Inaja Nature Trail

Inaja Nature Trail 6

In 1956, 11 firefighters lost their lives while battling the Inaja Fire along the San Diego River outside of Julian. The Inaja Memorial Picnic Ground stands as tribute to these brave men who died battling the blaze. In addition to a stone memorial and the picnic amenities, this little rest stop just outside of Santa Ysabel contains a short but scenic Nature Trail with some fantastic views.

While you probably don’t want to make the long drive solely to hike this small .5 mile nature trail, the picnic ground is an excellent rest stop if you’re heading through the Santa Ysabel area for other adventures.  There are vault toilets to accommodate the inevitable requirements of a long drive, and numerous tables where you can enjoy a picnic lunch in the fresh air. Then take a stroll along the nature trail to stretch your legs before resuming your journey.

We  visited Inaja Memorial Picnic Ground after a longer hike at the nearby Santa Ysabel West Preserve. The Picnic Ground was just a couple of minutes down the highway, so we headed over eat our sandwiches and then set about exploring.

Immediately adjacent to the parking lot we found several covered picnic tables, and a small monument dedicated to the firefighters who lost their lives battling the Inaja Fire.Inaja Nature Trail 1

There were some more picnic tables down a hill to the east. We were more interested in the trail that began near the bathrooms. The Inaja Nature Trail is a short little half mile loop with a couple of viewpoints to enjoy.Inaja Nature Trail 4236

Just beyond the bathrooms, the trail passed under an overhanging oak tree, and gently began to climb uphill.Inaja Nature Trail 4237

We quickly came to the start of the loop where the trail branched off in either direction. We decided to head left and proceed in a clockwise direction, although there’s not really any reason to choose one way over the other. The shade had dissipated by this point, and we found ourselves amid low growing manzanita and chamise, with the warm sun beating down on us.Inaja Nature Trail 4239

To our left was the dramatic precipice of the San Diego River Gorge.Inaja Nature Trail 2

Around .2 miles, as the official trail made a sharp right, we noticed a use trail heading off to the left. We followed it a short way to find a rocky outcropping with a nice view of the river gorge.Inaja Nature Trail 3

As we turned north back along the main trail, we got some beautiful views of the Santa Ysabel valley.Inaja Nature Trail 4

We spotted another use trail on the right, heading up towards the “summit” of the small peak we were circling. At the top, we found this neat viewfinder. On the bottom are the printed names of various landmarks, including Cuyamaca Peak, San Miguel Mountain, and El Cajon Mountain. By lining up the arrow on the bottom with a landmark name, you can look through the tube on top and see the landmark.Inaja Nature Trail 5

We had a fun time playing with this contraption and admiring all the views, but eventually headed back down to the trail to resume our hike. There were more sweeping views of Santa Ysabel to enjoy.Inaja Nature Trail 7

We also found a few more trees to enjoy on this side of the trail.Inaja Nature Trail 4262

The trail wrapped around and we quickly found ourselves at the start of the loop, where we turned left and descended back down to the picnic area.

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Take Highway 78 east to Santa Ysabel, where 78 and 79 converge. Continue south on 78/79 for approximately 1.1 miles to the Inaja Memorial Picnic Ground on your right.

From downtown Julian, take 78W/79N for 5.7 miles to the Inaja Memorial Picnic Ground on your left. map

Total Distance: .5 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: 109 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Vault toilets; no water
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
National Forest – Inaja Memorial Picnic Site
National Forest – Spotlight: Inaja Trail
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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