Azalea Glen Trail (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)
- Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County. From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 12 miles to the Paso Pacacho Campground on the left side of the road, past the fire station. (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 11 miles and turn right into the parking area. Day parking is $8 per vehicle.
- Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
- Distance: 4.1 miles
- Elevation gain: 550 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: Year round
- USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
- Recommended gear: insect repellent; sun hat
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; article about the trail here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 7
This scenic and varied loop explores the lands between Middle Peak and Cuyamaca Peak. It offers a nice sampling of the park’s high country scenery including views of Stonewall Peak and the reservoir, alpine meadows and forests that are recovering nicely from the Cedar Fire of 2003. Trail signage can be a little confusing (the Azalea Glen Trail also shares a portion of the shorter Paso Pacheco loop and the distances aren’t entirely accurate) but even if you don’t follow the exact loop, this is still an enjoyable place to wander for an afternoon. The only downsides are the bugs and the presence of poodle dog bush (although it doesn’t encroach the trail too closely, so as long as you recognize it it is easy to avoid). The tall plant with the characteristic purple flowers grows in recently burned mountainous areas such as the Cuyamacas.
From the southwest edge of the parking lot near the campground entrance, follow the signed Azalea Glen Trail along a fence beneath some pines. You cross a footbridge, ignoring a false trail on the left and a signed spur on the right leading back to the campground. Half a mile from the start, you may notice a trail coming in from the hard left; this is the return route. (The loop can be hiked either way, but is usually done counter-clockwise as described here, meaning much of the climbing will be done in the shade.)
You cross another footbridge, pass a junction with the California Riding & Hiking Trail and continue through more heavily wooded terrain, passing a few Morteros under the shade of some oaks (0.9 mile.) The trail the enters a grove of cedars and begins its ascent, paralleling seasonal Azalea Creek. As the trail climbs, it becomes more exposed, although scrub oaks still provide some shade at times of the day when the sun is lower.
At 2.1 miles, turn left on the Azalea Spring Fire Road. You pass by Azalea Spring (water for horses only) and bear left to stay on the fire road, which soon starts its descent. Over the next 0.6 mile, enjoy views of Stonewall Peak, Middle Peak, Cuyamaca Reservoir and even the distant Santa Rosa Mountains.
At 2.9 miles, make a hard left on an easy to miss single-track trail. It switchbacks down toward the Paso Pichaco Campground, reaching another junction at 3.4 miles. Here, you have the option of heading straight and returning through the campground. A more scenic route is to take a hard left and follow the trail 0.2 mile through the meadow to the earlier junction. From here, turn right and retrace your steps back to the parking area.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.