Hot Springs Mountain from Los Coyotes Campground
- Location: Los Coyotes Indian Reservation east of Warner Springs, northeastern San Diego County. The entrance to the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation is on Camino San Ignacio off of Highway 79 in Warner Springs, 37 miles southeast of Temecula, 20 miles southeast of the junction with Highway 371 and 15 miles north of the junction with Highway 76. Follow Camino San Ignacio for a total of 7.6 miles to the campground. The last stretch is dirt but in good shape and easily passable by all vehicles. Stop at the ranger station to check in and pay the $10 entrance fee. Once at the campground, park where available. The trail leaves from the north side of the campground (left side of the road).
- Agency: Los Coyotes Indian Reservation (phone: 760-782-0711)
- Distance: 9.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, distance)
- Suggested time: 5 hours
- Best season: March – June; October – November
- Recommended gear: sun hat hiking poles insect repellent
- Dogs: Allowed on leash
- Cell phone reception: Fair for the first two miles; weak on the summit; none in between
- Water: None
- Restrooms: Available at Los Coyotes Campground
- Camping/backpacking: Los Coyotes Campground information here
- More information: Trip description here; AllTrails report here; Yelp page here; SummitPost page here
- Rating: 8
Hot Springs Mountain is the tallest peak in San Diego County at 6,533 feet. Despite this distinction, it receives light visitation compared to Cuyamaca Peak (the county’s second tallest) and other major San Diego area summits. This is perhaps due to its remote location and the fact that for a while, the summit was closed to the public by the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation.
This write-up describes the longer route from Los Coyotes Campground. (If the roads are open to Nelson Camp, a shorter hike is possible). Some hikers may find their patience tested on the first half of the route, which climbs steadily over exposed terrain, but the payoffs include a pleasant jaunt through a mixed alpine forest, panoramic views from the top and a sense of isolation that is rare in San Diego County or indeed all of So Cal. Additionally, for San Diego peak baggers, this is an essential summit.
The route starts at the northern end of the campground at a dirt road fenced off by a metal chain. A sign on the tree identifies this trail as Rough Road, although it’s listed as Sukat Road on Google Maps. After climbing out of the wooded area of the campground, the road makes a no-nonsense ascent, picking up about 1,300 feet in two miles. Once you have gained the top of the ridge, the grade levels out dramatically and you find yourself in an attractive woodland of black oaks, Jeffrey pines and incense cedars.
At 2.5 miles, you reach a junction with Hot Springs Road, a dirt road coming up from the entrance station. Bear right and continue north, dropping briefly into a ravine to meet the trail coming up from Nelson Camp (3 miles). Soon after the trail climbs out of the woods and you get some excellent views to the south and west, notably of the north Palomar slopes. The trail then re-enters the woods, where you may get your first glimpse of the summit between the trees. At 4.4 miles the trail makes a hairpin right turn and you begin your final ascent to the top.
The most distinctive feature on the summit is the long-abandoned lookout tower. It doesn’t take a degree in engineering to know that climbing the tower is unsafe, but you can still sit at the base and enjoy some wide-ranging views: the Palomars and Cuyamacas to the south; the Santa Rosas and San Jacintos to the north and the Santa Anas to the northwest. The true summit lies to the east and can be reached via some moderate bushwhacking and scrambling.
After enjoying the view and not climbing the tower, retrace your steps. On the way down, especially at sunset, the views are excellent; having sweated through them on the way up you will be able to enjoy them more with gravity working in your favor.
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.