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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After exploring the peak and having a snack, we headed back the way we had come.
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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|
|Facilities:||Bathroom (in good condition) and drinking fountain in parking lot|
|Fees/Permits:||Adventure Pass required|