Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

Entrance to Cuyamaca State Park on highway 79It 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 Lower Descanso Creek Trail at dawn

The trail went gently uphill for the first .3 mile or so, then briefly leveled out and descended.

Lower Descanso Creek Trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

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.

Oak trees along Lower Descanso Creek

At .7 miles, we reached the East Mesa Fire Road.

Intersection of East Mesa Fire Road and Lower Descanso Creek trail

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.

Oakzanita Peak in the distance

After .1 mile we reached the turn off for Upper Descanso Creek Trail on the right.

Start of the Upper Descanso Creek trail

We followed the trail down and across the dry creek bed, then began to climb again.

The Upper Descanso Creek trail

The trail was rocky and narrow as it ascended, rising above the creek bed below us. In several spots along the trail we encountered fallen branches we had to climb over or around.Obstacles to be overcome along the trail to Oakzanita Peak

The trail climbed steadily, and soon we could see an unnamed promontory to the north, rising above the East Mesa Fire Road.

An unnamed peak above the East Mesa Fire Road

To the northwest we could see the distinctive form of Cuyamaca Peak being illuminated by the rising sun.

Cuyamaca Peak from the Upper Descanso Creek trail

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.

A mile from the peak, but we already had some awesome views

At 2.4 miles, we encountered another intersection. We took the right fork towards Oakzanita Peak.

Junction for the Oakzanita Peak trail

The trail wound up the mountainside, chaparral thick on either side.

Chaparral along the Oakzanita trail

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.

Manzanita and boulders dominate the upper section of the Oakzanita trail

As the trail approached the east side of the mountain, we found some fantastic views of the golden hills in the east mesa area.View of east mesa from near the top of Oakzanita Peak

Finally, at 3 miles we came to the pile of boulders that is Oakzanita peak.The peak consists of a rocky pile of boulders

We scrambled up the rocks and surveyed the view. Looking south:View to the south from Oakzanita Peak

To the northwest we could see Cuyamaca Peak and Stonewall Peak.View of Cuyamaca Peak and Stonewall Peak, from the top of Oakzanita Peak

Snappin' pics on top of Oakzanita Peak

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.

View the full photo gallery

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
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1530 feet
Dog Friendly?: No dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes are not allowed on Lower and Upper Descanso Creek Trails
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

2 thoughts on “Oakzanita Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  1. So that’s what it looks like without snow. When I hiked it, the canister was buried and could not be found. Looks like a great day.

  2. I’m sure this is a beautiful hike year-round… I’m a pretty big wuss when it comes to snow though, that’s my cue to go hike in the desert! 🙂