High Point, the top of Palomar Mountain, is home to one of the few fire lookout towers in San Diego that is still currently in use. The tower is staffed by volunteers from the Forest Fire Lookout Association during fire season. While the tower itself is only open to authorized personnel, you can still visit the peak and enjoy the fantastic views. Volunteers and less ambitious visitors make the journey via dirt road with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but the fun route is a calf-busting 13 mile hike up the northeastern side of the mountain. Naturally, that’s the route we took.
We began at the Oak Grove fire station on Highway 79, across the road from the Oak Grove Campground. The western side of the fire station complex has some National Forest signage and a few parking spots that are out of the way, so that’s where we parked.
At .43 miles we came to another intersection, once again following the signs up a wide dirt road again. Just beyond we turned to the right on a dirt road, following the TRAIL signs. We walked up a wide, rocky, dirt road.
From here we spent the next mile climbing up a steep, narrow, rocky path that wound along the mountain side. Except for the occasional ribbon wood plant that towered above us, this section was very exposed and even at 8 o’clock in the morning we were already extremely warm. This would not be a fun summer hike.
At 1.6 miles the trail made a sharp switchback. While we continued to ascend, the grade seemed slightly more humane at this point. Or maybe I just couldn’t feel my legs anymore.
We soon found ourselves on a western flank of the mountain, which was blissfully cool and shady. The trade-off for the pleasant temperature however was periodic thick swarms of gnats which shrouded our heads and could not be discouraged, even with violent hand-waving and cursing.
We turned right, uphill, and were pleased to find the going here was significantly easier. We were definitely going uphill, but the slope was less severe than the last two miles had been. While the dirt road was a bit rough as far as roads go, it provided much better footing than the loose rocks of the single track trail. We were able to pick up some speed as we continued our trek.
At 3.75 miles we encountered a metal gate in the road, and walking around it, found an intersection just beyond. High Point Road, another dirt fire road, ran in front of us. Once again we continued uphill, taking the left branch of the road.
Right around the 4 mile point we noticed a lone pine tree ahead of us at a bend in the road. As we passed it, we were once again subsumed by a swarm of angry gnats. An elaborate dance ensued as I tried to dissuade the creatures from taking up permanent orbit around my head. Another liberal application of insect repellent was required to finally provide relief.
We continued up a gradual incline through the shade of overhanging oak trees. A fresh swarm of gnats greeted us, and I eventually found relief by waving my trekking poles in front of me like a crazed lunatic. It was probably fortunate that we didn’t encounter any other hikers the whole day.
And while enjoying the north facing views, we were treated to the spectacle of numerous Swallowtail butterflies flying around. Of course none of them landed and posed for a picture, so here’s a shot of the view instead.
When we were finally done exploring the peak, we headed back down the way we had come.
From I-15 North, take the CA-79 S/Temecula Parkway exit. Turn right onto Temecula Parkway/79-s and continue for approximately 23 miles to the Oak Grove Fire Station. Park on the west side of the Fire Station. map
|Total Distance:||13.9 miles|
|Total Ascent:||3600 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed, however this is probably too long for the average dog|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Fees/Permits:||Adventure Pass required|
For more information, visit:
US Forest Service – Cleveland National Forest – Oak Grove Trail
Forest Fire Lookout Association San Diego Chapter – High Point Lookout
View route or download GPX from CalTopo