El Monte Park Trail
- Location: Across from El Monte County Park, east of Lakeside, San Diego County. The address 15760 El Monte Rd. gives you the approximate location of the staging area. From I-8, take the Lake Jennings Park Rd. exit (23) and head northwest for 1.8 miles. Turn right onto El Monte Rd. and follow it 4 miles. The staging area is on the left, opposite the park. Alternately, from Highway 67 in Lakeside, head east on Mapleview St. for a total of 1.4 miles (it becomes Lake Jennings Park Rd.) and turn left onto El Monte Rd. Follow it four miles to the staging area. If parking is unavailable in the staging area, you can park across the street at El Monte Park for $3 per vehicle.
- Agency: County of San Diego/City of Lakeside
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,200 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, steepness)
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Best season: November – May (Trail opens at 8am and closes at sunset)
- Recommended gear: hiking poles sun hat sunblock
- Dogs: Allowed
- Cell phone reception: Weak near the bottom; fair to good near the top
- Water: Fountains at El Monte County Park (across the street from the staging area)
- Restrooms: At El Monte County Park
- Camping: None
- More information: Articles about the trail (one of Jerry Schad’s last) here and here; trip description here
- Rating: 7
Known also as the Flume Trail and the Historic Flume Trail, the El Monte Park Trail is not in the city of El Monte, but in rural San Diego County near Lakeside and El Cajon. Completed in 2011, the El Monte Park Trail offers a vigorous workout with dramatic views of El Capitan and also a taste of history, as it crosses the route of one of the flumes built some hundred years ago to bring water from the mountains to the city.
From the staging area, cross Lake Jennings Road and follow a bridle path around the edge of the park. After passing an interpretive plaque describing the timeline of the flume, you begin a steady ascent, picking up about 350 feet in half a mile. Your efforts are rewarded with views that expand with every step you climb. The trail levels out and drops to a saddle, where a short spur leads to a grated-off tunnel that was part of the flume. A cut along the hillside heading west may appear to be an alternate trail, but it’s actually part of the flume route (and now on private property).
The bulk of the work now begins, as the trail climbs 650 feet in less than a mile, negotiating one switchback after another (hikers who hate switchbacks might want to find a different trail). When you stop to catch your breath, you can enjoy even better views of El Capitan and the El Monte Valley; if visibility is good, you can also see Cuyamaca Peak to the east. At 1.7 miles the grade levels out and you reach a vista point where you can sit on a bench and enjoy what is probably the best view of the entire hike. This is a good turnaround point, but for those who like to see things to their finish, the trail continues another 0.3 mile to its upper end at Creek Hills Road. Here, you can enjoy views to the south toward Alpine and beyond before retracing your steps. Take appropriate caution on the steep, sometimes loose descent. Though there is no parking here, hikers who want to just do the trail downhill can have someone drop them off and rendezvous at El Monte Park.
Photo Gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
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.