Pine Ridge 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 7 miles to the Green Valley Campground. (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 15 miles and turn right into the parking area. Day parking is $8 per vehicle. Once you’re in the park, head right and follow the road about one mile to the Arroyo Seco picnic area. The day use parking area is on the right.
- Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
- Distance: 3.4 miles
- Elevation gain: 550 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Best season: Year round but hot during the summer
- USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
- Reccomended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
- More information: Trip description here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 7
Like a smaller version of the West Mesa Loop, this hike (consisting of the Pine Ridge Trail, the Arroyo Seco Fire Road and a short stretch on pavement) offers a very enjoyable sampling of the scenery in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park’s southern end. Most of the route is exposed, although with a late start, the sun will be setting behind the higher ridges.
Begin by walking on the paved road and following the signs to camp site #36, which you will reach after about 0.4 mile. Here, you can access the Pine Ridge Trail which heads uphill along…you guessed it, a ridge dotted with pines, specifically Coulters, as well as black oaks. To the south is the lonely Sweetwater River canyon; Cuyamaca Peak and West Mesa dominate the landscape to the north. You may be able to trace your return route, the Arroyo Seco Fire Road, in the valley hundreds of feet below.
At 1.9 miles, the trail reaches its high point and makes switchbacks down a buckwheat-dotted slope to meet the California Riding & Hiking Trail (2.4 miles.) Turn right and follow the CR&H Trail a short distance to another junction with the Arroyo Seco Fire Road. Head right and follow it as it makes a pleasant descent through groves of oaks, back to the starting point.
Given the distance one is likely to drive to reach Cuyamaca Rancho State Park (about an hour from San Diego, at least two from Orange County) most hikers will probably want to combine the Pine Ridge Trail with other trips in the park. The closest is the short excursion to Green Valley Falls; Stonewall Peak is a deservedly popular destination as well. It is also easy to extend the Pine Ridge Trail hike into a longer trip, as described here.
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.