Middle Peak is one of several promontories in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Along with Cuyamaca Peak to the south and North Peak to the north, Middle Peak is a landmark easily identified from many other popular trails in the county. Once covered in pine and oak trees, Middle Peak, like the rest of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, was hit hard by the 2003 Cedar Fire. Much of the mountain is now covered in ceanothus, and the charred remains of blackened trees line the slopes. Reforestation efforts are underway, but in the meantime, the lack of trees allows for some sweeping views of the surrounding area.
There is no official trail leading to the summit of Middle Peak, but there are several routes one can take to get up the mountainside and loop around the peak. We decided to follow the route described in the new Coast to Cactus trail guide which takes Middle Peak Fire Road up the eastern flank of the mountain, then circles the peak along the Black Oak Trail.
At .17 miles, an unmarked road branched off to the left – from the maps it looks like this leads to the equestrian staging area. We continued on the main fire road as it switch backed up the mountain.
The road ascended steadily, but at a reasonable grade so we never felt overexerted. We quickly gained elevation, giving us some great views of the surrounding area. We had views of Stonewall Peak to the southeast.
We noticed a California Sister butterfly as it landed on a branch, and unlike all the other interesting insects we saw flying around, this one sat still for a good long time, allowing us to photograph it.
Turning a corner, we spotted a lone Poodle Dog Weed bush on the side of the trail. Poodle Dog is a serious irritant which can cause even more severe reactions than Poison Oak, so we steered clear. I was actually surprised that we didn’t spot more since it is a common fire follower and the whole mountain seemed like prime habitat.
At approximately 2.5 miles, we found the turn off we’d been looking for. The Black Oak Trail branched off to the left, and we followed it towards Milk Ranch Road. This is where the loop portion of our hike began, we’d be coming back along the fire road on the right.
As the trail bent west, the landscape began to change. Instead of the thick blanket of ceanothus, we found large swathes of brown grass, and there were almost as many green, living trees as dead ones.
Just a few hundred feet up the road we came to another junction. To the left was the Azalea Spring Fire Road, and the Milk Ranch Road continued straight, where it eventually converged with the Middle Peak Fire Road (which provides a slightly longer route back to our starting point than the route we were planning). We made a sharp right to continue on the Black Oak Trail.
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Take I-8 East to the CA-79 N/Japatul Valley Road exit. Turn left and follow 79 north (towards Julian). After 2.7 miles, there is a sharp left to stay on 79 – make sure not to miss this turn (follow signs for 79 and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). Continue on 79 for approximately 10.7 miles to the Trout Pond parking area on the right, just before the road makes a sharp 90 degree bend. map
|Total Distance:||7.9 miles|
|Total Ascent:||1560 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||No dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
For more information, visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
View route or download GPX from CalTopo