(As promised from my last post. And, yeah, I do miss this stuff; hopefully I’ll get back to it someday soon…)
Stonewall Peak, located in the heart of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, isn’t the tallest peak in the park; that honor goes to Cuyamaca Peak to the west, reached via a 7-mile trek up a long, exposed fire road. Stonewall Peak isn’t the highest, longest, or steepest trail in the park. If you’re out to bag only the most impressive-sounding hikes, Stonewall Peak isn’t for you.
What Stonewall Peak does have, however, is an all-encompassing view of the park and the surrounding countryside, looking out over the Sweetwater River Valley that crosses through the park, off to distant deserts and inland seas, out to the distant Pacific (at least I think it was the ocean), and even bringing into view the white domes of Palomar Observatory. All of this reached after a couple of miles of gentle climbing up one of, in my humble opinion, one of the best-designed trails I’ve been on.
Over the two miles of ascent, you’ll gain only about 400′ per mile. Even with my current case of plantar fasciitis, such a gentle grade allowed me to forget about my foot or even the effort of climbing. Instead, the hike was a great walk, with ever expanding views along the way.
From the picnic area parking in Paso Picacho campground cross (carefully!) State Highway 79 to the trailhead immediately across from the campground entrance station. The trail will start to ascend through a thick grove of trees, but after the initial 1/4 mile, you’ll be in sun for the rest of the day.
After the first switchback, your destination will come in to view. With a little squinting, or a long telephoto lens, you may even be able to make out people standing atop the summit, looking down at you.
The switchbacks continue up the west flank of the peak, rounding granite boulders and passing under ghostly old trees. The trail used to be covered and shaded by venerable stands of oak which, sadly, were burned in 2003 when the Cedar Fire ripped through the park. Although the low brush has grown back, it will be years before the trees reach their former glory.
In their place are the white, smooth trunks and branches, looking like ghosts along the side of the mountain (perfect for the month of Halloween, I suppose). Although I would have liked to have seen the trees in full growth, I found the pale white wood against the bright blue sky to have an eerie beauty all of their own.
After switchbacking up 1.8 miles, you’ll arrive at a trail junction. The left spur will take you to Los Caballos horse camp. The right spur will take you to the summit.
After a mere .2 miles, you’ll emerge from the brush and on to solid granite. A set of stairs (with railing) will lead you the final few feet the tiny area at the top of the peak. Sadly, the directional marker there, which originally pointed to different sites within view, was missing on my visit.
Once you’ve had your fill of the views, return the way you came up, back to Paso Picacho campground.
Complete photo set here.
|Total Distance: 4.0 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 850′/850′
Directions: From Julian, CA (corner of Main St. and Washington St.), head south on CA State Highway 79 11.2 miles to the entrance to Paso Picacho Campground, on right. Parking is in the picnic area, just on the right after paying the entrance fee. After parking, cross through the picnic area and carefully cross Highway 79 to the trailhead on the other side, across from the entrance station.
Parking Fee: $8 (as of this writing)