El Monte Park Trail

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In the late 1800’s, the San Diego Flume Company built a 37 mile wooden flume to transport water from Cuyamaca to the El Cajon Valley. This elaborate construct consisted of nearly 9 million board feet of redwood lined with cork and sealed with tar, and traveled across 315 trestles and through eight tunnels.  By 1935, the flume was replaced with an underground pipeline. Most of the lumber and other material that made up the flume was reclaimed, but in several places throughout the county the course of the flume can still be identified by a wide cut in hillsides and mountainsides where the flume ran.

One such stretch of the old flume path runs above El Monte Valley near El Monte County Park. A steep trail beginning from the back of the park leads up to and crosses the course of the old flume before continuing further up the mountainside. In addition to the minor history lesson, the climb offers a good workout and some fantastic views of the southern face of El Cajon Mountain.

After one too many Snickers Minis on Halloween, we decided it would be best to get out and get some exercise, so we headed out to El Monte Park. You can park in the large staging area on the left side of the road for free, or head up the road a little way and enter the park for $3. We chose the free option. The views of El Cajon Mountain were impressive even from the parking lot.20151101DSC_4041-EditEl Monte

We crossed the road at the crosswalk, which led us directly to the beginning of the trail.20151101DSC_4045-EditEl Monte

A wood-chipped lined walkway paralleled the road, leading us to the western edge of the park.20151101DSC_4047El Monte

We came to a wide clearing surrounded by oak trees, with some hitching posts and a picnic table. The trail continued on the other side, where it began to ascend unapologetically up some steep switchbacks.20151101DSC_4050El Monte

We passed through a chain link fence with additional signage, and continued further up the merciless series of switchbacks.20151101DSC_4054-EditEl Monte

The surrounding vegetation was pretty dry, as we were at the end of summer. We noticed mostly buckwheat and laurel sumac along the trail. The scenery was dominated by the magnificent form of El Cajon Mountain looming to the east.20151101DSC_4064-EditEl Monte

Around .65 miles the switchbacks briefly relented and the trail leveled out briefly. We weren’t lulled into any sense of relief however, as we could clearly see what awaited us.20151101DSC_4143-EditEl Monte

But first things first. The trail made a short descent and around .85 miles we came to a junction with the wide, flat cut of the former flume route. Our destination lay to the left, up the hill, but we took a short detour down slope for some exploration.20151101DSC_4073-EditEl Monte

We hadn’t been able to see it from the trail above, but here we spied the remains of an old tunnel where the flume once passed through the neighboring mountainside.20151101DSC_4137-EditEl Monte

There were a couple of interpretive signs providing information and history of the flume. To the west, the old course of the Flume’s path wound its way along the side of the mountain.20151101DSC_4140-EditEl Monte

We paused to enjoy the view of El Monte Valley stretching out to the west, before resuming the death march up the hill.20151101DSC_4074-EditEl Monte

Once again, we wound our way up the slope, pausing at the end of each switchback to take in the changing views of El Cajon Mountain.20151101DSC_4080-EditEl Monte

To the west, we could see the peaks of Mission Trails off in the distance.20151101DSC_4086-EditEl Monte

Some of the switchbacks qualified as what I officially refer to as “ridiculously steep.”20151101DSC_4089-EditEl Monte

After a mile or so of slogging our way uphill, we came to a lovely and welcome bench. This was a perfect spot to sit and take in the views while enjoying the cool breeze.20151101DSC_4102-EditEl Monte
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If you’re just in it for the scenery, this would make a respectable turnaround point as the best of the trail is behind you now. We decided we hadn’t had enough punishment, however, and continued on up the hill.20151101DSC_4105-EditEl Monte

The brush grew thicker as we continued, and prolific amounts of coyote poop on the trail indicated a flourishing wildlife population. But being the middle of a rather warm day, we only saw a hand full of birds and numerous baby lizards scurrying away from us.20151101DSC_4106-EditEl Monte

At 2 miles the trail crossed a small wooden footbridge.20151101DSC_4107-EditEl Monte

We passed by some large homes before finally meeting Creek Hills Road – the end of the trail.20151101DSC_4110-EditEl Monte

From here we retraced our route back to the park.

From I-8, take the Lake Jennings Park Road exit. Head north on Lake Jennings Park Road for approximately 1.8 miles. Turn right onto El Monte Road. Follow El Monte Road for approximately 4.9 miles to the staging area on the left side of the road, across the street from El Monte County Park. Parking in the staging area is free. You can also park at El Monte County Park for $3.  map

Total Distance: 4.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 1365 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Bathrooms and water at park
Fees/Permits: None if you park in the staging area; $3 if you park at El Monte Park

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego – El Monte Park
Lakeside Historical Society – The Flume
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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