Azalea Glen Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)


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.

We found the trailhead at the southwest edge of the Day Use parking area. This first section of trail also overlaps with the Paso Picacho Loop Trail, so we encountered signs for both.20160401_DSC0700-Edit_Azalea_Glen

This close to the campground, there were still a significant number of trees to shade the trail.20160401_DSC0704-Edit_Azalea_Glen

We caught a glimpse of the campground’s amphitheater across the meadow to our right. A few scrub jays bounced around the nearby trees.20160401_DSC0705-Edit_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0708-Edit_Azalea_Glen

Around .25 mile, we crossed a small wooden footbridge.20160401_DSC0711-Edit_Azalea_Glen

Not far beyond, around .32 mile, we came to a “Y” junction. The Paso Picacho Loop Trail continued to the right, while we took the left fork, following signs for the Azalea Glen Loop.20160401_DSC0716-Edit_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0719-EditAzalea

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.20160401_DSC0723-Edit_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0726-Edit_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0728-Edit_Azalea_Glen

Just beyond was yet another footbridge as the trail curved towards the north.20160401_DSC0729-Edit_Azalea_Glen

We were treated to some nice views of Middle Peak rising up in the distance.20160401_DSC0730-Edit_Azalea_Glen

At .6 mile we found another “Y” junction, complete with a nice bench to kick back on and enjoy the views. We took the left fork, once again following the signs for the Azalea Glen Loop Trail.20160401_DSC0732-Edit_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0736-Edit_Azalea_Glen

We also found some small wildflowers starting to bloom along the trail as well.20160401_DSC0741_Azalea_Glen

At .8 miles we found another trail junction where the California Riding & Hiking Trail branched off to the right. We turned left.20160401_DSC0744_Azalea_Glen

We crossed a small trickle of water where a creek or spring flowed over the trail.20160401_DSC0748_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0757_Azalea_Glen

As we continued up the gentle incline, we were again surrounded by thick growing ceanothus and the remains of burnt trees.20160401_DSC0763-Edit_Azalea_Glen

But soon enough, we began to see some cedars and other trees still standing. It wasn’t long before we were hiking in nearly a proper forest.20160401_DSC0768-Edit_Azalea_Glen

To our right we heard the distinctive sound of running water where the spring-fed Azalea Creek flowed.20160401_DSC0772-Edit_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0780-Edit_Azalea_Glen

As the sun rose higher in the sky, we had less and less shade from the surrounding brush. It was starting to get downright warm as we continued up the increasingly rocky slope.20160401_DSC0801-Edit_Azalea_Glen

Around 2.15 miles we reached the wide Azalea Spring Fire Road and turned left to continue our loop.20160401_DSC0809_Azalea_Glen

A short way up the road we found a sign marking Azalea Spring and a small cistern. Just beyond was a large fenced-off outbuilding.20160401_DSC0812-Edit_Azalea_Glen

Just past the building, Azalea Glen Fire Road, an old dirt road, branched off to the left. We turned here, now heading back towards our starting point.20160401_DSC0817_Azalea_Glen

Once again, the lack of trees allowed us some beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.20160401_DSC0819-Edit_Azalea_Glen

This was my favorite kind of fire road – overgrown and clearly not frequented by vehicles.20160401_DSC0829_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0881_Azalea_Glen

From here we had a gentle downhill stroll through more thick growing ceanothus. We were able to see Lake Cuyamaca in the distance.20160401_DSC0883_Azalea_Glen

And as the trail bent east Stonewall Peak once again came into view.20160401_DSC0892_Azalea_Glen

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.20160401_DSC0901_Azalea_Glen

The Azalea Glen Trail zigged away from the campground and back into the open grassland area.20160401_DSC0907_Azalea_Glen

At 3.7 miles we reached the start of the loop as we had noted earlier. Here, we turned right to retrace our path back to the Day Use Parking Area.20160401_DSC0910_Azalea_Glen

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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
Difficulty: Moderate
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

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