McGinty Mountain


McGinty Mountain is considerably less popular than some of the county’s more well-known peaks, like Cowles Mountain, Iron Mountain, and Mount Woodson. This can only be due to its comparatively remote location, because it is a beautiful and challenging hike with some amazing views.

The trail and surrounding area are managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and is part of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. McGinty is home to several rare species of plants such as Deheasa beargrass and San Diego thornmint that grow in the area’s unique gabbro soil. There are also reports of one or more old mines in the area, however we did not venture out to find any of them.

Upon arriving at the trailhead, we studied the posted trail map, and noted the following statement on the kiosk: “There are no trail signs, so please stay on the widest trail most traveled.” During the course of our journey, we would encounter an exciting network of unmarked trail branches, and the correct path was not always obvious. As a general rule, we avoided branches that looked like they headed down into the residential areas, and managed to find our way up the mountain without any significant difficulty. The less obvious intersections all seemed to lead to parallel paths that ultimately reconnected, so keep going uphill and you should get there.

The McGinty Mountain trail head

The trail immediately began a gentle ascent for the first .25 mile or so. We could see a small, false summit just ahead of us. Our real destination could not be seen from this point. The recent rains had encouraged small shoots of green grass to sprout along the sides of the trail. Around .25 mile, the trail bent to the right began to climb steeply. We found several long switchbacks as we passed through a mix of chaparral and sage scrub.20141222mtmcginty_dsc4211-edit

We climbed upwards for the next .5 mile, gaining increasingly impressive views as we went.20141222mtmcginty_dsc4223-edit

At .8 mile we reached a dirt road.

Our destination was to the left, but the right fork offered an expansive view of Jamul below us. We took a short detour to enjoy the vista.
Overlooking Jamul from the McGinty Mountain trail

We headed back the other direction and continued along the dirt road. It quickly became steep and rocky.

The views were already amazing for the short amount of climbing we had done. Looking west we could see the antenna-topped peak of nearby Mt. Miguel, and just beyond to the north we could see the city of Coronado and the bridge, and Point Loma jutting out into the ocean beyond. The hazy blue of the Pacific stretched out to the horizon.
View of Point Loma from the McGinty Mountain trail

To the north was Mt. Helix, covered in houses and trees.
View of Mt Helix from McGinty Mountain trail

Beyond Mt. Helix we could see Cowles Mountain and Mission Trails.
Cowles Mountain from McGinty Mountain trail

These were some pretty amazing views for only 30 minutes or so of hiking.

We were still a ways from the peak, however, so we pressed on. At 1 mile, there was another intersection, the main trail continued to the left, to the right was a short branch trail that went up to a small overlook.

From atop the overlook, we were able to enjoy more spectacular views, as well as see our destination to the east.

We returned to the main trail and continued a steep and rocky ascent up the beautiful reddish ground. The recent rain had left some muddy puddles and brought out the deep red color of the soil.

We had reached a ridge line and enjoyed a fairly level stretch, with even a few short downhills. Here, the trail passed near the backyards of some private residences, but we quickly traveled by them and once again enjoyed the feeling of wilderness.

At 1.5 mile we encountered a “Y” junction – the trail to the left went up a steep uphill over a small rise. We went right, which headed somewhat downhill and ended up leveling out for a pleasant stretch. As far as I can tell, the left branch eventually rejoins the main trail again, but we didn’t explore that path.

We enjoyed the leisurely flat stretch of trail, looking down at the residential neighborhoods in the valley below us and the green chaparral covered slopes of the mountains that surrounded the area.

At 1.75 mile we encountered yet another junction. We took the left fork going uphill, the right fork appeared to go down the hill towards the residential area.

The trail was quite steep and rocky along this stretch, at times vaguely reminiscent of some of the grueling stretches along the El Cajon Mountain trail.

But it was mercifully much shorter than the El Cajon Mountain trail. At 2.1 miles we found another intersection. We went left up a very rocky incline. The right fork went uphill as well, appeared to go over the hilltop, and in about .2 miles converged again with our trail.

Our route was steep and rocky, but once again provided amazing views that were well worth the effort.

We reached a small saddle that offered a brief respite before the final ascent.

We climbed the last stretch and reached a small turnout area which provided some nice views, but it was a little bit further to the official summit. We scrambled over some rocks to reach the high point at 2.5 miles.

For a relatively short hike, we were rewarded with some breathtaking views. We could see Point Loma, San Miguel Mountain, Cowles Mountain, El Cajon Mountain, and even Cuyamaca way out in the distance.20141222mtmcginty_dsc4330


After enjoying the views, we headed back the way we had come. On our way back, about 1/4 mile from the parking area, we were treated to a hawk circling overhead.20141222mtmcginty_dsc4443

View the full photo gallery

Take 94 East until it turns into Campo Road. Turn right onto CA-94 E/Campo Road (You’ll see TGI Friday’s across the street). Continue along Campo Road for approximately 4.5 miles, turn left onto Lyons Valley Road. Take the 3rd left onto Jamul Drive. The parking area will be on the right after approximately .4 miles, shortly after passing Jamul Community Church. map

Total Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Total Ascent: 1400 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
US Fish & Wildlife Service: McGinty Mountain trailhead
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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