Mount 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a long break, we headed back down the way we had come.
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|
|Total Ascent:||3193 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Vault toilets and water at staging area|
For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks & Recreation – Mt. Gower Preserve
View route or download GPX in CalTopo