Indian Creek Loop

The Laguna Mountain area is one of our favorite hiking destinations in San Diego because it has so many interconnecting trails that can be combined into different hikes. The Indian Creek Loop combines segments of several different trails (Noble Canyon, Indian Creek, and the PCT) which we’ve explored before into an 8.7 mile loop with a wonderful variety of landscapes to enjoy.

The hike begins along the Noble Canyon Trail, then heads downhill along the Indian Creek Trail and across Indian Creek. Then it travels along an old jeep track (which we hiked when doing the Pine Mountain Loop a couple of winters ago) to reach the Sunrise Highway at the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. From there, we’d travel southbound on the PCT back to Penny Pines, covering much of the same trail we hiked when hiking to Garnet Peak from the picnic area.

We reached the Penny Pines trailhead early enough that there were only a few other cars. This is a very popular spot so we always try to arrive early. We set off through the gate on the west side of the highway.

A couple hundred feet up the trail we came to a “Y” junction. We took the right fork along the Noble Canyon Trail.

The ceanothus was blooming along the trail.

There were also some wildflowers still in bloom.

As we continued, we had some beautiful views of Garnet Peak to the east.

Around 1.15 miles we came to a 3-way junction. We took the 2nd of the two right forks, continuing on the Noble Canyon Trail.

The trail wound through sparse pine trees, grassland, and chaparral brush.

Around 1.4 miles we crossed Pine Creek Road and picked up the trail on the other side.

We went up a small hill, covered in manzanita before another short stretch of sparse pine trees.

Once beyond the trees, the trail began to ascend a steep and rocky hillside.

The trail wrapped around the north flank of the hill and leveled out.

Around 2.3 miles we came to “T” junction. The Noble Canyon Trail continued to the left. We turned right onto the Indian Creek Trail.

The trail began to descend gradually towards the valley.

We found more colorful wildflowers lining the trail as we descended further.

Around 3.3 miles we came to Indian Creek.

There wasn’t a great deal of water in the creek, and it was mostly obscured by thick grass. We were able to hop across the muddy sludge where the trail crossed the creek without any difficulty.

Once across the creek, we had a short but steep climb out of the creek bed.

After climbing out of the creek bed, the Indian Creek Trail made a sharp left and continued on. But at this point we left the trail and continued straight up the hill, following the faint course of an old jeep track.

The jeep track became more visible, and more steep, as we made our way up the hill.

At the top of the hill, the jeep track turned right and connected with another track a couple hundred feet beyond, where we turned left.

The jeep track led north to the Sunrise Highway.

We had wide, beautiful views of the grasslands and hills around us, and sporadic clumps of pine trees.

We passed a few road junctions that led off to the left, but we continued straight. Pavement reappeared just before the road met up again with the Sunrise Highway.

We followed the road up to the highway and crossed. We turned right and walked a short distance to the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area which was just up the road.

We walked around through the parking lot to find the access point for the southbound Pacific Crest Trail.

This area burned during the 2013 Chariot Fire, and we spotted some burnt stumps and branches still present. But overall the area was recovering well.

More wildflowers graced the trail.

The day was warming up, and there was no shade to be had along this section of the PCT. For awhile, we could see the Sunrise Highway on our right, far in the distance.

Soon the trail bent east, leaving the highway views behind.

We had some nice views of Anza-Borrego in the east.

The trail began to bend southward as we approached Garnet Peak. The mountain now blocked our desert view, and the highway reappeared far on the right.

A handsome lizard kindly posed for us.

Around 7.25 miles we came to a 4-way junction. The trail to Garnet Peak led uphill to the left, while the right fork led to the Garnet Peak trailhead along the Sunrise Highway. We continued straight on the PCT.

Soon after passing the junction, a flash of movement along the trail caught my eye. I peered into the bushes on the side of the trail, and spotted a horned lizard hiding in the brush.

We enjoyed some more views of the desert to the east.

There were numerous side paths that led to viewpoints along the trail. We ventured out to explore some of them, and were not disappointed.

We also enjoyed a long stretch of flowering sage.

Soon we caught sight of the antennae-topped Monument Peak in the distance.

From here, the trail turned west and we began to make our way back to the Penny Pines trailhead.

The rocky terrain transitioned into grass and fire-damaged trees as we approached the highway. We caught site of the parking area through the trees and made our way back to our car.

View the full photo gallery

From I-8 east take the Sunrise Highway exit and turn left onto Sunrise Highway (S1). Follow Sunrise Highway for approximately 13.8 miles to the Penny Pines trailhead where you can park on either side of the road. map

Total Distance: 8.7 miles
Difficulty:  Moderate
Total Ascent: 1218 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed on PCT section
Facilities: Water near trailhead; no bathrooms
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
Forest Service – Cleveland National Forest
Laguna Mountain Volunteer Association
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area Map
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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