It was one of those awful weekends where it was forecast to be 100+ degrees in the lovely East County hamlet we call home. Refusing to submit to a weekend of lying around the house being too miserable and hot to move, I consulted the trusty Internet and found Cuyamaca Rancho State Park had a pleasantly cool forecast high of only 89 degrees. Everything’s relative.
So we woke up at o’dark thirty and hopped in the car. By 6 am we were at the trail head and ready to hike. It was nearly chilly in the dawn air. The trail began near the north end of the parking area. We headed right along the Lower Descanso Creek Trail.
The trail went gently uphill for the first .3 mile or so, then briefly leveled out and descended.
The vegetation around us was mostly chaparral and oak trees. Many of the trees were charred grey and black. Some of the burnt trees were sporting new growth on their lower portions, and some were just empty husks. The trail wound northward, gently rising and descending, roughly following the course of the dry creek.
At .7 miles, we reached the East Mesa Fire Road.
Turning right and following the road, we found an open grassy area to the right, containing several dead and gnarled oak trees. As we continued along the Fire Road, we could see our destination, Oakzanita Peak, in the distance.
After .1 mile we reached the turn off for Upper Descanso Creek Trail on the right.
We followed the trail down and across the dry creek bed, then began to climb again.
The trail climbed steadily, and soon we could see an unnamed promontory to the north, rising above the East Mesa Fire Road.
To the northwest we could see the distinctive form of Cuyamaca Peak being illuminated by the rising sun.
At just over 2 miles, we encountered a large boulder jutting out to the right of the trail. Climbing the large rock gave us some nice views of the northwest – a small taste of what we would see at the top.
At 2.4 miles, we encountered another intersection. We took the right fork towards Oakzanita Peak.
The trail wound up the mountainside, chaparral thick on either side.
As we got higher, the trail side was taken over by low growing manzanita and mountain mahogany. We also encountered more and more large rocks as we got closer to the top.
We found a peak register in a plastic tub tucked down in the rocks and made our entry. After enjoying a well deserved break, we headed back the way we had come.
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Take I-8 East to the CA-79 N/Japatul Valley Road exit. Turn left and follow 79 north (towards Julian). After 2.7 miles, there is a sharp left to stay on 79 – make sure not to miss this turn (follow signs for 79 and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). Continue on 79 for about 6 more miles. The trail head parking is on the right immediately beyond the large “Cuyamaca Rancho State Park” entrance sign. map
|Total Distance:||6 miles|
|Total Ascent:||1530 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||No dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes are not allowed on Lower and Upper Descanso Creek Trails|
For more information visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park