Crestridge Ecological Reserve, El Cajon, CA

Crestridge Ecological Reserve

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Crestridge Ecological Reserve

  • Location: This hike starts from the reserve’s main entrance at the end of Horsemill Road near the community of Crest, between El Cajon and Alpine. From San Diego, take Interstate 8 to Greenfield Drive (exit 20). Turn right and head south for 0.5 mile to La Cresta Road. Follow it for 3.1 miles and bear left onto Mountain View. Go 1.2 miles and turn left on Horsemill Road. Follow it 0.5 miles to its ending, at the preserve entrance. Alternately from the east, take I-8 to Viewside Lane (exit 27). Turn left, cross the freeway and turn left on Alpine Blvd. Go 0.7 mile and turn right on Arnold Way. Go 0.8 mile and turn right on Harbison Canyon Road. Bear right onto Frances Drive, which becomes Mountain View Road. After 1.6 miles, turn right onto Horsemill Road and follow it 0.5 mile to the park entrance.
  • Agency: California Department of Fish & Wildlife
  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: October – June
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • Cell phone reception: Fair
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles sun hat
  • More information: Descriptions of the reserve here, here and here; Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 6

The 2,800 Crestridge Ecological Reserve features wide-ranging views of suburban San Diego, a grove of oaks that are rebounding from the 2003 Cedar Fire and one of the more unique visitor centers which even when not open still draws attention with its distinctive architecture and mosaic animal structures. The route described here samples the reserve’s scenery, providing a good workout that can easily be done in a couple of hours. Though there is virtually no signage, route finding is pretty obvious.

From the end of Horsemill Road, walk into the reserve past the information board. The visitor center, rebuilt after the Cedar Fire, is on the right, recognizable by its mushroom-cap shape, mosaic-studded bench and lizard sculpture. Beyond it, two short paths both lead to the park’s main route, the Valley View Truck Trail. It leads through a large grove of live oaks before reaching a “Y” junction. The left fork is the return route should you decide to follow the loop described below. The Valley View Truck Trail heads right past a metal fence and heads west along the north side of a ridge. The view to the north is dominated by El Cajon Mountain with the Cuyamaca range in the distance. Much of the route is exposed, although a few oaks provide pockets of shade. Other than some traffic noise drifting up from Interstate 8, this stretch of trail feels pleasantly secluded and rural.

At 1.7 miles, just after the trail makes a sharp left turn and begins to head downhill, look for an unsigned but obvious junction. Head left on a single-track trail, heading for a blue water tank. The trail weaves along the south side of the ridge, taking in views of Sycuan Peak and McGinty Mountain. At 2 miles, head right at an unsigned junction and climb to the tank. A bench provides a nice spot to catch your breath and enjoy the view.

Continue by heading down a steep service road. Just before you reach a metal gate, look for a single-track trail heading off to the left (northeast), 2.5 miles from the start. Ignore two false trails branching off to the right and follow it downhill to a stream bed. After crossing the stream bed, turn right and climb to a dirt service road (2.9 miles from the start.) Turn left and head back downhill into the oak grove, completing the loop. Retrace your steps on either of the trails back to the preserve entrance.

Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Crestridge Ecological Reserve, El Cajon, CA
Coastal live oaks
Crestridge Ecological Reserve Visitor Center, El Cajon, CA
Lizard sculpture
Valley View Truck Trail, El Cajon, CA
Valley View Truck Trail
Valley View Truck Trail, Crestridge Ecological Reserve, El Cajon, CA
Valley View Truck Trail
Valley View Truck Trail, El Cajon, CA
Valley View Truck Trail
Crestridge Ecological Reserve, El Cajon, CA
Looking north
Crestridge Ecological Reserve, El Cajon, CA
Bench at the water tank
Crestridge Ecological Reserve, El Cajon, CA
View of El Capitan

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.



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