Monday, December 27, 2010

Cuyamaca Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

Cuyamaca Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a great day hike near Lake Cuyamaca outside of Julian California. Ashley and I got a chance to explore Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where we hiked Cuyamaca Peak. Cuyamaca Peak is the second tallest peak in San Diego County, at 6,512 feet, and it offers sweeping vistas of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the greater Southern California area to those who reach its summit.

Directions to Trailhead: To get to the trailhead to hike to Cuyamaca Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, from the town of Julian, CA, take the 79 highway south until you enter the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. You want to park at the Paso Picacho Campground. You can view the map below or can find a link to a map Here. As of the date of this post, there is an $8 cost for day parking at this location. There is plenty of parking at the trailhead to hike to Cuyamaca Peak.

Description of Hike: The hike to Cuyamaca Peak at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, via the Fire Look Out Road, is a 7 mile roundtrip hike with roughly 1,500 feet of elevation gain. The hike to Cuyamaca Peak is uphill the entire way from the trailhead and is an out and back hike. One negative of the hike is that it is paved from the trailhead to the summit, as it is a fire road. One thing that you will notice while hiking in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is the destruction that was left from the 2003 cedar creek fire. Even though a number of years have passed since the fire, you can still see much of the destruction left by the 2003 cedar creek fire. Snow is common during the winter time on Cuyamaca Peak, especially after winter storms in Southern California. There was a little snow on Cuyamaca Peak when we did this hike in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, mostly above the 5,500 foot mark.

On clear days, visibility from the summit of Cuyamaca Peak ranges from 60–100 miles in almost every direction. To the west, the Pacific Ocean, the Coronado Islands of Mexico, the coast line of San Diego County, Viejas Mountain, and El Cajon Mountain can be seen. Looking north, one can see 6,140-foot Palomar Mountain among the ridge of the Palomar Mountains. On very clear days the 8,716-foot Toro Peak in the Santa Rosas and the San Jacintos are visible. Closer yet is Volcan Mountain slightly to the northeast, with the former gold rush town of Julian lying in front. Directly north are the closest summits, Middle and North Peaks. Directly east is the Anza Borrego Desert and the Laguna Mountains, including Whale Peak. Far beyond is the Salton Sea. To the south are Lyons Peak and Lawson Peak; further yet and to the southeast are Mexican border mountains. For a map of the trails in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, click Here.

Further Thoughts: This was a great hike in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park with amazing views at the top of Cuyamaca Peak, even though there were clouds from the recent series of Southern California Winter Storms that passed through shortly before we did this hike. These storms cleared out the air and gave Ashley and I breathtaking views of the greater Southern California area throughout our hike to the summit of Cuyamaca Peak. The hike to Cuyamaca Peak will offer sweeping views to those who make the summit year round.

The series of storms only dumped a little bit of snow, as the snow level did not get very low. Ashley and I started to see traces of snow at about the 5,500 foot mark, but didn't encounter much snow until we were above 6,000 feet. It was great to be able to hike in the fresh snow on Cuyamaca Peak, as we had not hiked in the snow in a while. While at the summit of Cuyamaca Peak, we had a top of the world experience, because we were above the cloud layer and could see for probably 50 miles in each direction. We could even see Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio in the San Bernadino Mountains.

When you come to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, come prepared to see wildlife. While at Cuyamaca Rancho state park we were amazed to see the huge amount of wildlife that calls this state park home. We counted 25 deer and about 50 wild turkeys in the valley area of the park near Stonewall Mine during our visit to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. This truly is a great place to observe Southern California wildlife. It is worth bringing a spotting scope to this location if you have one.

This hike to Cuyamaca Peak is a very popular hike, because it is the shortest way to the summit of one of San Diego's tallest mountains. On a normal day, you should expect to see other hikers while out on the trail. There are other longer ways to get to the summit that avoid the paved fire road. To learn more about those other options click Here. Another thing to potentially watch out for is service vehicles going to service the radio equipment at the top of Cuyamaca Peak. One truck came up while we were hiking to the top. One down side to this hike is the fact that the summit has radio towers and equipment at the top.

The park has a non-profit that is associated with it, the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Interpretive Association. The Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Interpretive Associations supports both Cuyamaca Rancho and Palomar Mountain State Parks. Ashley and I really enjoyed this hike to Cuyamaca Peak. This area of the  San Diego Mountains truly displays natures beauty and is worth a visit by any Southern California hiker!

Rating: Elevation Gain: 1,500 ft. (Moderate - Strenuous), Distance: 7 Miles Roundtrip (Moderate).

Time to Complete Hike: 3 - 3.5 hours.


Cuyamaca Peak (This Post)

View Cuyamaca Peak in a larger map


  1. I love hikes that allow me to get up above the cloud line. I once tried to summit Mount Livermore here in Texas. I got up above a layer of clouds just to find a thunderstorm above that. Lightning struck the summit before we got there. Needless to say...we turned around after that.

  2. You can get up to Cuyamaca Peak via the Conejos Trail to avoid the ugly paved road. From the Paso Picacho campground, take the Azalea Glen Loop trail, turn right on the Azalea Springs Fire Road, then up Conejos Trail. Conejos Trail eventually joins up with the paved fire road half a mile from the peak. You can find the trail map here:


Ashley and I encourage and welcome our readers to submit comments about their experiences on the trails we have posted on our blog or about their own hiking experiences in general.