Here’s a hike that is impossible not to enjoy: a tour of the East Mesa region of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park with panoramic views, alpine meadows, trickling streams and shaded canyons. Botany geeks will enjoy spring wildflowers (lupines, checker, wild onions and more) and the mix of desert vegetation (cacti, manzanita) and black oaks and pines characteristic of the transitional zone 4,000-5,000 feet above sea level. Wildlife sighting opportunities are typical of the Cuyamaca mountains: birds of prey, coyotes, mule deer and squirrels, but the streams and springs of this hike also present the opportunity to see tadpoles.
The route described below is counter-clockwise, getting most of the climbing out of the way at the beginning of the hike. Begin by bearing right on the Harvey Moore Trail (the other trail leading from the lot, the East Side Trail, is your return route). The Harvey Moore Trail, which overlaps the East Side Trail for the first 0.1 mile before splitting to the left, climbs steadily through a mixed oak/pine forest, picking up almost 400 feet, about half of the route’s total elevation gain. At 0.6 mile from the start, you reach a saddle with views of Oakzanita Peak to the south. Stay straight at junctions with the Oak Trail and Pine Trail and continue uphill more gradually, enjoying views of Cuyamaca Peak and Stonewall Peak to the north.
At 2.1 miles, you reach the Dyar Spring Trail. The Harvey Moore Trail continues east, an option for hikers who want a longer trip. The Dyar Spring Trail heads north, almost immediately crossing a tributary of Juaquapin Creek, itself a tributary of the Sweetwater River. The muddy stream crossing can be surprisingly tricky if the water level is high. The Dyar Spring Trail then leads across East Mesa, an attractive, gently sloping meadow dotted with black oak trees. At 3.1 miles, you reach a grove of oaks providing a pleasant, shaded spot for a rest or picnic. The trail then swings to the west, taking in a dramatic view of the valley, with Cuyamaca Peak and Middle Peak towering above, before dropping down to join the Juaquapin Trail (3.5 miles.)
Turn left and head south, following the trail alongside Juaquapin Creek. At the next junction (4.6 miles) take a hard left onto a connector trail which drops down to cross the creek and continues through shade before emerging at a junction with the East Side Trail. Follow the East Side Trail along a pine-dotted slope back to the parking area.
Text and photography copyright 2017 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.