Mount Gower Open Space Preserve – Southern Viewpoint


20160220DSC_6687-EditMt GowerMount Gower Open Space Preserve is a 1574 acre preserve in Ramona. The preserve is frequently used as the starting point to hike to Mount Gower, which lies off-trail on Cleveland National Forest land immediately east of the preserve. But the preserve itself also has several viewpoints which are in and of themselves worthy destinations. On the northern end of the preserve is a shorter 3.5 mile round-trip trail for those looking for an easier hike. We decided today that we were going to tackle the longer route on the southern end of the preserve, where we would find a viewpoint overlooking the San Vicente Valley below.

The staging area officially opens at 8 am, however there is a large parking area outside the gate for those who want to get an earlier start. The downside to parking there, however, is it will add an extra quarter mile of walking each way to what is already a long hike. So we timed our arrival so that we could park inside the gates. The trail started at the northeast end of the parking lot.20160220_DSC4794-EditMt Gower

We set off up the chaparral lined trail, which immediately began ascending gently.20160220_DSC4797-EditMt Gower

At .13 mile we came to the intersection where the northern and southern trails diverge. A small trail map was posted to aid in navigation. We took the right fork.20160220_DSC4798-EditMt Gower

The trail meandered circuitously through the brush. As it bent to the southeast, we could a peak rising up in the far distance. The peak wasn’t actually the official Mount Gower, which lay somewhat further to the south behind the peak we could see. In the foreground was a long ridge line we would soon be traversing.20160220_DSC4801-EditMt Gower

Looking west, back towards the parking area where we’d started, we could see a small peak. This was the first viewpoint we’d be visiting on the trail. The engineer part of my brain bristled somewhat at the clear inefficiency of this route, winding haphazardly and indirectly through the hills. But the hiker and outdoor enthusiast in me realized that it just meant more time to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings, and I happily hiked on.20160220_DSC4804-EditMt Gower

At .85 miles we found an unmarked junction and proceeded left, heading uphill towards the first viewpoint.20160220_DSC4813-EditMt Gower

Just shy of the 1 mile mark we came to the turn off for the the first viewpoint.20160220_DSC4818Mt Gower

Also at this junction was a wooden bench, which we suspected would be a welcome sight on our return trip, and just to the left was “teepee rock”, a small alcove formed by two large boulders leaning against each other.20160220_DSC4820Mt Gower

We turned right to head uphill to the viewpoint. The trail here was rather steep and eroded, but the soil was pretty firm and we didn’t have too much trouble ascending the small peak.20160220_DSC4828-EditMt Gower

We reached the top at 1.16 miles, where we found a nice little viewpoint with some benches and another copy of the trail map.20160220_DSC4830-EditMt Gower

The views here were quite respectable for the short distance we’d hiked so far. This would make a worthwhile destination on its own if you weren’t up for the full 10 mile hike.20160220_DSC4832-EditMt Gower

After taking some pictures and removing our outer layers, we headed back down to the junction and turned right, heading down into Swartz Canyon.20160220_DSC4842-EditMt Gower

At 1.72 miles, we reached the canyon bottom. We crossed a sandy, dry creekbed. This looked like prime poison oak habitat, and we knew that at this point in the winter it would probably not have any tell-tale leaves to warn us away, so we just avoided touching anything as we made our way through.20160220_DSC4858Mt Gower

On the far side of the creek the trail headed sharply up the other side of the canyon.20160220_DSC4860-EditMt Gower

The trail here was quite steep and heavily eroded in spots. We found ourselves breathing heavily as we climbed, and were thankful this side of the canyon was shaded in the morning. There were beautiful looking rocks along the trail to distract us as well.20160220_DSC4863-EditMt Gower

Looking back across the canyon, we could see the stretch of trail we had just been on, descending into the canyon.20160220_DSC4866Mt Gower

At 1.9 miles we reached the canyon rim. There was a small level spot where we paused to catch our breath. From here the trail turned northeast and began climbing the long ridge line we had seen near the start.20160220_DSC4872-EditMt Gower

The undulating ridge line proved to be fairly demanding. The trail climbed steeply up and over a series of small peaklets, only to descend abruptly down the far side, ceding the majority of our hard-won elevation gain each time.20160220_DSC4877-EditMt Gower

And for much of the climb, we couldn’t see past the next summit, so it was difficult to gauge exactly how much longer this constant up and down was going to continue.20160220_DSC4878-EditMt Gower

As we hiked we saw a number of crows and turkey vultures cruise by overhead. No doubt they were accustomed to finding the remains of exhausted hikers collapsed along this section of trail.20160220_DSC4891Mt Gower

But as usual, our physical exertion and perseverance was rewarded with the beautiful scenery around us. The ceanothus was beginning to bloom, dotting the landscape with explosions of tiny white flowers.20160220DSC_6654-EditMt Gower

Finally, around 2.85 miles, we reached the end of the ridgeline. The trail turned south, descending through the green chaparral carpet. In the distance, we could see the peak of not quite Mount Gower.20160220DSC_6677-EditMt Gower

Around 3.1 miles, we crossed a dry stream. The trail turned uphill again, and we were surrounded by thick, blooming ceanothus growing above our heads.20160220_DSC4900-EditMt Gower

At 3.3 miles, we passed a beautiful green meadow.20160220_DSC4910-EditMt Gower

We began to encounter more granite as the trail continued to climb. Beautiful pinkish orange slabs of rock, splotched with patches of moss, graced the mountainside.20160220_DSC4916-EditMt Gower

On the slope above us, a patch of bright orange caught our attention. We were still a bit early for prime wildflower season, but things were definitely off to a promising start.20160220_DSC5068Mt Gower

Ahead of us, we spotted the distinctive 3 pronged form of what appeared to be a boulder that had split apart.20160220_DSC4918-EditMt Gower

At 3.7 miles, almost directly across the split boulder, we found a use trail heading uphill to the left. The main trail continued straight ahead, but as we had discovered on a previous excursion to the area, it was extremely eroded. We felt that this small detour would be a safer, and more enjoyable route, so we turned left here up the hill. 20160220_DSC4920-EditMt Gower

The trail made its way up the slope.20160220_DSC4922-EditMt Gower

A couple hundred feet up the mountainside, we spotted a dirt path branching off to the right. Continuing straight looked like it would be a good start to heading up the summit, and we made note of that for a future trip. But for now we turned right so we could reconnect with the main trail.20160220DSC_6685Mt Gower

The trail climbed through more boulders and brush. The vegetation had changed as we gained elevation, and we were now finding lots of manzanita.20160220_DSC4925-EditMt Gower

We followed the path through the brush, passing a large granite slab on our left, until we came to a “T” junction where we intercepted the main trial. We turned left and continued on.20160220_DSC4927-EditMt Gower

The trail leveled out for a bit, and we found ourselves walking through some amazingly beautiful landscapes. The ground predominantly consisted of enormous granite slabs, with numerous boulders and rock formations in fascinating shapes strewn about. To the south, we could finally see the actual summit of Mount Gower rising above.20160220_DSC5056-EditMt Gower

An ailing wood post marked the 4 mile point.20160220_DSC4931-EditMt Gower

The trail here was flat, and occasionally even downhill. After all of the previous climbing, we were happy for the break, and enjoyed the easy terrain and jaw-dropping scenery immensely.

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Noticing a flash of movement on the trail as we approached, we were lucky to spot this beautiful little horned lizard on the side of the trail. Their camouflage is so complete, it’s nearly impossible to spot them when they’re standing still.20160220_DSC5046-EditMt Gower

We passed a lovely green field on our left, with fantastic boulders and slabs of granite, perfect for stopping for a snack.20160220DSC_6694Mt Gower

A pair of beautiful orange flowers stood out among the green.20160220_DSC4955Mt Gower

But we pressed on, eager to reach the viewpoint before stopping for lunch. Soon, we finally spotted our destination in the distance. A small peak to the south overlooking the residential sprawl in San Vicente Valley.20160220_DSC4959-EditMt Gower

The condition of the trail deteriorated as we progressed. Erosion had clearly taken its toll in some sections, and it didn’t appear that many hikers ventured out this far.20160220_DSC4965-EditMt Gower

But we made our way slowly and carefully down the trail until we came to another canyon bottom. Just short of 5 miles, we came to a dry stream bed blocked by a downed shrub. We were able to make our way over a boulder on the left bank of the creek.20160220_DSC5013Mt Gower

We hopped across the small creek and headed uphill. We quickly came upon an unmarked “Y” junction. The left fork appeared to head towards Mount Gower. We headed right towards the viewpoint.20160220_DSC4977Mt Gower

It was a relatively short climb up to the viewpoint, but once again Mother Nature had had her way with the trail. Heavy erosion made the steep climb extra challenging. In some spots the channel worn down the middle of the trail was shallow enough that walking in the trench was the easiest way to go. But for much of the climb the rut was so deep we had no choice but to try and walk along the edges, which was slippery and prone to caving in if you stepped too close to the edge of the furrow. Once again, I was glad to have my trekking poles.20160220_DSC4986-EditMt Gower

We managed to ascend the last quarter of a mile with breaking an ankle or falling on our faces, and at last reached the rocky summit.20160220_DSC4988-EditMt Gower

At the top we found a peak register enclosed in a Zip-Loc bag and dutifully made our entry. I noticed there were only six other entries since the start of the year.20160220_DSC4989Mt Gower

We then proceeded to lounge about on the rocks, consuming our well-deserved lunch and enjoying the fantastic views. To the southwest we could see Cuyamaca Peak in the distance, with Middle Peak and North Peak to its left. In the foreground was Eagle Peak and the San Diego River Gorge. We could even see the trail head for Cedar Creek Falls.20160220_DSC4990-EditMt Gower

In the southeast was El Cajon Mountain.20160220_DSC4998-EditMt Gower

To the west, beyond the many houses in Ramona, we could see Mount Woodson and Iron Mountain.20160220_DSC4999Mt Gower

After a long break, we headed back down the way we had come.

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From Main St. in Ramona, take 10th Street to San Vicente Road. Follow San Vicente Road for approximately 5.5 miles then turn left onto Gunn Stage Road. Follow Gunn Stage Road for approximately 1.9 miles, where you will find Mount Gower Open Space Preserve at the end of the road. map

Total Distance: 10.3 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Total Ascent: 3193 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Vault toilets and water at staging area
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks & Recreation – Mt. Gower Preserve
Trail Map
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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