Posted by: GeekHiker | October 27, 2010

HIKE: Stonewall Peak

(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.

Stonewall Peak 01
Start of the trail in the shady grove

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.

Stonewall Peak 02
Looking up at the summit from the trail

Stonewall Peak 03
Look, there’s people up there! So it must be possible…

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.

Stonewall Peak 05
Burned trees along the trail

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.

Stonewall Peak 06
Smooth white trunks of the trees against the autumn sky

Stonewall Peak 07
Moth on late-season wildflowers

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.

Stonewall Peak 08
The summit can be quite crowded!

Stonewall Peak 10
Looking east towards the desert & Salton Sea

Stonewall Peak 09
Looking north towards Lake Cuyamaca

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)

Hike Profile:Stonewall Peak Vertical Profile



  1. Absolutely enthralled with the photo of white branches against the blue sky. Incredible!! Also the butterfly pic. Nice to breathe a bit of the outdoors from inside my cubicle this morning.

  2. As always, beautiful photography. I can’t believe how blue the sky was there. Gorgeous. And although I’m sad they burned, I totally dug the ghost trees. Very Halloweeny.

  3. I miss those views (or similar ones anyways). I agree that the ghost trees, wild sad, are beautiful in there own way.

  4. Wow this is AWESOME! Very excellent post by the way! Clearly took a lot of work to put together.

    How’s your foot?

  5. Beautiful. Glad you got a chance to get out and breathe.

  6. your photos always remind me how beautiful the US can be, and how i haven’t seen enough of it. btw, what camera do you use?

  7. All I saw was “Julian” and I thought “pie”.

  8. Spleeness – Yeah, I liked that one as well. If I ever get some spare time, I might print it up for my house…

    Mel Heth – Thanks. It actually wasn’t that blue, there was some standard Southern California haze. God bless the polarizer. As for the trees, I would love to hike/photograph that trail under a full moon…

    Homer-Dog – Well, there’s nothing that says that you and The Wife can’t vacation in Southern California, ya know…

    MissMcCracken – Hm. Not much more work than other posts. As for the foot, I suppose it’s slowly (very slowly) improving.

    AbsurdBeats – Thanks. Wish it was something I had more time to do…

    BlakSpring – Currently a Canon S5is. In between an SLR and a point and shoot.

    JENNeralizations – I thought you might. 😉

  9. […] the original post: HIKE: Stonewall Peak Posted in General Tags: flickr, halloween, hiking, park, picnic, summit, trailhead, trees […]

  10. […] information: Trip report here; Everytrail report […]

  11. […] information: Trip report here; Everytrail report […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: