Iron Mountain/Ellie Lane Loop

View of Iron Mountain from the Ellie Lane Trail

While I really enjoy the main trail leading up Iron Mountain, I have to admit it gets pretty crowded at times. If you’ve ever attempted to start this trail mid-morning on a weekend, you’ve probably experienced the challenge of the very full parking lot. Fortunately, there is an alternate trailhead and route just up the street that connects with the Iron Mountain trail. The Ellie Lane staging area is usually much less crowded and offers a great alternative to the more popular main route.

Since we knew parking would be less of an issue, we didn’t worry about getting a super early start. We had a leisurely morning and reached the parking area shortly after 9 am. Even though it was a Saturday, there were only a couple of other cars in the lot. We set off down the trail, corralled by a wooden fence between a narrow road on the left and a private ranch on the right.20151212DSC_5286-EditEllieLane

We spotted a couple of Border Collies and their humans honing their herding skills at the ranch. Watching dogs herding sheep is pretty amazing, and we enjoyed the show as we made our way down the trail.20151212DSC_5287-EditEllieLane

The trail veered left and we passed behind some homes before turning east again and starting up the hill.20151212DSC_5290-EditEllieLane

At .4 mile we came to a junction. The Wild Horse Trail continued straight ahead going downhill towards the main Iron Mountain trail. We’d be returning by that route, but for now we turned left to stay on the Ellie Lane Trail.20151212DSC_5294EllieLane

By now we were well away from the road and houses and were enjoying the quiet tranquility of the morning. The narrow trail wound through the dense chaparral. On the slopes above us, brilliant white boulders were scattered about.20151212DSC_5299-EditEllieLane

Around 1.1 miles we came upon a large expanse of granite and spotted the aptly named Table Rock.20151212DSC_5347-EditEllieLane

We ventured up the short way to get a closer look, finding it to be a moderately interesting photographic subject.20151212DSC_5350-EditEllieLane

We returned to the trail and continued on, finding a junction amid the tall ceanothus less than .1 mile beyond Table Rock. Examining the map, there appear to be several branches of the Ellie Lane Trail one can take that all end up in roughly the same place, and this is the first of them. We went ahead and took the left fork here.20151212DSC_5357-EditEllieLane

We continued on through the dense chaparral and scattered boulders, even occasionally spotting the fascinating phenomenon of plants growing from the boulders.20151212DSC_5358-EditEllieLane

Not to be outdone, this little yucca chose a rocky home as well.20151212DSC_5364EllieLane

The trail bent south and we descended a small rocky slope.20151212DSC_5375-EditEllieLane

We came to another junction, this one a little more faint. From looking at the map it appears that going straight or taking the branch to the left both end up in the same spot. We went straight, beginning a brief ascent through tall brush.20151212DSC_5378-EditEllieLane

We topped a rise and briefly had some nice views. We could see the main Iron Mountain parking lot down below and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.20151212DSC_5381-EditEllieLane

From here it was some rocky ups and downs where we got to enjoy some more of Poway’s beautiful granite.20151212DSC_5384-EditEllieLane

At 1.95 miles we encountered a “T” junction. The path to the right would lead us back down to the Wild Horse Trail and eventually to the parking lot. We were nowhere near done hiking though, so we headed left to continue on to the Ramona Overlook and then Iron Mountain.20151212DSC_5389-EditEllieLane

From here we had a fairly steady ascent with a handful of switchbacks. While ahead of us was more chaparral and boulders, there was a pretty nice view behind us.20151212DSC_5404-EditEllieLane

It wasn’t long before we topped the rise we were climbing and had a whole new scene to admire. The Cuyamacas rose up in the distance.20151212DSC_5409-EditEllieLane

The trail began to descend, making a few zig zags down the side of slope.20151212DSC_5412-EditEllieLane

We could see the trail leading up to the Ramona Overlook below.20151212DSC_5415-EditEllieLane

At 2.75 miles we reached the junction for the Overlook. This was a short detour to a small unnamed peak overlooking the Ramona Valley. We continued straight ahead to ascend the Overlook.20151212DSC_5416EllieLane

It was a very short .1 mile climb over a smaller peak to the Overlook just beyond. The views did not disappoint, and neither did the peacefulness. We had been encountering increasing numbers of other hikers on the trail as we got closer to Iron Mountain, but no one else seemed interested in this side trip so we had it all to ourselves. We took advantage of the solitude to sit down for a couple minutes and have a snack while we enjoyed the views.20151212DSC_5418EllieLane

After enjoying the Overlook we returned to the main trail and turned our attention to the main attraction – Iron Mountain.20151212DSC_5422EllieLane

We continued south along the rocky trail which made a short descent along the flank of the mountainside.20151212DSC_5424EllieLane

The trail leveled out somewhat, then it was a gradual climb until we came to the intersection with the main Iron Mountain Trail at 3.6 miles. The right fork would lead back towards the main staging area or the turn off for the Wild Horse Trail. This is the way we’d be returning, but first we had to summit the peak, so we continued straight.20151212DSC_5438EllieLane

The trail became much more crowded from this point as we joined the main route up the mountain. The trail wound through more chaparral and as we approached the base of the switchbacks.20151212DSC_5449EllieLane

Around 4.5 miles we reached the switchbacks. We could spot people at various points along the trail making their way up the mountainside.20151212DSC_5462EllieLane

The views became ever more impressive as we climbed.20151212DSC_5468EllieLane

Finally, at 5 miles, we reached the summit. As usual there were a fair amount of hikers lounging about the rocks at the summit, but we did manage to snap a picture of one of the picnic tables while it was empty.20151212DSC_5489EllieLane

It wasn’t the clearest morning ever, but we were still able to enjoy Iron Mountain’s fantastic views. Just north was Mount Woodson.20151212DSC_5485EllieLane

In the east we could see off to the Cuyamacas.20151212DSC_5486EllieLane

After lounging for a bit and eating some snacks, we headed back down to finish out our loop. We returned to the junction of the Iron Mountain and Ellie Lane trails at 6.4 miles. You can retrace your route along the Ellie Lane trail for an even 10 mile hike, but we wanted some variety so we turned left onto the main Iron Mountain trail.20151212DSC_5496EllieLane

We made our way down the rocky trail for about half a mile, enjoying the views.20151212DSC_5504EllieLane

At 6.9 miles we came to a “Y” junction. Both forks end up in the same place, but we decided to head right and stick to the more popular route.20151212DSC_5507EllieLane

There was a little bit more rocky descent, but we soon came to the wide open dirt path leading to the main staging area.20151212DSC_5510EllieLane

At 7.5 miles we came upon the turn off for the Wild Horse trail on the right, leading back to the Ellie Lane Staging Area.20151212DSC_5515EllieLane

We turned down this path and quickly left the throng of other hikers behind. Once again we could hear the sound of birds in the bushes around us. As we pressed on we could see Mount Woodson rising before us.20151212DSC_5520EllieLane

The trail bent westward, and at 7.8 miles we came to a 4-way junction at the base of a steep and rocky hill.20151212DSC_5523EllieLane

Happily, the sign directed us to the right where the trail was flat and smooth.20151212DSC_5525EllieLane

We shortly encountered yet another junction, and continued straight.20151212DSC_5527EllieLane

The trail led us along the backside of the ranch property we had passed earlier. The dogs, sheep, and humans were still doing their thing.20151212DSC_5530EllieLane

Finally, just shy of 8.4 miles, we reconnected with the Ellie Lane trail, and turned left to make our way back to the staging area.20151212DSC_5539EllieLane

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, and go approximately 2.4 miles, then turn right onto Ellie Lane. The parking area will be almost immediately on your right. map

Total Distance: 8.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 2250 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of Poway – Trails and Hiking

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