On the loose, hiking Cuyamaca Peak, San Diego County, CA

It’s relatively easy to “bag” the second highest peak in San Diego County as it tops out at just 6,515 feet. You’ve got a choice between two routes or a combo of them. I opted for the scenic trails up and took the paved  road down to make a loop. Views were good on both routes, but far more solace, solitude and wildflowers on the less traveled, natural trail.

In 2003, the Cedar Fire , California’s biggest  wildfire (started by a lost hunter who lit a signal fire that burned out of control) decimated 290, 278 acres, including 90% of the Park’s 24,700 acres. The ravages from that fire are still rampant, but these formerly rich forest (oaks, willows, adlers, and sycamore tress, cedar, white fir, ponderosa, Coulter, sugar and Jeffrey pine) and meadowlands are slowly making a comeback.  More than 100 bird species abound in the park, including acorn woodpeckers, northern flickers and red tailed hawks, Mammals you might encounter here include gray fox, badger, bobcat, mountain lion and deer.

Azalea Glen Loop
Azelea Glen Loop Trail

sign If you reach this sign, refill you water at the spring, but you want to turn back and follow the fireroad about a 1/4 mile to the Coneja Trail connector and take that on up to the peak.

 

At the top

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a clear day so the Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego Desert to the east and Pacific coastline to the west and all the mountain vistas surrounding were a bit difficult to discern.

photo directing

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Is it just me or does the burnt tree in the picture above evoke an Indian chief bowing his head?  (Kumeyaay Indians occupied the Cuyamaca mountains from antiquity until around 1857.)

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You can document your peak bagging effort by opening this box and signing in.

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vestiges fire and view
Views to Lake Cuyamaca and the Valley below
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A framed view of Stonewall Peak
Stonewall peak closer up
A closer view of Stonewall Peak

There are plenty of other trails to explore nearby including a switchback trail up and down alluring Stonewall Peak (4 miles rt) and hidden waterfalls somewhere…(I’ll let ya know when I find them.) If I’d had more time I would have done Stonewall too. (The trail head is right across the campground entrance.) There’s more than a 100 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding and a select number for mountain biking here. I’ll be back.

Planning your excursion

You can make a day or a weekend of your Cuyamaca adventure. The historic gold mining town of Julian is a mile or two away with its quaint shops, B&Bs, restaurants and famous pies.

Notes

Miles: 7.7 miles rt (Or just 5 miles rt if you take the paved road both ways.)

Elevation:  1700 ft gain/ loss

My route: Azelea Glen Loop to Azalea Glen Road. Make a right on the Azalea Fire Road, a left on the single track Conejo Trail that comes up in a 1/4 mile. The Conejo Trail hooks up with Lookout Fire Road about a 1/2 mile from the top – the steepest portion.)

Terrain: Mostly sweet, soft terrain (as in trail runnable), until you get to the Conejo Trail. It’s gets a bit rocky and pesky for a while on there so watch your footing. (Another reason I chose the paved road downhill.)

Difficulty: Moderate. Depends on your fitness level and the route you take. The 1/2 mile incline at the top is tough, but it’s all quite reasonable. I brought hiking poles but did not bring take them on the trail and was fine. (I have bad knees.) It would be a bit relentless to take the paved road up. (I wouldn’t mind trying it on a mtb bike. Heard about some people who did on road bikes – that’s a little nutty. Took me 2 hours up and 40 minutes down – no running…

Trailheads: Both the paved Lookout Fire Road & the Azelea Glen Loop begin at 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.

 

 

 

Rediscovering the San Pasqual Valley via MTB along the Coast To Crest & Raptor Ridge Trails

A couple years back, I went for a pleasant mountain bike ride with a friend and have been wanting to return for a while.  I couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  Fortunately, my friend has a reliable memory and was able to direct me back to the spot. It’s part of the Coast to Crest Trail and in the San Dieguito River Park  (92,000-acres)

If you read my Lake Hodges MTB post, this spot is on the other side of the I-15 freeway. The trail begins at the historic Sikes Adobe.

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Established around 1870, the Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead is one of San Diego’s oldest adobe homes. Tours are offered on Sundays, more info here.

The first 3-4 miles or so are completely flat with easy terrain and valley views. Perfect for beginners and kids. Next you have 2 options, you can climb up some lovely single track to the Raptor Rodge lookout (and continue on to Ysabel Creek RD Staging Area) or cross  the road to the Old Coach Trail and climb a steep paved road.

 

(I did both this time.) Previously, I had chickened out of the Raptor Ridge single track as it looked a bit rutted. This time it appeared smooth so I went for it and didn’t regret it. What a sweet ride, great for a trail run too. Only ran into 3 people out there despite a sign warning about congestion on the trail. It was gorgeous and a decent workout. Distance to Raptor Ridge is 6.1 miles ea way. The lovely valley views really open up as you climb. Once at the top, you can continue on down to the to the Ysabel Creek Road Staging Area, a somewhat rutted and scrappy fire road. Unless you have a car shuttle, you’d have to climb back up that road. I opted to return to the intersection and  climb up the Old Coach Road instead. Once you navigate through the grove of trees and climb the steep paved road, you can continue to follow the Old Coach Trail signs across the 2 residential roads until you get to the single track. (I haven’t followed the single track to see where it goes as it’s gets a bit technical for me – trails is rougher, rocky, etc…) And the map ends at the paved road. Perhaps I’ll have the gumption to explore more next time.

 

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Raptor Ridge is aptly named. This area is great for bird watching.

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Wonderful, well kept trails make for a splendid afternoon on foot or wheels. Gets hot in the summer so go early and bring water.

Getting there from the I-15:12655 Sunset Dr. Escondido
Exit Via Rancho Pkwy
Right onto Via Rancho Pkwy.
Right onto Sunset Dr. (1st traffic light from I-15N; 2nd traffic light from I-15S)
Left into the Sikes Adobe Staging Area (dirt lot ), or park along the street

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Cruising around Lake Hodges, Escondido, CA

My back was a little tweaked from last week’s roller blade when I used my butt as a brake so I was looking for something mellow to do this weekend. That’s when I thought of mt.biking around Lake Hodges on the flat section of the San Dieguito River Park Coast to Crest Trail.  This multi-use trail is open to hikers/runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. The main trail (a planned 70 miles – 45 miles of which currently exists ) extends from Del Mar to Volcan mountain in Julian. And there are over 20 miles of auxiliary trails within the River Park to play on.

I chose an easy cruise on a friendly wide dirt trail through the North side of the park. If you add on some single track on the flip side, you can make it around to the dam.)

(Option to stop in for some refreshments at Herandez Hidaway on Lake Drive.) We passed it up because my back was acting up (could have been the three falls). There are only about 3 spots where a mtb novice or clutz like me needs to walk (should have walked) hence the falls. Otherwise, super pleasant, beginner mtb trail. Managed to get about 16 miles in on the out and back.

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Lake Hodges Dam in the Distance
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San Dieguito River Park Lake Hodges Bike & Pedestrian Bridge with Bernardo Mountain to the left.

I’ve ridden and run the South side too – not as much mileage there and much better views on the North side, in my opinion. If you’re tough and technical, you can go for the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail – looks fun. You can also find more trails under the pedestrian bridge, but you may encounter some challenging single track there. (I might hike a couple of these to scout them first and report back. I suspect they won’t be as scenic since they ride away from the lake.)

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Other options to explore if you’re not afraid of some rugged single track

Getting there:

There are a number of ways to access the trails. The pedestrian / bike bridge is a good a starting point for explorations North or South.

I-15 freeway to West Bernardo/Pomerado Road, go west and park in the Bernardo Bay parking lot on the right just before Rancho Bernardo Community Park,

Or perhaps consider parking your car at Hernadez Hideaway on the other side of the lake so you can look forward to lunch and libations after your ride.

Hernadez Hideaway, 19320 Lake Drive Escondido, California 92029

Cheers!

 

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.