Agua Dulce Loop

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It was yet another ridiculously hot weekend, so we decided we’d head up to the mountains to try and escape the worst of it. Perusing our “to-hike” list, we found this loop in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area that appeared to have a decent amount of tree cover to help keep us cool.

We started off from the Meadows Information Center trailhead, so named for the informational kiosk on the east side of the highway. There are several great trails that all begin from this particular spot so it’s usually pretty busy, but there’s usually ample parking on one side of the road or the other. This loop would take us along part of the Big Laguna Trail complex, which is actually a large looping trail with 9 additional “spur” trails that spawn off and reconnect in various places. The many junctions and numerous different trails that all share the name “Big Laguna” can make navigation a little tricky if you’re not already familiar with the area. You might find it worthwhile to stop at the Visitor’s Centers a few miles further up the Sunrise Highway, where you can purchase a nice copy of this trail map for only $2.

We passed through the cattle guard on the eastern side of the Sunrise Highway. The Laguna Ranch is a working cattle ranch smack dab in the middle of our hike, so we expected to encounter some of the cows that openly graze in the area.20150912_DSC5409-EditAguaDulce

We set off in a northeast direction, following the dirt path that paralleled the Sunrise Highway just to our right. In a few hundred feet we came to a “Y” junction and stayed right, following the sign “To Old County Road.”20150912_DSC5411-EditAguaDulce

We were still right along the highway here, and the occasional car or motorcycle zooming by interrupted the otherwise peaceful stillness of the woods. At .14 mile we crossed a dirt road and continued straight ahead, still alongside the highway.20150912_DSC5415-EditAguaDulce

The narrow trail continued to wind its way through the pines.20150912_DSC5418-EditAguaDulce

At just over .25 miles we met another crossroad, this one was covered in cracked asphalt. Here we turned left and followed the old road away from the highway.20150912_DSC5421-EditAguaDulce

Before long we saw some buildings on our left at the bottom of the hill. This was the Laguna Ranch.20150912_DSC5429-EditAguaDulce

After another .25 miles or so, the quiet, abandoned roadway bent sharply to the right. We were well away from the noise of the highway by now, and the only noises were the occasional bird calls and the sound of our footsteps.20150912_DSC5431-EditAguaDulce

An opening in the trees on our left offered a view into a dry, grassy meadow below. A dozen or so cows sauntered through the field, munching on the brown grass.20150912_DSC5432AguaDulce

Mixed in with the pines around us were a number of oak trees. The Black Oaks were just starting to show tinges of yellow and red in their leaves, signalling the impending onset of fall.20150912_DSC5451-EditAguaDulce

The old road continued to wind through the fragrant pine trees. We were pretty excited to have found a hike with so much tree cover.20150912_DSC5454-EditAguaDulce

At 1.67 miles we passed through an open gate and continued on.20150912_DSC5461-EditAguaDulce

At 1.86 miles the Chico Ravine Spur of the Big Laguna trail branched off to the left. We maintained our course along the Old County Road.20150912_DSC5468-EditAguaDulce

The tree cover thinned out a little bit, and we had some nice views to the west, where we could see the distinctive forms of Cuyamaca Peak and neighboring Middle Peak and North Peak in the distance.20150912_DSC5477-EditAguaDulce

Soon the trail began to bend towards the south. At 2.36 miles we turned left onto a wide gravel path that passed through a gap in the barbed wire fence.20150912_DSC5489AguaDulce

Just beyond the fence, another section of the Big Laguna trail (Spur 3 – the Gatos Spur) branched off to the left. We ignored the spur and continued along the gravel road as it continued straight and then bent to the right.20150912_DSC5493-EditAguaDulce

We passed more patches of golden brown grass, towering pines, and multi colored oak trees.20150912_DSC5499-EditAguaDulce

We quickly came upon yet another junction at the 2.5 mile point. We took the left branch, which began to descend down towards Agua Dulce Creek.20150912_DSC5502-EditAguaDulce

The gravel faded away, replaced by soft dirt and a thin layer of pine needles.20150912_DSC5505-EditAguaDulce

The trail continued its gradual descent until approximately 2.75 miles when we crossed the dry creek bed. A narrow single track branched off to the left, but we continued along the main road to the left.20150913DSC_3537AguaDulce

The trail continued north, following the course of the creek. It was well shaded, courtesy of the pine trees and occasional cedar tree.20150912_DSC5524-EditAguaDulce

Birds chirped and flitted about the trees overhead, while butterflies flew alongside the trail.20150913DSC_3545AguaDulce

At 3.6 miles we came to another “Y” junction. Escondido Ravine Road branched off to the right, heading uphill. We stayed left along the creek.20150912_DSC5539AguaDulce

Soon the surrounding trees opened up and a grassy meadow opened up before us. The road narrowed down to a single track, and just beyond the 4 mile point we passed through another barbed wire fence as we merged onto the Big Laguna Trail.20150913DSC_3562AguaDulce

At the 4.2 mile point we came to a “T” junction and headed left.20150912_DSC5557-EditAguaDulce

Soon after we encountered another junction, and once again took the left fork.20150912_DSC5564-EditAguaDulce

And just shy of the 4.5 mile point we came to pipe gate at the edge of more barbed wire fence. We were on the eastern edge of the Laguna Meadow. Just past the fence was a “Y” junction, and once again we took the left fork which would take us along the southern end of the meadow.20150913DSC_3575AguaDulce

We still had some reasonable tree cover to provide shade along the edge of the meadow. Clouds were starting to accumulate in the east, heralding a possible afternoon thunderstorm.20150912_DSC5574-EditAguaDulce

At 4.8 miles the Gatos Ravine Spur branched off to the left, we continued straight.20150912_DSC5583AguaDulce

The trail moved away from the tree cover and the wide expanse of the meadow opened up before us.20150912_DSC5589AguaDulce

As the trail bent south again, we could see some cows near the trail ahead of us along the edge of the Laguna Ranch.20150912_DSC5593AguaDulce

Right around 5.2 miles, the trail reached the barbed wire fence marking the edge of the Ranch, and we turned right.20150912_DSC5592AguaDulce

The trail ran alongside the barbed wire fence for another quarter mile or so.20150912_DSC5597AguaDulce

The clouds continued to roll in above us.20150912_DSC5598AguaDulce

On the other side of the fence, the group of cows we had seen previously also seemed to be on a hike.20150912_DSC5599AguaDulce

Just shy of 5.5 miles, the trail split again. We took the left fork, crossing over another cattle guard and passing through the fence.20150912_DSC5606AguaDulce

We found ourselves heading back into the trees again.20150912_DSC5614AguaDulce

A murder of crows occupied the trees along the edge of the meadow. Their loud squawks and cries filled the air.20150912_DSC5624AguaDulce

At 5.85 miles we came to a “T” junction and turned left, back towards the Sunrise Highway.20150912_DSC5641AguaDulce

We followed this trail for less than half a mile back to our starting point, finishing well before any rain fell.


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Directions:
From I-8 east take the Sunrise Highway exit and turn left onto Sunrise Highway (S1). Follow Sunrise Highway for approximately 5.5 miles to the Meadows Information Center trailhead where you can park on either side of the road, just past mile marker 19. The trail head is on the west side of the highway. map

Total Distance: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 528 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: Adventure Pass required

For more information, visit:
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area Map
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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