We first learned of Los Pinos Peak last winter when we hiked to Corte Madera Mountain. Not to be confused with the Los Pinos Peak located in the Santa Ana Mountains, San Diego’s Los Pinos and neighboring Corte Madera are offshoots of the beautiful Espinosa Trail in the southern reaches of the Cleveland National Forest. Many people combine the two destinations into a single 10-mile hike, but since we hadn’t had time for both on our first excursion, we finally made plans to get back out there and do the Los Pinos hike.
From the road, we climbed up around the gate and back down to the road beyond and began walking. We came upon a giant junk pile complete with a dilapidated delivery truck and a run-down trailer parked to the side of the road. I didn’t remember seeing these eyesores on our previous trip. We hurried on our way.
Once past the refuse we found the narrow dirt road to be as peaceful and beautiful as we remembered. We were soon surrounded by lush oak woodland and Morena Creek ran alongside to our right. Aside from the rustling of birds in the brush around us, the morning was quiet and still.
At .5 mile we reached the start of the Espinosa Trail. The road bent to the right where several “No Trespassing” signs were mounted. We followed a small hand painted sign mounted on a trash can which pointed straight ahead to the Espinosa Trail.
Around .9 miles we emerged from the cover of the trees, as the trail rose above the creek on our left. We were surrounded by a carpet of thick chaparral and flowering sage. The trail was very exposed here, and despite the early hour it was already getting quite warm.
Portions of this segment of trail were starting to get a bit overgrown, the trail seemed much more narrow than on our previous trip. But it was still quite passable, we just made sure to be alert for any signs of rattlesnakes nearby as we made our way through the thick brush.
Just beyond 1.5 miles we passed through a metal gate and arrived at the intersection with Los Pinos Road. To the right lay the road to Corte Madera Mountain, and the continuation of the Espinosa trail ran straight ahead. Our destination lay to the left. A well defined fire break could be seen going straight up the mountainside. While that route is hikeable, we decided to take the slightly less ambitious fire road.
While the road was rocky and rutted – clearly impassable to low clearance vehicles – the dirt was hard packed and provided great footing as we climbed. Even though we were stopping every few feet to take pictures, we made good time.
We were passed by a couple groups of motorcycle riders who were having fun off-roading. The whine of their engines faded into the distance as they made their way up and over the mountain, and we were once again left in quiet solitude.
At 2.4 mile we encountered another trail junction. Our route, the fire road, made a 180 degree hairpin turn to continue up the mountain. To the less extreme left was the narrower Spur Meadow trail, which we vowed to explore another day.
We pressed on up the hill. The road wound its way up the mountain through an ever increasing number of pine trees. Outside of San Diego, this stand of trees would hardly be noteworthy, but after years of drought and wildfires, we tend to treasure every hike where we still find them.
Finally, at 3.67 miles we came to the top. The tower, antennae, and associated outbuildings were inaccessible, surrounded by a chain link fence. But we weren’t really here to see antennae, so we didn’t care.
After resting and refueling for a few minutes, we wandered around the mountain top checking out the views. Despite the fenced off tower complex, we were still able to walk around the area and get breathtaking views in almost every direction.
Once we’d finished exploring, we headed back down the way we had come.
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From I-8 east take the Buckman Springs Road exit. Turn right on Buckman Springs Road and continue for approximately 3 miles to Corral Canyon Road (note: this road shows up as Morena Stokes Valley Road in Google Maps – the street sign says Corral Canyon). Turn right onto Corral Canyon Road and continue for 4.8 miles until you reach a hairpin turn in the road. You’ll see the green gate on your right before the turn (pictured at the beginning of this post). Just around the bend on your left is the small dirt parking area, which can probably hold about 5 cars. map
A note on road conditions: Corral Canyon Road is partially a rough dirt road, and many of the sections that are paved have some large and exciting potholes. We successfully made the journey in a little Honda Fit, so if you drive slow and steer around the largest of the holes you should be ok.
|Total Distance:||7.3 miles|
|Total Ascent:||1540 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Dogs allowed|
|Fees/Permits:||Adventure Pass required|