Fry Creek Trail

There are a lot of shorter hikes scattered throughout the county that are beautiful and scenic, but don’t always feel like they justify the amount of driving involved to get there. We decided that we’d hike both this trail and another nearby trail, as well as take a tour of the Palomar Mountain Observatory to make a decent half-day adventure worthy of the couple hours of driving involved. So after hiking the Observatory Trail, we headed over to the Fry Creek Campground just up the road to do this short little loop along the slopes above the campground.

We walked a few hundred feet up the main road into the campground until we came upon an information board and pay station.20151010_DSC9028FryCreek

To the right of this information board was the start of the trail. We found it a bit difficult to determine the exact route since the ground was uniformly covered in fallen oak leaves. Eventually we realized there was a barely discernable series of rocks outlining the trail as it headed towards the trees and then cut to the right along the small hill between the road and campsite #1’s picnic table.20151010_DSC9104FryCreek

Once we were over the small hill, a few old logs marked the path.20151010_DSC9103FryCreek

The trail quickly became a little more noticeable as we started uphill again, and we started to feel a little less dumb.20151010_DSC9032-EditFryCreek

The trail turned northwest as we continued to ascend and we began to circle the campground below. We could occasionally hear voices from one of the campsites drift up towards us, but the trees were so thick we didn’t see anyone.20151010_DSC9034-EditFryCreek

We were thankful for the thick cover of the surrounding oak trees as the day was warming up quickly.20151010_DSC9039-EditFryCreek

At .4 miles we encountered the first of several wooden benches strategically placed to entice hikers to sit down for a few minutes and enjoy the scenery.20151010_DSC9046-EditFryCreek

We continued on, soon crossing the very dry Fry Creek. There were a few patches of poison oak growing nearby, but it wasn’t nearly as pervasive as on the Observatory Trail we had hiked earlier.20151011DSC_3846-EditFryCreek

The trail continued up another hill, through more oaks.20151010_DSC9056FryCreek

Just shy of .7 miles we crossed a dirt road and picked the trail up again on the opposite side.20151010_DSC9060FryCreek

As we approached the halfway point, we began to see more pine trees mixed in with the oaks.20151010_DSC9068-EditFryCreek

The trail leveled out and gradually turned south as we reached the far end of the loop.20151010_DSC9071-EditFryCreek

We crossed what appeared to be another dirt road, although this one was less defined than the previous one. Following the trail signs, we continued straight along our narrow single track.20151011DSC_3856-EditFryCreek

This side of the loop, with its north-facing slope, was even more heavily forested than the first half.20151010_DSC9076-EditFryCreek

It was easy to forget how close we were to a developed campground as we walked through the trees on the slope above. It felt like we were way above the valley floor below, but it was really only a few hundred feet.20151010_DSC9082-EditFryCreek

We came upon a few sections of trail that had soft, freshly turned dirt that appeared to have undergone recent maintenance. We had read several previous accounts of this hike that indicated the trail was in pretty poor shape, but it appears that the Forest Service has been hard at work fixing the place up.20151010_DSC9087-EditFryCreek

After a few sharp switchbacks, the trail ended at the campground road below.20151010_DSC9096FryCreek

We reached the road and turned right, finding our starting point just a few hundred feet away.

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Take I-15 north to the Via Rancho Parkway exit. Turn right onto E Via Rancho Parkway, continue as it turns into Bear Valley Parkway. Turn right onto E Valley Parkway, continue as it turns into Valley Center Road. Turn right onto CA-76 East. After approximately 6 miles, make a slight left onto S Grade Rd/Palomar Mountain Rd. Continue up the mountain for 6.7 miles, then turn left to stay on S Grade Road. Continue on S Grade Road for approximately 2.5 miles until you see the Fry Creek Campground on the left (about .1 miles past the Observatory Campground). Park in the large turnout opposite the campground entrance and walk into the campground. map

Total Distance: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: 350 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Pit toilets and water available in campground
Fees/Permits: Adventure Pass required

For more information, visit:
Cleveland National Forest – Fry Creek Trail
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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