From Prescott Valley To Prescott: Mountain Biking the Iron King and Peavine Trails

Years ago, the Prescott East Railroad trains ran through here to the Iron King Mine and towns of Poland Junction and Crown King. Today, you can take in the area’s quintessential southwestern scenery and spectacular granite rock formations by  horseback, two (or 3) wheels, or by two feet. It’s ~4 miles down to the Peavine Trail connection and then you can continue on for another ~6 miles to arrive at Watson Lake, Prescott (~20 miles RT).

The Iron King  path is by far one of the easiest, smoothest, most family-friendly mountain bike “trails” I’ve ever encountered. Apparently they went to great lengths to convert this rail to trail and create its excellent surface. First they undercut and evened out the trail to eliminate the “washboard” effect and then they topped it with a blend of coarse and fine gravel. The path is so smooth and flat that a kid on training wheels or a tricycle could ride it. You could take a wheelchair on it (electric or person powered – if you were up for it) too. It all translates to fun times and cool scenery for all.

For me, the most scenic sections of the ride are in the middle where the Iron King and Peavine trails intersect and along the gorgeous Granite Dells and Watson Lake at the Prescott end.

 

 

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Check out the video below of a hiking trail in the Granite Dells.

 

 

Keep an eye out for resident javalina, rattlesnakes, and mountain lions. I didn’t see any of them and only saw 2 other cyclists during my sunset pleasure tour. (Not sure if the hot weather (90+ degrees) – was keeping people away or what. I expect when the housing development in Prescott Valley completes, this will get much heavier use so enjoy some solitude while you can.

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Getting there: The Iron King Trail begins in Prescottt  Valley west of Glassford Hill Road, north of Spouse Drive – at the base of Glassford Hill. Unfortunately, that’s also where a new housing development is going in so the first mile or so is a bit of a bummer. Truth in advertising picture below. (Heavy sigh.). The Peavine Trail begins at the south end of Watson Lake in Prescott. Take Hwy 89 to Prescott Lakes Parkway, then to Sundog Ranch where you can park along the road .

Stay tuned for my top picks of places to stay and eat and for more of my active escapades in and around Prescott.

Hiking: Thumb Butte 

Granite Basin

Mountain Biking: Prescott Valley to Prescott via the Iron King & Peavine Trails

Restaurants: Farm Provisions

Barley Hound Gastropub

A Romp Around in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton CA

One misty morning, I drove to the park from Santa Cruz on windy Highway 9. I turned one of the many blind corners and almost ran over a vagrant walking down the middle of the road (literally the middle of the road) pulling his rolling suitcase. Yikes. Luckily I was driving cautiously through here because when I drove into town the day before I couldn’t help but notice that the pullouts were polluted with groups of what I am going to call “car people” in various states of inebriation and agitation and ankle-deep in their own litter and debris. Yes, that was my off-putting experience with the “Santa Cruz city greeters.”

I thought early morning might be a good time to explore Henry Cowell State Park, avoid those car transients and the crowds in general. I was mostly correct.

The 4,650 acre park is best known for its 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees, but it also includes 3 other habitats (grasslands, river/riparian and sand hills). The redwoods here are said to have inspired some of California’s earliest redwood preservation efforts. The tallest tree in the park is ~277 feet tall, ~16 feet wide, and estimated to be ~1,500 years old. Some trails run alongside the Sans Lorenzo River and there’s even a swimming hole.

When I arrived, the parking lot was empty as were the trails. I just ran into a couple trail runners and dog walkers.

The .8 Redwood Grove Loop trail is, of course, a must do. I also did the Cowell Highlights Loop to the Observation Deck (the park’s highest point at a meager 805 feet) Overlook Bench, Cathedral Redwoods, and Cable Car Beach about 6 miles.

It was pleasant but I never felt I was away from civilization – one “trail” is a paved road and you can hear people at the campground from different points on the trails. It’s a good place for a quick leg stretch or trail run, family hiking and camping experience. If you’re a hard-core hiker, I’d say if you miss it, you won’t miss that much. If you get it on a clear day, you might be rewarded with spectacular views of Monterrey Bay. I wasn’t, but the Santa Cruz mountains views were certainly pleasant. By the time I finished my hike, the parking lot was full of people crowding onto the trails in hopes that the mist would clear for them. It may have, but I’m glad I got out of there when I did. Go early, if you want to avoid the crowds.

 

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After 2 somewhat disappointing days in Santa Cruz, I headed south for adventures in Carmel and Monterrey. They did not disappoint.

 

Henry Cowell State Park 101 North Big Trees Park Road, Felton CA 831.335.4598

Campground 2951 Graham Hill Road, Scotts Valley, CA  831.438.2396

Stunning Stonewall Peak Hike, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, San Diego

Cuyamaca Peak‘s little sister, Stonewall Peak, (5,730 feet) outshines her big sister with her stunning granite crown, haunting tree skeletons (remnants of the Cedar Fire) and lovely vistas of Cuyamaca State Park and out to Anza  Borrego. Before I moved to North County and started exploring the area, I had no idea that all this wonderful natural beauty is an easy drive from greater San Diego.

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Gradual ascent on a friendly trail

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Expansive views
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Interesting rock formations along the way
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Stairway to heavenly vistas

 

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Something about these beautiful trees and boulders
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A bit crowded at the actual peak – silly people looking down at their phones
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Lovely Lake Cuyamaca views on the way down
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A sprinkling of dazzling wildflowers

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Planning your Cuyamaca adventure

You can make it a day or a weekend adventure and do as much or as little hiking as you like. Ambitious, fit hikers can take on both peaks (Cuyamaca & Stonewall)  in a day. For the less ambitious, there are plenty of opportunities to add on easy short strolls by the lake and up to Stonewall Mine. Lots of wildlife viewing with trails for the whole family. Stay tuned for my next post. Happy trails!

The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes: This is the most popular hike in the park so go early to avoid the crowds. After you reach the Stonewall Peak spur trail and make a right, there’s a really short scramble over some rocks before you hit the last rocky stairway.  Keep your eyes open for the metal handrails.  On the way back, I recommend taking a right at the junction for a different route down ton what becomes a pleasant single track trail d. At about 3.7 miles, you come to a trail intersection. Make the left onto Vern Whitaker Trail. Shortly after that (around 3.9 miles) there’s another junction, continue to stay left. At 4.2 miles or so,you’ll encounter another side trail; stay your course to the left again.

Miles: ~<4 miles rt if you just go up and down the main trail.  My scenic route adds about a mile & a half for ~5.5 miles rt.

Elevation gain: 1,050 feet

Terrain: Mostly sweet, clear terrain (as in trail runnable). It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while near the top so watch your footing. .The single track down was mostly friendly.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take.

Trailhead: Across the street from the Paso Picacho campground, Cuyamaca State Park

Parking: $10 State Park Fee

Dogs: Only allowed on paved roads and must be leashed.

Camping: Paso Picacho campground has family campsites with tables, firepits, running water and bathrooms.

Short, somewhat steep, semi-sweet: Monserate “Mountain” Hike, Fallbrook, CA

Monserate Mountain is more of a steepish molehill than a mountain. You can hike, bike or run up the trail for a short, steep, incline workout and the reward of expansive views of the mountains (Agua Tibia, Red Mountain, Santa Ana Mountains), farmland in the valley below, and a sliver of Pacific Ocean way out to the west.  I have mixed feeling about this one for reasons detailed below…

History

Monserate Mountain was part of an 13,323-acre Rancho Monserate Mexican Land Grant from 1853 that originally extended south and east of the present day Fallbrook down to the San Luis Rey River.

Pros

If you’re in or near the area, you can get a quick workout here with sweet 360 degree views at the top. Also, I think that it might be the right balance of tough and short for hardy hiker kids who get a feeling of accomplishment from doing something challenging.

There are a couple offshoot trails on the way up: Canoninta Trail and Red Diamond. I didn’t take those, but once at the top, headed south along a Ridge Trail to the water tank. This was the best part of the hike for me – it faced away from the freeway on a little stretch of single track with views into the valleys below and east across the mountain ridges. The Ridge Trail descends gradually with the help of a short wooden staircase and then drops you out on a paved road. (In the pic below,  I turned around and ran up the staircase for the pure joy of a little more incline.)

Glutton for the incline.
Mountains to the east from the Ridge Trail.

 

Cons
The barren, dirt trail going up has little to no aesthetic appeal. This trail gets lots of traffic, human and dog (too much I’d say). And I’m afraid it smells like it too. (I have a sensitive schnozz and the trail smelt like dog poop most of the way up.) Also read a review that someone got bitten by a dog twice on this trail.  The roar of the 15 freeway below is also a bit off putting as are the weekend crowds that you have to hike around. (I was so uninspired and turned off by the dog poop smell, I didn’t take any pictures on the way up.) Yes, that bad – but then again, I’m a hiking snob. You’ll see why if you visit some of my other posts.
If you’re in the area, do it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t go too far out of your way for this one.
Distance: 3.2 miles up and back without add ons, or 4.4 mile loop adding on the Ridge Trail loop to the water tank.
Elevation gain /loss: ~1150 feet, moderately strenuous, depending on what shape you’re in. If you’re a trail runner, you’ll like it and you’ll want to add on the Ridge Trail water tank loop.
Terrain: Mostly wide dirt path with rocks and some erosion, some single track, paved road & fire road if you do the 4.4 mile loop.

Discovering Torrey Pines State Park’s Lovely Little Sista: Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension

In many ways, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension, the quiet younger park outshines her excessively popular, bigger sister. Especially if you like your nature served up with a bit of solitude as I do mine.  This area was acquired in 1970, 11 years after Torrey Pines itself became an official State Park thanks to the work of local conservation groups.

The pros: You still get stellar (though more distant) views of the glimmering Pacific and bedazzling Penasquitos Lagoon (if it’s a clear day) and close-ups of the dramatic red, other-worldy, sculpted, sandstones cliffs and Torrey Pines. Some of the trails are boarding rows of McMansions so you don’t quite escape from suburbia unless you put your blinders on.

 

The cons: There trails are really short and easy on sandstone or sandy terrain. (Could be considered a pro for some, I know.) Apparently there’s some way to eek out 4 miles, not sure how. You’ll be hard-pressed to get in a workout here – unless you run them quickly. Also, there is no beach access.

When I went there were no trail maps in the box so I just meandered through the network of short trails. You can’t really get lost. If you’re going, you may want to check out the online map first.

To share a “secret” locale or not, that is the question.

I’ve lived in the Sand Diego area for about a decade and had never heard of this area. This spot is relatively quiet and underutilized. Yes, it’s nice to keep it that way so am I betraying it by writing this post? Well, this is part of a State Park, which means it is open to the public and shouldn’t be a secret. So on one hand, I believe it’s appropriate to share the information. And I believe, perhaps naively, that people who love this sort of place will respect it and tread lightly. On the other hand, I’d hate to see it get overrun. (Much controversy surrounds the instagram and  social sharing phenomenon.) Then again, since this place is part of a State Park, I imagine that park officials would intervene as necessary should the area become compromised due to excessive use. Tell me, what’s your opinion of sharing vs. keeping your favorite spots secret?

Warning soapbox

It seems strange that the signs and literature at Torrey Pines State Park don’t make any reference to this area. It almost feels like the Del Mar locals (who may include some of the original conservationists) have played a role in keeping this on down low. Ok, am I approaching conspiracy theory level yet? (I’m just saying it seems awfully convenient that they have managed to keep the trail and the views all to themselves and their dogs.) Dogs, you say? Are they allowed? No, they aren’t and there are “No Dogs” signs posted everywhere. Yet, of the half dozen or so people we ran into, most had their 4-legged companions with them. Not only that, when we started out on the trail a Golden Retriever bounded down from the one of the homes and raced in front of us, eager to guide  us through “his park”. Hey, I’m a dog lover, but there’s a reason they’ve posted no dog signs everywhere, right? Fragile ecosystem, etc…I guess if you live in Del Mar, the rules don’t apply to you. Ok, maybe not all the hikers with dogs were from Del Mar, but chances are…

Getting there: From I-5, take the Del Mar Heights Road exit. Head west on Del Mar Heights Road for approximately half a mile. Turn left onto Mercado Drive, then left onto Cordero Road. Make a right onto Mira Montana Drive and follow it to the end where you’ll find a couple parking spots and a trail head next to Del Mar Heights Elementary School. Parking and entry is free. There are other access points in the neighborhood with ample parking along the street.

Notes

No Dogs (Even though plenty of entitled peeps and pooches were violating this rule.)

No Bikes

Blue Sky Ecological Reserve Hike to Lake Ramona, Poway, CA

Peaceful Blue Sky Ecological Reserve, a 700 acre canyon, is a welcome reprieve from the over-populated Mt. Woodson trail. I’d had enough of the crowds, but not enough of nature and workout so after lunch at a nearby Mexican cantina,  I followed up the Mt. Woodson hike with this one.

Distance: 4.8 RT Difficulty: Moderate ++ It’s all mild and friendly until you get the last half mile’s fierce grade, which is paved. Overall, the terrain itself is easy (fire road primarily) so it’s a great spot for trail running.

Trail advisory: It’s exposed so equip yourself with sunscreen and water rations. Also, you could be sharing the trail with bees, mountain lions, mosquitoes, poison oak, rattlesnakes & ticks (Friendlier potential trail mates include: deer, bobcats, quail, raptors, roadrunners, coyotes, squirrels, rabbits, and bats.)

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And yes, you can fish at Lake Ramona Reservoir. While bite-friendly, the huge bass population here is comprised of small largemouth because few fisherpeople want to hike up that great big hill. (Did I get enough size comparison in there to make your head spin?) Unfortunately, the bass overpopulation results in their stunted growth. Come on fisher peeps, work for it! You’re missing a beautiful opportunity. Besides, where’s the fun in driving up and parking at Lake Poway?

Lake Ramona was lovely and the reserve was pleasant enough though small. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to get here, but if you’re in the neighborhood – do it.

Mt. Woodson / Potato Chip Rock Hike, Poway, CA

Distance: 7.5             Elevation: 2070 feet

Difficulty: Moderate + (Depends on your fitness level and the weather (heat/sun factor)

No, the featured image is not Potato Chip Rock. It’s some cool unnamed split rock along the top of the  trail with a great view out to the rocky playground below and Lake Romona.

If you’re looking for solitude, you won’t find it here. This is one of the most popular hikes in San Diego because of the iconic Potato Chip Rock and obligatory photo op at the top.

Spoiler alert.

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The trail starts at Lake Poway and leads you up a fire road for a mile or so before it narrows and steepens.

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And the answer is yes, you can fish in Lake Poway. Sadly, swimming is not allowed.

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Here’s the scoop

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The view of the lake is lovely from the trail above. You can see how clean and clear the water is.

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The view from the top depends on  how clear of a day it is. Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy, In the picture below, you can make out Point Loma and the Pacific in the distant horizon on the right and the high rises of San Diego to the left of it.

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Another cool spot along the trail – my rock throne

So yes, lots of highlights and a great workout. (I hike fast and made it up in an hour  and 15min – down in 1hour 5.min.) The downhill gets my knees. There were a number of  people using poles. The downside of this hike is way too many humans, but what do you expect from a cool hike near a city? If I ever do it again, I’m going for dawn patrol. The parking lot opens at 6AM for early birds who enjoy more solitude and sunrises.

Because this hike didn’t quite sate my appetite for nature and solitude, after lunch I went up the road to the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve and hiked up to Lake Ramona.