The Azalea Glen Loop begins at Paso Picacho Campground and combines several single track trails with wider fire roads. The surrounding area was hit heavily by the 2003 Cedar Fire, and while there has been considerable regrowth of low-lying brush, large expanses of dead trees still stand as a quiet reminder of the fire’s devastation. More recent controlled burns and replanting efforts in the area continue to alter the landscape.
Like many hikes in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, this one involves a number of trail junctions and combines single track trails with wider fire roads. The loop is mostly well-signed however, so it’s not too difficult to stay on course if you pay attention and read the trail markers.
It didn’t take long before the trees dissipated and we were amid the post-Cedar Fire aftermath that now pervades much of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The charred remains of trees poked through thick tangles of ceanothus, and fallen logs and branches littered the sides of the trail.
Not far beyond we found some Poodle Dog Bush growing along side the trail. Poodle Dog is a fire-follower, growing prolifically for several years in areas that have been ravaged by fire. Of greater interest though is the blistering rash and irritation it can cause to those who are unfortunate enough to come into direct contact with it. It is said to be far worse than Poison Oak. Fortunately, here the Poodle Dog was off the trail and easy enough to avoid.
We crossed another small wooden bridge, and shortly thereafter heard something rustling around in the brush to our right. Just as I turned to see what it was, a panicked turkey flew up out of the bushes and away from us. Then, we saw another turkey running ahead of us along the trail. We tried to be quiet and appear non-threatening, but this bird didn’t want anything to do with us and quickly tottered out of sight.
We were excited to have glimpsed some wildlife, especially considering it was almost midday and we hadn’t really expected to see any critters. We eagerly scanned the brush as we walked, hoping for some more action, but the turkeys were long gone. Looking behind us though, we were rewarded with a nice view of Stonewall Peak across the highway.
Just shy of the .5 mile point, we came to the start of the loop portion of the trail. This is a somewhat awkward junction point, the trail on the left is where we’d be returning from, it leads up the hill and wraps around. For now we just stayed straight.
While witnessing all the dead, burnt trees on the surrounding hills might seem a little depressing, it was actually still quite beautiful here in its own way. We had beautiful and expansive views of the surrounding area – you don’t get that with a bunch of trees in the way.
The trail wound gradually uphill. Around .9 mile, near the edge of a shady grove of oak trees, we found some long, flat boulders with morteros ground into them. Small pools of water from recent precipitation filled the depressions.
The tree cover began to thin out again, and the grade increased noticeably. We were surrounded on both sides by thick ceanothus growing over our heads. Cut logs from fallen trees lined the trail. I made a mental note never to be on this trail around all the fire damaged trees during any kind of storm.
Right around 2.9 miles, we came to a “Y” junction that we almost missed. A single track trail veered off at almost 180 degrees to our left. Fortunately we noticed the trail marker and took the left turn.
The reappearance of living trees heralded our return to the borders of the campground. At 3.4 miles we found another “Y” junction where we took the sharp left. The right fork will lead you to the back edge of the campground if you’d rather return by that route.
Take I-8 East to the CA-79 N/Japatul Valley Road exit. Turn left and follow 79 north (towards Julian). After 2.7 miles, there is a sharp left to stay on 79 – make sure not to miss this turn (follow signs for 79 and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). Continue on 79 for about 9 more miles to Paso Picacho campground on the left. Pay the parking fee at the kiosk and park in the Day Use parking on the right. map
|Total Distance:||4.2 miles|
|Total Ascent:||622 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Dogs not allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes not allowed on several sections|
|Facilities:||Bathroom and water at parking area|
|Fees/Permits:||$10 per vehicle parking fee|
For more information, visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Interpretive Association
View route or download GPX in CalTopo