Louis Stelzer County Park


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.20151108DSC_4159StelzerPark

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.20151108DSC_4168-EditStelzerPark

We set off along the wide, dirt trail overhung by large oak trees.20151108DSC_4173-EditStelzerPark

As we continued, we had views down into the densely overgrown creekbed, where thickets of poison oak covered the ground and tangles of wild grape vine covered the trees.20151108DSC_4174-EditStelzerPark

The lush vegetation along the creek and granite boulders strewn along the hillside made for an idyllic setting. The only drawback was the traffic noise from nearby Wildcat Canyon Road.20151108DSC_4180-EditStelzerPark

We crossed a couple of small wooden footbridges as the oak trees thinned out somewhat, giving way to Sycamores and Arroyo Willow.20151108DSC_4190-EditStelzerPark

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. 20151108DSC_4206StelzerPark

We, however, were just getting warmed up. So we followed the sign pointing left for the next stretch of trail named the Wooten Loop.20151108DSC_4205StelzerPark

The shady coolness of the creekside oak trees disappeared, and we found ourselves climbing a dry and exposed stretch of trail through dried grass, Laurel Sumac, and the occasional clump of sage.20151108DSC_4210-EditStelzerPark

It was about .1 miles of uphill climbing to reach the Observation Deck, where we had views of the creek we had just been hiking along as well as the fabulous Wildcat Canyon Road.20151108DSC_4214-EditStelzerPark

We continued ascending the rocky slope.20151108DSC_4216-EditStelzerPark

At .72 mile we came to a “T” junction with the Stelzer Trail. The left fork led back down to the park. We turned right to continue up to the ridgeline.20151108DSC_4219StelzerPark

We made our way up a series of long, gentle switchbacks through more sage and Laurel Sumac.20151108DSC_4222-EditStelzerPark

Just shy of the 1 mile point we came to another “T” junction marked by a kiosk and sign pointing to Kumeyaay Promontory and Stelzer Summit.20151108DSC_4228StelzerPark

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.20151108DSC_4231-EditStelzerPark

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.20151108DSC_4240-EditStelzerPark

And walking out to the western edge we had some clear shots of Mission Trails as well.20151108DSC_4242-EditStelzerPark

After enjoying the views for a few minutes, we retraced our route back to the last junction with the kiosk, and continued along the fire road towards Stelzer Peak.20151108DSC_4247-EditStelzerPark

The rocky peak loomed tantalizingly close above us.20151108DSC_4249-EditStelzerPark

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.20151108DSC_4255-EditStelzerPark

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.20151108DSC_4256-EditStelzerPark

At 1.75 miles we came to another “T” junction, and turned right to reach the summit.20151108DSC_4259-EditStelzerPark

We picked our way through the brush along the rocky use trail to the top.20151108DSC_4263-EditStelzerPark

The summit had a bunch of alluring boulders to lounge upon while admiring the views.20151108DSC_4264-EditStelzerPark

To the east we could see the always-impressive form of El Cajon Mountain.20151108DSC_4267-EditStelzerPark

And to the west was Kumeyaay Promonotory, where we’d just been, with Lakeside and Mission Trails in the distance.20151108DSC_4270-EditStelzerPark

There was even a cool little crevice for people more daring than I to explore.20151108DSC_4268-EditStelzerPark

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.20151108DSC_4276-EditStelzerPark

From here the trail descended gently through the chaparral covered hillside.20151108DSC_4280StelzerPark

We knew we were getting close when we began to see oak trees along the trail again, and at 2.9 miles we came to the paved walkway of the park and headed back to the entrance.20151108DSC_4285-EditStelzerPark

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
Difficulty: Moderate
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
Trail Map
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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