“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.
A few hundred feet up the trail we spotted a solar panel and water tank which appeared to feed a nearby horse trough.
The trail bent to the right and began climbing a hill.
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.
The trail meandered back down the hillside. We were roughly paralleling the Sunrise Highway.
Towards the east, we could see the mountains of the Anza-Borrego desert in the distance.
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.
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.
On our left was an impressive view looking down into the appropriately named Upper Green Valley.
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.
The trail was gradually descending into the valley. Oak trees began to appear alongside the trail as we traveled.
Before long, we had transitioned from the exposed chaparral covered hillside to thickly tangled oaks.
At 2.4 miles we came to a “T” junction.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The trail wound its way through thick chaparral brush, including Mountain Mahogany and Manzanita.
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.
Ahead of us in the northwest, was North Peak.
As we continued, the chaparral dissipated somewhat, and we found ourselves surrounded by the tall, golden grass and dried out buckwheat.
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.
Just shy of 3.9 miles we passed through a gap in a wire fence as we re-entered Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
The trail led gradually uphill through the dry grassland.
To our left, we began to get glimpses of the water in Lake Cuyamaca.
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.
Around 5.5 miles, just before the Sunrise Highway, we turned right back onto the La Cima Trail.
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.
The dried grass transitioned back into green chaparral.
The clouds grew increasingly ominous, and we wondered if we’d make it back to the car before the rain began.
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.
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.
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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
||Dogs not allowed
||Vault toilet at trailhead; horse trough with non-potable water near trailhead
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View route or download GPX from CalTopo