Sweetwater Summit Regional Park has 15 miles of trails to explore, open to hikers, bikers and equestrians. The nearby Sweetwater Reservoir provides a scenic backdrop to the park’s rolling grass-covered hills. The park is also prime territory for vernal pools – temporary pools of water that form only during the wet season and provide important habitat for endangered and threatened species like the San Diego fairy shrimp.
There’s a considerable trail system to explore around the park – the California Riding and Hiking Trail passes through, and its actually possible to connect from here to the Steele Canyon Bridge at the neighboring San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. Today however, we were going to a comparatively modest 5.2 mile loop to the Cactus Hill Viewpoint, where a wooden shade structure known as the “Tiki Hut” can be found.
We followed the wide utility road west. A fence ran along our side to the left, and on the other side was another path with some bird watchers. In the distance, the imposing form of Mount Miguel rose up.
While all the gravel roads and fences weren’t exactly idyllic, it was a quiet, peaceful morning. Birds were chirping and flying about, and the views of the reservoir and mountains in the distance were quite scenic.
We crossed the first of several wooden footbridges that took us over a dry vernal pool. These don’t look like much during the dry season, just a cracked depression in the dirt, but after some rain they fill with water and are an important and fragile habitat.
The trail made a series of 90-degree turns until the chain link fence finally came to an end. At 1.3 miles, we came to a “Y” junction. A less prominent looking trail continued on the left along the wire fence – this is the direct path to the view point, so if you’re looking for a shorter out and back you’d want to go that way. We took the right fork here for a slightly longer loop.
From the top we had some beautiful views of the reservoir and Dictionary Hill beyond.
Slowly the trail turned eastward. We could see Mother Miguel Mountain in the distance, with Mount Miguel further beyond.
The trail switchbacked down the hillside. Loose rocks and a steep grade made the footing a bit treacherous, and some large stands of pencil cholla along the trail made us particularly leery of slipping.
Take CA-54 to the Briarwood Road exit, head southeast on Briarwood Road. After approximately .6 miles turn left onto Sweetwater Road. Follow Sweetwater Road for approximately .4 miles and turn right onto Bonita Road. Take the next left onto San Miguel Road. Follow San Miguel Road for approximately 1.2 miles and turn left onto Campground Road/Summit Meadow Road. Follow the road up the hill until you see a park with a water play area on your left (Eastview County Park), just before the entrance kiosk for Sweetwater Summit Park and Campground. Turn left and park near the water play area – parking here is free (there is a fee for using the water park facilities). map
|Total Distance:||5.2 miles|
|Total Ascent:||792 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Bathrooms and water near parking lot|
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View route or download GPX from CalTopo