Los Pinos Peak

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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.

After surviving the bumpy road to the trailhead, we parked at the small turnout just beyond the green metal gate that was our starting point.20150502_DSC3821-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3822-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3828-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3841-EditLos Pinos

The trees briefly gave way to grass, chaparral/sage scrub, and a handful of wildflowers as we continued.20150502_DSC3847-EditLos Pinos

The trail crossed the dry creek bed and then plunged back into the cool shade of the oak trees. We noted some patches of poison oak along the trail, but easily avoided it.20150502_DSC3862-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3875-EditLos Pinos

Looking at the ridgeline to our left, we could just barely make out the fire tower and antennae at the peak.20150502_DSC3880-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3883Los Pinos

The trail gradually grew steeper as we continued.20150502_DSC3884Los Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3898-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3907-EditLos Pinos

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.

Just shy of the 2 mile mark, the road made a sharp bend to the left. Looking west from here, we got some nice views of Corte Madera and the southern portion of the Pine Valley Wilderness below us.20150502_DSC3911-EditLos Pinos

Turning south to continue up the fire road, we could see the aptly named Los Pinos Peak before us, with a respectable population of Coulter Pines adorning the top.20150502_DSC3914-EditLos Pinos

The fire road itself wasn’t particularly remarkable, but the continuing views to the west were sufficiently beautiful.20150502DSC_9792Los Pinos

Around 2.25 mile we passed the first of the trailside pine trees.20150502_DSC3918-EditLos Pinos

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.20150502DSC_9803Los Pinos

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.20150502_DSC3955-EditLos Pinos

At 3.4 miles we passed through an open gate and encountered a paved road. The downhill route to our right led down to the OHV area. As always, we continued up the mountain. 20150502_DSC3960-EditLos Pinos

We soon encountered another gate – this one closed. We squeezed around it and soon saw the lookout tower and antennae atop the mountain to our left. We were almost there.20150502_DSC3963Los Pinos

As the road wound its way around the peak we had fantastic views of the Hauser Wilderness area to the south.20150502_DSC3979-EditLos Pinos

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. 20150502_DSC3967Los Pinos

We found some nice rocks to sit on and enjoyed a snack, watching butterflies flit about and land on the surrounding bushes. 20150502_DSC3972-EditLos Pinos
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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.20150502_DSC3971Los Pinos
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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
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1540 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Yes
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: Adventure Pass required

For more information, visit:
USDA Forest Service – Cleveland National Forest – Espinosa Trail
View route on Google Maps

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