Sherwin Creek Trail: Awesome Hike to 2 Spectacular Lakes. Mammoth Lakes, CA.

If you like alpine lakes, sublime scenery, and trail terrain that’s gentle on feet (good for trail running too), you’ll want to spend a day here, immersed in natural bliss. I loved this hike. The lakes and mountain scenery are SPECTACULAR. It felt easy to me despite my hiking book’s rating of it as a 4 out of 5 for difficulty due to the 2,100 ft elevation gain. The trail is quite gradual with many switchbacks, but it didn’t really seem like a big climb. Maybe I just woke up strong and altitude acclimated. The good news is the elevation gain keeps the crowds away.

peaks and timber

There was something magical about this tree. Look for it on the trail after Lake Sherwin and let me know if it stopped you in your tracks too. The pictures don’t do it justice. I named it the Medusa tree.

If you’re not up for hiking up to Valentine Lake (9,698 ft – 5.6 miles), you can always make Sherwin Lake (2-3 miles) your destination instead, but just so you know, you’ll be missing this:

Valentine Lake, you stole my heart and nearly froze it too! I can’t resist the allure of an alpine lake, even when it’s snow melt cold. Can you?

My boyfriend was taunting me in the video below. Note: HE DID NOT JUMP IN THE LAKE. (And somehow I resisted pushing him into it.)

 

Distance Round Trip: 11.2 miles

Elevation Gain / Loss: 2,100

Getting There: South from Lee Vining on the 395, you’ll find Sherwin Creek Road two miles south of the Mammoth Lakes exit. Take Sherwin Creek Road west and drive ~2.5 miles and then turn left on the spur road before you reach Sherwin Creak Campground.

 

Cowles “Mountain” Hike & Lake Murray Stroll

Cowles Mountain  (1,593-foot summit) is the highest point in the city of San Diego. It’s part of Mission Trails Regional Park, a 5,800-acre open space preserve that is the 7th-largest open space urban park in the United States. It contains sixty miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails.

To call Cowles a mountain is to be very liberal with the word. I should note that the park has a 5 “peak” challenge if your hiking peeps want a minor challenge and want to document your feats – here’s the scoop. Cowles is the highest peak. This might be fun for kids, but apparently lots of adults do it for bragging rights too. I will say that on a clear day, the stunning views span 360 degrees from Lake Murray, downtown San Diego, Point Loma, La Jolla, and Mexico and out across the glimmering Pacific to the San Carlos Islands. See feature picture above. (Unfortunately, I dropped my camera on a rock so I have limited pics.)

fireroad route up Cowles

Distance: 2.9  miles up & back

It’s a very popular trail so expect lots of humans and their canines…There are a couple of different ways to reach the top from various starting points and parking lots. The hike itself is moderate (with some steeper sections that will get those calves & glutes burning). It’s decent workout, especially if you run it. There are single track trails and some fire road. It’s short from any direction so I explored up and down on a couple of trails and was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to see. You can’t really get lost so do as much or as little as you like.

Getting there:

The main trailhead is in the San Carlos neighborhood on the corner of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road

Lovely Lake Murray

Since I didn’t quite get enough enough of a workout  / nature fix, I decided to check out alluring Lake Murray  Reservoir, also part of the Mission Trails Regional Park. I strolled the paved road that navigates around most of the lake stopping short of the dam (no access). It’s another popular spot – walkers, runners, bladders, and even road bikers aplenty (the latter seems silly to me, because the path / road is only 3.2 mi long and there are many children and dogs on it).

Lake Murray is a great spot for birdwatchers with abundant ducks, geese, and herons abound and about 149 bird species to observe. It’s a pleasant spot for a picnic too.

Go Fish

Lake Murray is open for shore fishing and private boats, kayaks, and float tubes seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Permits can be purchased onsite at the iron ranger boxes. The lake is stocked with Florida-strain largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish, black crappie, and trout. Minimum size limit for bass is 12 inches.

Fish limits: 5 trout, 5 bass (min. 12 inches), 5 catfish, 25 crappie and bluegill total,  no other species limits

Lake Murrayjpg

Lake Murray 2
That’s Cowles Mountain in the distance

 

On the Trail of the Elusive Borrego (Bighorn Sheep): Borrego Palm Canyon Hike, Anza Borrego State Park, CA

Anza Borrego State Park is named after the 18th century Spanish explorer Juan Bautista deAnza and borrego, the Spanish word for bighorn sheep.

The park covers 600,000 acres and is the largest state park in California and, the second largest in the contiguous United States. It contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 designated wilderness areas, and 110 miles of hiking trails.

The endangered peninsular bighorn sheep, often called desert bighorn sheep, make their home here. It’s said that visitors and residents seldom get to see them as they avoid human contact.

We arrived at the park about 45 minutes before sunset (golden critter hour) and decided to go for a quick run up the scenic and pleasant Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (3.25 miles) before dark.

 

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We looked up the steep rock studded canyon walls at precarious boulders, wondering if they ever dislodged…We walked part of the way back hoping to see some wildlife.  I told Ken to keep his eyes open. I have terrible eyesight and the stone and sunset shadows are perfect camouflage for anything that wants to evade notice. Then I heard something that sounded like a boulder crashing down…and Ken saw something in the distance…The head bangers in action! A group of 5, the one sitting on the rock officiating looked frail, perhaps an elder. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show. It was amazing!

The next morning we had breakfast at the local coffee shop. While we were there, we struck up  a conversation with a ranger and local at the next table. We shared our adventure and the video on my phone. There was an elderly couple standing nearby, watching me with annoyed faces and their arms  crossed. (Was I talking too loudly or did I steal their table?) Nope, the woman finally broke her silent glaring and told us in an exasperated voice that they had been hiking the canyon nearly ever day for years and had never had a big horn sheep sighting – not even 1. That’s how lucky we were.

Turns out one of the fellows that we were chatting with was the co-creator of the Desert Bighorn Sheep Book that I was browsing through. How cool is that?

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And yes, this gorgeous book is available at AMAZON  and the Anza Borrego Visitor Center.

And if all that wasn’t magical enough, on our drive out of the park, this healthy coyote couple appeared to see us off.

Coyotes Close up A B

What are your most memorable wildlife sightings?

Free Flowing in Fallbrook: Santa Margarita River Trail

The Santa Margarita River, aka Temecula Creek / Temecula River, is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Southern California.

The park is said to contain 1400 acres with 14 miles of trails that loop and crisscross the river. Not sure about that, but I do know that the main trail is about 5.5 total out and back. There are a number of offshoot trails, but it’s hard to imagine that they add up to 3x as much distance…

The main trail is a pleasant meander along the river under a canopy of trees.

There are a couple of swimming holes within the first mile or so if you care to take a dip. Before too long you’ll encounter your first of a half dozen creek crossings. Since the terrain is mostly smooth path or sandy, you might consider Tevas, instead of running shoes or hikers as you’ll be taking them on & off frequently. (That being said, if you don’t mind getting your running shoes wet, it’s not a bad spot for a little trail trot.) There are also a couple of lovely little oases along the way.

Apparently, this river corridor is known for raptor sightings and home to deer and other large mammals. We saw one shy turtle basking on rocks and a little fishey who seemed to be guarding her eggs – see video below.

Certainly a great spot to spend an afternoon, have a picnic or take a dip. (I wouldn’t drive too far for it, but if you’re in the area by all means.)

Note: It gets super hot in Fallbrook in the summer, be prepared and bring water.

BEWARE: Abundant poison oak &  quick sand???

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Distance: ~5.5 out & back

Difficulty: Easy – family friendly

Location: Fallbrook near De Luz Road & Sandia Creek Dr intersection, right on Sandia Creek Dr. then the parking area and trailhead are 1.2 miles ahead on the right.

Happy trails!

McGinty Mountain Trail: a sweet little gem in Jamul, CA

Location & directions

Trailhead: 13852-, 13998 Jamul Drive, Jamul, CA 91935

~25 miles from downtown San Diego.Take 94 East, exit at Campo Road. Follow Campo Road for ~ 4.5 miles, turn left onto Lyons Valley Road  and then left on Jamul Drive and you’ll see the dirt turnout / parking lot at 0.4 mile.Trail starts at the kiosk.

Main trail

~5 mile out & back

1,400 feet gain & loss

Moderate to strenuous depending on your fitness level

Dog and mountain bike friendly


My take

Drove down from North County for this one and so happy I did. Had low expectations as I’d never heard of this trail, but was pleasantly surprised. What a sweet little gem. This area is part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Not as well known as many of the popular SD area hikes nearby Mount Woodson, Iron Mountain, and Cowles Mountain, but definitely a contender for it’s beauty and views.

It’s a great hike with mostly friendly terrain, except for the steepest area not far from the top, which was a bit of a rock field. (If you have tender feet, you might be happier in hiking shoes versus running shoes.) Don’t worry, the steepest area is fairly short so you won’t suffer long.) Mountain bikes are allowed, but I didn’t see any and there were only a few hikers sharing the trail. It’s a good spot for a trail run too. It’s a relatively quick hike and a lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Highlights

Late season wildflowers and wonderful views of San Miguel Mountain and Tecate peak to the East, Mount Helix , Cowles Mountain, El Cajon Mountain, and even Cuyamaca in the distance – apparently on some days you can see all the way to Coronado, Point Loma and the expanse of Pacific. And hiking uphill is always more rewarding —better views and better workout!

 

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Rock scramble at the top – optional.

 

 

Caution

There are no trail signs so stay on the most obvious (widest & well traveled)  route. (You can take a couple viewpoint detours, but return to the main trail.) Be on guard for rattle snakes and ticks and bring water. The trail is exposed the entire way so you’ll want to avoid hiking in the heat of the day.

For more info, visit:

US Fish & Wildlife Service: McGinty Mountain trailhead

View route or download GPX from CalTopo