Monument Peak (via Desert View Picnic Area)

Desert View Picnic Grounds

One of the most effective ways to beat the heat while hiking is to get an early start. So when we decided we were going to hike Monument Peak, we figured why not get the earliest start possible, and enjoy a scenic sunrise? It just so happens that there is an awesome view point just a couple miles south of Monument Peak at the Desert View Picnic Grounds, right along the Pacific Crest Trail. Thus, our plan began to emerge: get to the picnic area for sunrise, then pick up the PCT and head north to the unsigned use trail that led to Monument Peak.

If you’re just interested in bagging Monument Peak, there’s a shorter route. You can start from the Big Laguna Trail, a little beyond mile marker 25 along the Sunrise Highway. Head east along the Big Laguna Trail for about 1/2 mile to meet up with the PCT – this route is about 2.6 miles round trip. We opted for the longer route not only so we could enjoy sunrise from a prime location, but because we wanted to enjoy more time among the peaceful pine trees.

We got to the Picnic Area right on schedule, about 10 minutes before sunrise was due. From the parking area we headed east to the end of the pavement. Just below us on the hillside was a picnic table, and beyond that was the Pacific Crest Trail. From there the mountainside dropped away exposing a breathtaking view of the desert. Mountains in the distance were silhouetted in the pink and gray haze of predawn.Pre dawn from the Desert View Picnic Area

We waited, and watched as the bright spot on the horizon grew larger and brighter. The faint pink of the sky transformed into more and more brilliant shades of orange, while the mountains in the foreground turned deep shades of purple.Beginning of sunrise at Desert View Picnic Area

Then all at once, the sun popped up above the edge of the horizon and igniting the sky.Sunrise from Desert View Picnic Area

The sun was up. Time to hike.

We headed down the hill past the picnic table and turned left (north) on the PCT. We quickly found ourselves surrounded by Black oak and Jeffery pine trees. Unlike many areas of Mount Laguna which have suffered wildfire damage in the past couple of decades, the area we were hiking appeared completely unscathed.The Pacific Crest trail, just north of Desert View Picnic Area

We’d only gone about .2 miles before we crossed a road. There were some signs pointing to the facilities that lie in the Mount Laguna Community just down the road, no doubt for the benefit of through-hikers. The trail picked up again on the other side of the road.The road to town

As we continued on we saw the golf-ball like orb of the Laguna Observatory appear through the trees on the ridgeline on our right. Mount Laguna Observatory, as seen from the PCT

At just past .5 mile, the trail passed through a grassy clearing before delving back into the trees.A grassy clearing

At .8 miles we crossed another road. Another road crossing

The ridge above us to the east blocked the light of the rising sun, keeping our path cool and shady. Occasionally we would get glimpses through the trees of the western side of the valley slowly being lit up by the morning light. The sun illuminates the trees

The trail gradually turned somewhat eastward, with the occasional gentle ascent, and then bent westward again. We spotted the occasional blue jay or woodpecker in the trees, but none held still long enough to get a decent picture.A gradual ascent along the Pacific Crest Trail

We continued through the serene forest as the sun gradually began to illuminate our surroundings.Sunlight illuminates the trees as the morning progresses

At 1.9 miles we came to the intersection with the Big Laguna trail. We continued straight along the PCT.Intersection of the Big Laguna Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail

The trail bent eastward again, and before long the pine trees that had been dominating the hillside gave way to thick groves of manzanita and chaparral.We encountered fewer trees and more manzanita

Right around 2.25 miles we found the intersection we’d been looking for. At this point, the PCT makes a sharp 90 degree bend. There was a PCT trail marker right before us, and another on the branch to the left. Straight ahead was an overgrown but still discernible path plunging deep into the overgrown manzanita. This was where we would leave the PCT and begin our ascent of Monument Peak.The crucial turn off from the PCT for Monument Peak

We headed straight along the path through the overgrown brush.Overgrown chaparral along the Monument Peak trail

For ¼ mile or so, we wound through the hedge-maze like tangle of overgrown chaparral and manzanita. There was a brief respite where the trail passed through a clearing surrounded by oaks on either side.A small clearing along the Monument Peak trail

Then another stretch of manzanita maze surrounded us and the trail became steep and rocky. We could see the antennae that adorned Monument Peak ahead.View of Monument Peak from the trail

After a few minutes of climbing we emerged from the brush.Emerging from the manzanita maze on the Monument Peak trail

Ahead of us was a chain link fence surrounding a NASA laser research facility. While that sounds really impressive, it mostly consisted of some old green trailers. We headed left around the fence and made our way up to the paved road.The amazing NASA laser research facility on Monument Peak

We took our time climbing the final quarter mile or so along the road, pausing to enjoy the amazing views and the plethora of interesting equipment around us. The road turned 180 degrees as it climbed the mountain, and we came to a rocky dirt path that led up to the top.At the top of Monument Peak

To the east we had fabulous views of Anza Borrego.Enjoying the view of Anza Borrego from Monument Peak

Looking south, the direction we had come from, we had a full view of the Laguna Observatory.View of Laguna Observatory from Monument Peak

We were right along the boundary between the desert to the east and the forested mountains to the west (an area known as an “ecotone”).The ecotone transitioning between desert and mountain biomes

After exploring the peak and having a snack, we headed back the way we had come.

View the full photo gallery

Take I-8 east to the Sunrise Highway. Head north on Sunrise Highway for approximately 10 miles to the Desert View Picnic Grounds (immediately past the Mount Laguna Community Church).

Total Distance: 5.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Total Ascent: 1000 feet
Best Time of Year: Year Round
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Bike Friendly?: No
Facilities: Bathroom (in good condition) and drinking fountain in parking lot
Fees/Permits: Adventure Pass required

More information visit:
US Forest Service – Cleveland National Forest
View route on Google Maps

4 thoughts on “Monument Peak (via Desert View Picnic Area)

  1. I can’t thank you enough for the excellent description and the gorgeous photos of this trail. I’ve wanted to do this and your write up has just intensified my desire to trek this. It’s so generous of you to post almost step by step description and photos and it helps so much esp. if one hasn’t been there before.

  2. Wow that anza view is a clear one – pretty rare!
    Also may I ask what trail your header image is from? I want to go there!!

    • Yes, it was a beautiful day! Our site banner is from El Cajon mountain – a fantastic hike, but not one for hot weather. Its actually closed in August because of the heat. But definitely check it out later in the fall when it cools off, its a beauty!