Iron Mountain

This distinctive wooden gate marks the start of the Iron Mountain trail

Iron Mountain is one of the more popular hikes in San Diego County, maybe second only to Cowles Mountain. The trail head is easily accessible, located right off Highway 67 in Poway, offers a reasonably challenging trek for the average person, and on a clear day has some amazing views of northeast San Diego County. Thus it is a  common destination for San Diegans looking for a quick outdoor workout.

This is not the trail for quiet solitude, but its still a worthwhile excursion. Be warned that the trail is very exposed and can get incredibly hot during the summer months. Between the heat and the popularity of this spot, its a good idea to plan for an early start. The parking lot tends to fill up on weekends, so aim to beat the crowds and the midday heat by getting there by 8 am or earlier. I’m also told this makes a pleasant evening hike if that’s your thing (just bring a headlamp in case you’re out past dark!).

We made the trek on an early Sunday morning. The morning marine layer kept us nice and cool for the climb up to the peak.

From the main parking lot, we passed through the ornate wooden gate and followed the path. The trail wound back towards the highway then passed through a tunnel of oak trees.A picturesque tunnel of oak trees lines the beginning portion of the Iron Mountain Peak trail

Upon exiting this initial stretch of trees, the trail was wide and exposed, surrounded on either side by chaparral and brown grassland. The peak lay before us to the right, but was shrouded in fog like the rest of the surrounding hills.Iron Mountain Peak trail starts out as a wide dirt road

At .4 mile we came to an intersection. To the left was a trail to the Ellie Lane staging area – an alternative starting point for the hike. To continue to Iron Mountain, we had a choice of continuing straight along the main trail, or taking the side branch to the right. Both routes are roughly equal in length and difficulty, however the side trail is somewhat less travelled. We headed right.An alternative side trail on the Iron Mountain Peak trail offers a bit more solitude

Before long, the trail began to climb gradually, threading its way through tall brush on either side.The Iron Mountain Peak side trail

At 1 mile we encountered another intersection where we merged with the main trail. A left turn here would lead back to the staging area, so we continued on straight.Rejoining the main Iron Mountain Peak Trail

A little ways up the trail we found an open spot to enjoy the the view behind us.The view towards Poway from the Iron Mountain Peak trail

We hit a number of pretty steep and rocky sections as we progressed, balanced out by more level stretches in between.A steep and rocky stretch of trail

We finally caught a glimpse of one of the blue jays that we could hear squawking in the bushes all around us, but he didn’t stay still long enough to get a good picture. At 1.5 miles, halfway to the top, we reached another junction point. Heading left will take you to the Ramona Overlook, and a longer path back to the Ellie Lane Staging Area. We headed right to continue on to the peak.Halfway to the Iron Mountain Peak

We continued climbing the dusty trail, our destination still shrouded in fog. For the most part, the brush around us was lower growing than we’d seen on the earlier portions of the trail, and we found increasing amounts of beautiful red rocks poking through the brush.Hiking into the fog

Around 1.67 miles we found the turn off for the trail leading to the helipad. We didn’t bother with this detour and stayed on the main trail.Trail branch leading to the helipad on the Iron Mountain Peak trail

The trail leveled out for a bit as we wound around the edge of the mountain. As we went on the smell of sage was thick in the air. Large rock formations on the trail side caught our eye.Gorgeous red rocks adorn the trailside

Around 2.25 miles we noticed a small side trail branching off to the right, but we continued along the main trail. Around .1 mile later we found the other end of this side trail, which is simply another alternative route. We ended up taking this route on the way back, and found it offered a slightly more scenic and quieter journey than the main trail.View from the Iron Mountain trail

Around 2.4 miles we came to the base of the switchbacks leading up the final stretch. The fog was finally burning off and we could see hikers zigzagging up the trail leading to the top of the mountain.Switchbacks wind their way up the top of Iron Mountain

The switchbacks were somewhat steep and rocky in spots, but nothing terrible.Rocky trail leading up Iron Mountain

The marine layer was slowly evaporating from the surrounding mountain tops, and we began to pick out landmarks as we climbed. To the north, the antenna topped peak of Mount Woodson began to emerge.The tpp of Mount Woodson  emerges from the clouds

Due east was the towering ridge of the Cuyamacas poking up above the clouds.The Cuyamacas emerging from the clouds

To the west was the city of Poway, and Black Mountain beyond.Looking west from Iron Mountain towards Black Mountain

We finally made it to the top, where we found the peak register safely stowed in a mailbox, picnic tables, a telescope and more lovely boulders on which we sat, ate our snacks, and enjoyed the views.View from the top of Iron Mountain

In addition to all the other landmarks we had identified as we climbed, we could now see the San Vicente Reservoir to the south.San Vicente Reservoir

After exploring the summit, we headed back down.Heading back down Iron Mountain

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From I-15, take the Scripps Poway Pkwy exit. Head east on Scripps Poway Parkway for approximately 8.5 miles to Highway 67. Turn left (north) on Highway 67, the parking area will be on your right approximately 1.7 miles up Highway 67, right before the intersection with Poway Road. map

Total Distance: 6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1530 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes Allowed
Facilities: Pit toilets in parking lot, no water
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of Poway – Trails and Hiking
View route on google maps

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