest Trail near Warner Springs, CA
View of Hot Springs Mountain during the first mile of the hike
Crossing Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, San Diego County, CA
Agua Caliente Creek

Agua Caliente Creek via Pacific Crest Trail

  • Location: Highway 79 near Warner Springs, northeast San Diego County. The starting point is a dirt lot on the south side of the road. The location is 36.3 miles east of I-15, 1.3 miles west of Warner Springs and 16.3 miles northwest of Santa Ysabel. Trail head coordinates are N 33 17.296, W 116 39.379.
  • Agency: Cleveland National Forest/Palomar Ranger District
  • Distance: 9.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 4.5 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Warner Springs; Hot Springs Mountain
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Day and Section Hikes Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California
  • More information: Trip description here; Description from a through-hiker’s blog here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7
Starting point for the hike to Agua Caliente Creek on the Pacific Crest Trail, Highway 79, Warner Springs, CA
0:00 – The parking area;  P.C.T. decal points across the street (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is arguably the most popular day hike out of Warner Springs, with the possible exception of Eagle Rock. It follows a pleasant stretch of the P.C.T. as it heads north from Highway 79, paralleling Agua Caliente Creek, which usually flows year round. While the scenery isn’t quite as dramatic as it is on the way to Eagle Rock, this section of the Pacific Crest Trail still offers a nice cross-section of the landscape around Warner Springs. The 9.4-mile round trip described here is a good, moderate day hike, but it can easily be shortened or extended.

Oak woodlands on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA
0:30 – Entering the woodlands (times are approximate)

From the turnout, carefully cross Highway 79 and follow a dirt road past a fence. You soon meet up with the signed Pacific Crest Trail. Bear left onto the P.C.T. and follow it through an attractive, oak-dotted field. Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County, can be seen to the northeast.

View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains from the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente Creek, San Diego County, CA
0:51 – View of Combs Peak and the Bucksnort Mountains after climbing out of the canyon

At about 1.1 miles, you enter the woods. You pass through private land on an easement, soon crossing Agua Caliente Creek for the first of several times. The trail then climbs above the creek, providing panoramic views to the west and of the Bucksnort Mountains to the north. Vegetation along this stretch includes beavertail and cholla cacti, yuccas, manzanita and oak. You reach a saddle (3 miles) where the trail descends back to the creek (3.3 miles) passing by a makeshift trail camp.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA
1:22 – Trail camp near where the P.C.T. crosses the creek

Keeping an eye out for poison oak, you cross the creek twice, reach another primitive camp and continue deeper into the canyon. A few pines can be seen sticking up from the oaks and sycamores. The trail briefly climbs the west side of the creek before dropping back down. At about 4 miles, you pass a wall of granite. At 4.6 miles, the trail enters a sloping meadow and soon after, you reach another trail camp; a perfect spot to relax beneath the oaks, accompanied by the sound of the trickling stream.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA
1:32 – Second trail camp by the creek

Beyond, the trail leaves the canyon and continues uphill toward Lost Valley Road and Combs Peak. For day hikers, this is the recommended turnaround point. The coordinates are N 33 19.290, W 116 37.356.

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Camp on the Pacific Crest Trail en route to Agua Caliente, San Diego County, CA
2:05 – Trail camp at the turnaround point

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