- Location: Mt. San Miguel Park, Chula Vista. From the 125 toll road, take the Mt. Miguel Road exit (9) and head east for 0.7 mile. Turn left onto Paseo Veracruz and drive a short distance to the park entrance, on the left. The trail leaves from the north end of the park. If you want to avoid the toll, take the 54 Freeway to the Briarwood exit (5). Head south on Briarwood for 0.6 mile, turn left onto Sweetwater Road, go 0.4 mile and turn right onto Bonita Road. Go 0.3 mile and turn left onto San Miguel Road. Go 0.9 mile and turn right onto Proctor Valley Road. Go 0.5 mile and turn left onto San Miguel Ranch Road, which becomes Mt. Miguel Road. Go 1.4 miles to Paseo Veracruz (0.7 mile past the 125 Toll Road) and turn left. Follow Paseo Veracruz a short distance to the park entrance. Note: an alternate trail head is available on the corner of Paseo Veracruz and Paseo los Gatos, a short distance past the park entrance.
- Agency: San Diego National Wildlife Refuge
- Distance: 4 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: October – June
- Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on hot days; some rocky terrain may be tough on their paws; watch out for tarantula hawk wasps)
- Cell phone reception: Good
- Water: Available at restrooms by the baseball diamond and at fountains throughout the park
- Restrooms: At the baseball diamond
- Camping/backpacking: Nearest camping is at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park
- Recommended gear: sun hat hiking poles sun block
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
- More information: Yelp page here; AllTrails report here; video panorama of the summit here
- Rating: 6
Sometimes the journey can be as rewarding as the destination. This is not the case with Mother Miguel Mountain, which requires a steep, entirely exposed ascent. However, the views from the top and the calories burned on the rigorous climb make Mother Miguel Mountain a worthwhile destination if you find yourself in San Diego’s South Bay area.
Several trails, official and unofficial, lace the south and western slopes of the 1,527-foot tall summit. You’ll likely see more hikers working their way up and down a steep use trail than on the authorized one (known as the Rockhouse Trail), which makes many switchbacks. Resist the temptation to cut the switchbacks – even though some of the shorter and tighter ones are probably unnecessary – to help preserve the ecology of the mountain. The terrain on the use trail is also potentially treacherous to descend on tired legs.
From the parking area, follow a use trail across a small drainage ditch and under some power lines (don’t expect much isolation from the sights and sounds of civilization on this hike) and follow the trail around the west side of a knoll to a junction. Follow the single-track in front of you downhill into a shallow canyon and then begin the ascent, gaining 900 feet in the next 1.5 miles. You make one switchback after another, gaining a ridge at 1.5 miles from the start. The trail then makes a straight run along the southeast slope of Mother Miguel before heading north toward the summit. Near the top, you have the option of using two more switchbacks.
The summit is dominated by the Rockhouse, a pile of rocks said by some to have been first put together in 1890. It anchors an American flag and a MIA/POW flag that are recognizable from many social media posts of hikers who have climbed the peak. The antenna covered San Miguel Mountain, some 1,000 feet higher, dominates the landscape to the northeast but the views are good in all other directions, notably Sweetwater Reservoir to the northwest.
Don’t be surprised to find a disproportionately high number of tarantula hawk wasps on this trail, especially during the warmer months (I counted at least six on the way up). The infamous insect is recognizable by its long body and rust-colored wings and may appear to look like a small dragonfly from a distance. Tarantula hawk wasps are not usually aggressive toward humans, but if you see one, especially if you are hiking with dogs or small kids, give it a wide berth. A very wide berth.
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.