La Cima Trail/Soapstone Loop

“La Cima” means “the top” or “the summit” in Spanish. While this hike doesn’t involve summiting any peaks, it still has some fantastic scenery to enjoy as it passes from the edge of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to neighboring Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and back again.

We’d first been to this area the past spring when we hiked the Lucky 5/PCT Loop. The La Cima Trail started at the northwestern end of the staging area. Several horse corrals stood just past the trailhead.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2444-edit

A few hundred feet up the trail we spotted a solar panel and water tank which appeared to feed a nearby horse trough.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2449-edit

The trail bent to the right and began climbing a hill.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2452-edit

The trail wound its way up the hillside. Around .35 miles we crested the ridge. In the northwest, we could see Stonewall Peak and Cuyamaca Peak poking up.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2457-edit

The trail meandered back down the hillside. We were roughly paralleling the Sunrise Highway.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2464-edit

Towards the east, we could see the mountains of the Anza-Borrego desert in the distance.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2469-edit

Soon, we spotted a road below us – this was called La Cima Road or Upper Green Valley Road, depending on which map you’re looking at. At 1.1 miles we reached the road and crossed, picking up the trail on the other side.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2477

Just beyond the road we came to the start of the loop portion of the hike. We took the left fork heading towards the Upper Green Valley Trail.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_0441

On our left was an impressive view looking down into the appropriately named Upper Green Valley.2016lacima-dsc_2500-edit

At 1.75 miles we came to an open gate and a sign denoting the boundary between Anza Borrego Desert State Park and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2504-edit

The trail was gradually descending into the valley. Oak trees began to appear alongside the trail as we traveled.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2524-edit

Before long, we had transitioned from the exposed chaparral covered hillside to thickly tangled oaks.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2532-edit

At 2.4 miles we came to a “T” junction.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2539-edit

We had been here previously when we did the Stonewall Creek and Soapstone Grade Loop last year. In that hike we had come down the Soapstone Grade Fire Road on our right and continued along the valley ahead of us. We were going the opposite direction today though, and turned right to ascend the steep and rocky Soapstone Grade Fire Road.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2540

The road was indeed quite steep. We began to question the wisdom of having done the loop in this particular direction, but it was a little late to do anything about it now.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2552

We slogged our way up the road, and at finally crested the hill. The views of north-eastern Cuyamaca more than made up for the effort we’d just expended.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2561-pano-edit

Just past the top of the hill at 3.1 miles, the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CR&HT) branched off to the right. We turned north to follow it.2016_la_cima_traila-dsc_2568-edit

The trail wound its way through thick chaparral brush, including Mountain Mahogany and Manzanita.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2576-edit

On our left we had a wide field of golden grass, with Little Stonewall and Stonewall Peaks in the southwest, and Middle Peak to the west.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2579-pano-edit

Ahead of us in the northwest, was North Peak.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2607-edit

As we continued, the chaparral dissipated somewhat, and we found ourselves surrounded by the tall, golden grass and dried out buckwheat.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2620-pano-edit

The wind was blowing strongly at this point and the grey clouds were growing thicker. The rain wasn’t supposed to hit until later in the day, but we had our rain gear in our packs just in case.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2635-edit

Just shy of 3.9 miles we passed through a gap in a wire fence as we re-entered Anza Borrego Desert State Park.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2636-edit

The trail led gradually uphill through the dry grassland.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2640-edit

To our left, we began to get glimpses of the water in Lake Cuyamaca.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2669

Gradually, the trail began to bend gently eastward. On our left, in the distance, we could see cars zooming along Highway 79. And gradually the Sunrise Highway came into view ahead of us.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2696-pano-edit

Around 5.5 miles, just before the Sunrise Highway, we turned right back onto the La Cima Trail.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2719-edit

Once again we found ourselves paralleling the Sunrise Highway. The occasional car zoomed by, breaking the quiet stillness of the morning, but into between cars we had peaceful stillness.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2723-edit

The dried grass transitioned back into green chaparral.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2735

The clouds grew increasingly ominous, and we wondered if we’d make it back to the car before the rain began.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2758

Soon, we spotted the La Cima/Upper Green Valley Road and knew we were getting close. The trail bent south, paralleling the road for a short ways.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2764

Finally, at 6.9 miles, we reached the start of the loop section. Here, we turned left to cross the road and retrace our route back to our starting point, successfully finishing before the rain began.2016_la_cima_trail-dsc_2769

View the full photo gallery

Take I-8 East to the CA-79 N/Japatul Valley Road exit. Turn left and follow 79 north (towards Julian). After 2.7 miles, there is a sharp left to stay on 79 – make sure not to miss this turn (follow signs for 79 and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). Continue on 79 for about 14 more miles, and turn right onto the Sunrise Highway. Follow the Sunrise Highway for approximately 3.3 miles to the Sunrise Trailhead on the right side of the road. map

Total Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1044 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bicycles allowed
Facilities: Vault toilet at trailhead; horse trough with non-potable water near trailhead
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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