Eagle Peak Preserve

Eagle Peak Preserve doesn’t actually contain Eagle Peak, but lies just north of it. The Preserve is located on Eagle Peak Road, surrounded by a mix of Cleveland National Forest and private property.  It is the Flagship Preserve of The San Diego River Park Foundation (SDRPF), who began acquiring the property from private landowners in 2008. Thanks to the work of the SDRPF, this land is now protected and can continue to serve as an important corridor for wildlife in the area.

It should be noted that the Preserve does not have well marked, highly maintained trails. Novice hikers or those uncomfortable with route-finding may wish to bring along a more experienced friend on their first visit. But if bush-whacking and exploration is your thing, Eagle Peak Preserve is a great spot to find some quiet solitude and nice views of the upper San Diego River Gorge.

Driving down Eagle Peak Road, we spotted the first entrance to the preserve, marked by a red wooden fence, metal gate and small sign. We continued down the road about half a mile to the second entrance, which had a similar red wooden fence and metal gate, but no sign. But this entrance had something the first one lacked: room to park in a turnout on the side of the road. We parked in the turnout on the road opposite the gate and entered the preserve.

Beyond the gate was an open dirt area. A small pedestal with a trail map and information about Eagle Peak Preserve marked the start of the trail. An old, overgrown dirt road (The Historic Trail, according to the map) led uphill.

Our plan was to follow the the route described in the Coast to Cactus trail guide – follow the Historic Trail through the Preserve to Cleveland National Forest land, then bushwhack our way up to an unnamed peak to check out the views. There are some other potential destinations in the Preserve, including two small peaks with benchmarks: Son and Son 2, and a couple of ponds down in the valley below. We will likely return for further exploration.

For now, we followed the path of the Historic Trail – once part of the original route between San Diego and Julian – as it climbed up the hillside.

We paused frequently to enjoy the views of the surrounding area. Looking west, back towards the parking area, was the San Diego River Gorge.

As we continued on, we spotted a wall of rocks that supported the side of the old road.

We reached a low ridge and the trail bent east.

The trail was a little hard to spot in places due to the brush, but we’d soon spot the remnants of the rock wall and know we were on course.

Ahead, to the east, we could see the small peak we were aiming for.
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In the valley on our left, we spotted one of the small ponds. Nearby was a wooden shade structure. According to the trail map we saw at the start of the trail, there was supposed to be a path from the trail we were on down to the pond, but we never spotted it in all the overgrown brush.

We continued picking our way through the thick brush. We were coming across more and more spots where vegetation made it difficult to see the old road, but continued pushing ahead until we managed to spot remnants of the rock wall and knew we were still on course.

Around 1.2 miles things got pretty messy. We came to what appeared to be a very faint “Y” junction – the left fork led down across a depression in the land, while the right fork contoured along the base of the hill.

Both routes looked reasonable, and we ended up taking the left fork through the small valley. On the return route though, we came back on the other fork and it seemed to be a little more trail-like, so that’s the route you probably want to take and is reflected in the GPS track.

Our adventure took us through a small valley towards a defoliated oak tree. After squeezing through some bushes, we found the rock wall and the road again on the other side.

We crossed a relatively flat, rocky, open expanse, aiming for the low ridge ahead of us. We found a few stone cairns along the way that let us know we were on the right track for something.

We reached the low ridge and once again found the rock wall the marked the old road. We continued northeast along the base of the peak.

The rock wall became increasingly apparent as we continued. We could see it stretch out ahead of us, wrapping the hillside into the distance.

Looking west, we had impressive views of the Preserve below us.

We passed a small sign with the San Diego River Park Foundation logo, presumably marking the border between Eagle Peak Preserve and Cleveland National Forest land.

From the sign it was a short way to the turn off we were looking for. There was a small saddle in the ridgeline above us, and we wanted to get up there. Around 1.55 miles the road began to curve sharply to the left, and we observed a cow path leading straight up the hill. We left the road and began climbing.

While the slope was steep, the ground was very soft and the impressions made by cow hoofs made perfect footholds for our ascent.

A few minutes of sweating and dodging cow pies brought us to the top of the ridge where we found a fabulous grove of oak trees. We turned right and began heading uphill through the trees.

There was nothing resembling a trail at this point, so we just picked our own route south through the trees and sage, aiming for the highest point of land we could see.

We made our way to what looked like the high point, a nondescript pile of rocks and brush. It was a quiet and eminently serene spot to relax and enjoy the scenery.

The views from our pile of rocks and the surrounding hills were awesome. In the southeast were the Cuyamacas.

In the northeast was Kessler Flat and the road we had driven in on. We were able to spot some cows down below, possibly the same ones that had blazed the trail uphill for us.

To the south was Eagle Peak, the San Diego River Gorge, and El Cajon Mountain.

After enjoying the solitude and taking in the views, we headed back the way we had come.

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From Highway 79, just east of downtown Julian, head south on Pine Hills Road. Follow Pine Hills Road for approximately 1.6 miles and turn right onto Eagle Peak Road. Follow Eagle Peak Road for approximately 8.7 miles to the second (unmarked) entrance to Eagle Peak Preserve. Park in the turnout on the right side of the road. map

A note on road conditions: Most of Eagle Peak Road is unpaved, but its pretty well maintained and you shouldn’t have any issues in a passenger car.

Total Distance: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 850 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed but not recommended
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
San Diego River Park Foundation: Eagle Peak Preserve Conservation Area
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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