Louis Stelzer County Park was originally a weekend retreat known as “Shadow Mountain Ranch,” owned by Louis A. Stelzer. He deeded the property to the County upon his death in the early 1970’s under the condition that it be turned into a park so that children would have a place for outdoor education and recreation. Thus these 310 acres of oak woodland and coastal sage scrub became Louis Stelzer County Park. Today the park has picnic tables, a small garden, a playground, and most importantly, several interconnected hiking trails.
We pulled into the parking lot and set about trying to figure out the parking fee system. A metal post at the driveway entrance informed us of the $3 Day Use fee, but the little basket that held the envelopes for enclosing your payment was empty. We went over to the other end of the parking lot where there was a similar post, and found a few faded envelopes there. It occurred to me, based on the apparent age of the envelope I was stuffing my money into, that the fee collection might not be all that strictly enforced, but considering how much use I get out of the County Park system I didn’t have any problems giving them a few bucks. So I dutifully filled out the envelope, crammed in my money, inserted the envelope into the slot, and placed the receipt portion in my windshield.
With the administrative tasks completed, we were free to begin the adventure portion of our day. We found a kiosk with a trail map at the park entrance and took a moment to plan our route. There are several different interconnecting trails that wind through the park, so we planned on combining them to hopefully cover the most ground without too much backtracking (check out the trail map here).
We stepped inside the fence beyond the kiosk, and found the trailhead just to the right. The first section of our hike was along the Riparian Hiking Trail, a lovely oak-shaded path that runs along Stelzer Creek.
At .45 mile the Riparian Trail ended at a beautiful little clearing with a picnic table and numerous granite boulders. This would make an excellent spot for a picnic if you were looking for just a short stroll, especially with young children.
We turned right to head to Kumeyaay Promontory first, figuring we’d want to take a break and lounge around for a bit at the top of Stelzer Peak. The path here was a wide dirt fire road running along the ridgeline.
It was a quick climb to the top, where unfortunately we found a couple of large transmission towers mucking up most of the views. On the southern edge, however, was a nice bench with some relatively unadulterated views of El Monte Valley below.
So far the various trail sections had been pretty easy, with only a couple of inclines of note. This section fire road, however, was really steep and covered in fun, slippery gravel. I had stupidly neglected to bring my trekking poles on this excursion, figuring that a few miles around a park wouldn’t require them. Almost every time I do this, I regret it, and today was no exception.
Luckily, while the ascent was steep and the footing somewhat treacherous, it wasn’t all that long. I managed to make it up without slipping and falling on my face. Here’s a shot from near the top lest you think I’m being overly dramatic.
After exploring the peak and having a quick snack, we headed back down. I managed not to fall going back down the slippery gravel-covered hill, which was way more difficult than coming up had been. We retraced our route back to where we had first joined the Stelzer trail, and continued east back towards the park.
From Interstate 8, take Highway 67 north until the freeway portion ends and turn right on Mapleview. Turn left on Ashwood, which will turn into Wildcat Canyon Road. Go approximately 2 miles and the entrance to the park will be on the right. Cost for parking is $3 and requires self-registration, so bring exact change. map
|Total Distance:||2.9 miles|
|Total Ascent:||709 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bikes Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Vault toilets and water at park, but there is currently a boil water order in effect for the park|
|Fees/Permits:||$3 Day use parking fee|
For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks and Recreation – Louis Stelzer County Park
View route or download GPX in CalTopo