Oak Grove to High Point


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. Parking at the Oak Grove fire station

At the southwest edge of the parking lot, we found a sign post with “Oak Grove Trail” pointing down the hill.20150412DSC_9194OakGroveHighPoint

We walked along a wide dirt road past some private residences and down through some oak trees.20150412DSC_9198OakGroveHighPoint

Following the signs, at .22 miles we turned left up a single track trail.20150412DSC_9203OakGroveHighPoint

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. 20150412DSC_9207OakGroveHighPoint

At .59 miles a single track branched off to the right, once again marked with a “trail” sign. We descended down across a dry creek bed and back up again.20150412DSC_9210OakGroveHighPoint

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. 20150412DSC_9232OakGroveHighPoint

Each turn brought us impressive views of the valley to the north. Birds chirped noisily all around us.20150412DSC_9233OakGroveHighPoint

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.20150412DSC_9268OakGroveHighPoint

At 2.17 miles the single track ended and we came to the Oak Grove Fire Road. 20150412DSC_9283OakGroveHighPoint

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.20150412DSC_9287OakGroveHighPoint

The road was lined with an almost uniform carpet of ribbon wood bushes. 20150412DSC_9292OakGroveHighPoint

Like most dirt roads, the path itself wasn’t exceptionally scenic. We did encounter several patches of wildflowers along the side of the road.20150412DSC_9311OakGroveHighPoint

And the views from our ever increasing height more than made up for the bland dirt road.20150412DSC_9315OakGroveHighPoint

We also had several wildlife sightings including numerous common fence lizards, one horned lizard (too fast to photograph), and a very cooperative scrub jay.20150412DSC_9327OakGroveHighPoint

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.20150412DSC_9347OakGroveHighPoint

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.20150412DSC_9354OakGroveHighPoint

I was consoled by the fabulous views.20150412DSC_9357OakGroveHighPoint

After about another 1/3 of a mile the trail turned south and began to get a bit steeper again. 20150412DSC_9368OakGroveHighPoint

We plodded along steadily, and eventually noticed that across the ravine on our right, we could just barely discern the lookout tower for which we were headed.20150412DSC_9376OakGroveHighPoint

It seemed to take quite awhile, but eventually we crested the top of the hill at around 5.1 miles.20150412DSC_9381OakGroveHighPoint

As the road leveled out, we started to see black oaks with new, bright green leaves contrasting against the dark branches.20150412DSC_9392OakGroveHighPoint

At 5.6 miles, under the shady oaks, we came to a road junction and turned right.20150412DSC_9394OakGroveHighPoint

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.20150412DSC_9401OakGroveHighPoint

Before long, the trees receded somewhat and the trail was more exposed again, leaving us sweating in the hot sun.20150412DSC_9406OakGroveHighPoint

At 6.1 miles, we saw a metal railing ahead of us.20150412DSC_9411OakGroveHighPoint

We followed the road as it made a hard left turn, and once again found ourselves beneath the shelter of the trees.20150412DSC_9414OakGroveHighPoint

Another half mile brought us to the final road junction. We turned left again and squeezed around a white metal gate to continue up the hill.20150412DSC_9423OakGroveHighPoint

As we rounded a corner, we caught sight of the lookout tower ahead. We were almost there.20150412DSC_9427OakGroveHighPoint

The road spiraled its way up the mountain until we finally reached the top. To our right was the fire lookout tower and associated paraphernalia. 20150412DSC_9473OakGroveHighPoint

There was a weather station, a solar-panel topped outbuilding, a propane tank, and several picnic tables, where we gratefully collapsed.20150412DSC_9437OakGroveHighPoint

After resting a bit and eating our lunch, we explored the summit complex. The tower itself was inaccessible, a locked metal door two flights up prevented access.20150412DSC_9455OakGroveHighPoint

But there was still a lot to see atop the mountain. From a rocky outcropping on the western side of the tower, we were able to get some great views of the Palomar Observatory.20150412DSC_9447OakGroveHighPoint

Numerous lizards seemed to have made the sunny peak their home.20150412DSC_9446OakGroveHighPoint

On the other side of the mountain top, there was even more to explore. 20150412DSC_9459OakGroveHighPoint

We walked over to find a small grouping of pine and cypress trees surrounding the decaying foundation of an old building.20150412DSC_9463OakGroveHighPoint

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.20150412DSC_9465OakGroveHighPoint

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
Difficulty: Strenuous
Total Ascent: 3600 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed, however this is probably too long for the average dog
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
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

One thought on “Oak Grove to High Point

  1. Thanks for the amazingly detailed post! Ran this today and appreciated the pictures.