Pine Mountain Loop


Pine Mountain is an unassuming peak near the the northern section of the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. The Pine Mountain Trail travels along the eastern flank of the mountain through dense chaparral, but does not ascend to the peak where a decent sized population of pine trees live (hence the name “Pine Mountain”).  After traveling along the Pine Mountain trail and visiting a scenic overlook near Champagne Pass, this loop drops down to Indian Creek then returns to the highway through a lovely meadow.

We did this hike the week before major snow hit the Mount Laguna area, but we still had the remnants of a lighter snowstorm to enjoy. We started off by parking at the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area just off the Sunrise Highway.20160102_DSC5638PineMtnLoop

From the parking area, we walked up to the highway and crossed over at the crosswalk. A closed metal gate blocked a service road, but we passed through an opening in the side to find our trailhead.20160102_DSC5445-EditPineMtnLoop

While there’s no shade on this hike, the weather was cool. It was perfect conditions for one of our monsters to come along, so we were joined by the intrepid Apollo.20160102_DSC5450-EditPineMtnLoop

The trail ran parallel to the highway for a short ways, but dropped down so we were below the road.20160102_DSC5451-EditPineMtnLoop

Thick ceanothus carpeted the surrounding hills, and patches of snow still lie frozen in the shadier spots.20160102_DSC5453-EditPineMtnLoop

We quickly found ourselves ascending along the narrow, rocky trail. There were patches of thick mud where melting snow had pooled to form a thick, viscous goo.20160102_DSC5457-EditPineMtnLoop

The trail bent south and the trail gradually ascended as we made our way along the eastern flank of the mountain. We had gorgeous views of the valley below us.20160102_DSC5469-EditPineMtnLoop

Before long we could see Monument Peak and the Laguna Observatory in the southeast.20160102_DSC5487-EditPineMtnLoop

Apollo approved of the views.20160102_DSC5481-EditPineMtnLoop

At 1.15 miles, we crossed a dirt road, and picked up the trail on the other side.20160102_DSC5489-EditPineMtnLoop

We continued climbing through patches of mud and snow.20160102_DSC5493-EditPineMtnLoop

At 1.8 miles, the trail bent west and looking down into the valley below we could see the Indian Creek trail, on which we would soon be descending, winding down the hill below.20160102_DSC5509-EditPineMtnLoop

The trail turned south again and we made our way along a rocky ridgeline.20160102_DSC5528-EditPineMtnLoop

The view to the west opened up and we spotted the ever-impressive Cuyamaca Peak in the distance. We could also see the western fork of the Indian Creek Trail winding along the hillside, and I thought back to the past summer when we’d hiked that trail on our Laguna to Cuyamaca hike.20160102_DSC5531-EditPineMtnLoop

At 2.3 miles we reached a 4-way junction – this was Champagne Pass. Our route lay to the left, but first we were going to take a small detour and venture up the hill straight ahead to a cool overlook area. 20160102_DSC5533-EditPineMtnLoop

The use trail up the hill was well worn, and there was only one spot near the beginning where slightly overgrown ceanothus poked us. The rest of the trail, while rocky, was an easy climb.20160102_DSC5549-EditPineMtnLoop

At 2.45 miles we reached the peak and found a rocky clearing. We set down our packs to have a quick snack and get Apollo some water while we enjoyed the views.20160102_DSC5552-EditPineMtnLoop

After a short break, we headed back down to the intersection and turned right to take the Indian Creek Trail towards the Sunrise Highway.20160102_DSC5569-EditPineMtnLoop

We made our way down the rocky trail, descending through the green chaparral.20160102_DSC5577-EditPineMtnLoop

We were excited when Indian Creek came into view below, since every time we’d ever done this trail before was in the spring and summer and we’d never seen more than a sad puddle or two of water in creek before. Today, the waterway actually appeared worthy of the name “Creek.”20160102_DSC5586-EditPineMtnLoop

At 3.6 miles we reached a “Y” junction just above the creek. The trail continued down across the creek, but we were going to be cutting up to the left and following an old jeep trail back to the trailhead. 20160102DSC_5804-EditPineMtnLoop

But first, we got a few close up pictures of the creek.20160102_DSC5598PineMtnLoop

Once the photos were done, we made our way up the steep hill to the left along the faint jeep path.20160102_DSC5600-EditPineMtnLoop

The hill was short but steep, but we quickly found ourselves at the top. The road made a quick jog to the right where it ran into another old road. We turned left and continued along the road.20160102_DSC5606PineMtnLoop

A dry, brown grassland flanked by hills spread out before us as we headed back towards the highway.20160102_DSC5611PineMtnLoop

As we continued, we began to see a few straggling pine trees. There were remnants of numerous dead trees scattered about (I’m guessing one of the region’s many fires), but a few survivors were still going strong.20160102_DSC5635-EditPineMtn
By now we could see the highway up ahead. A couple of roads merged with ours, but we continued north until we met the road, then headed back to the parking area to our car.20160102_DSC5636PineMtnLoop

View the full photo gallery

Take I-8 East to the Sunrise Highway. Head north on Sunrise Highway to the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area, just past mile marker 29 – it will be on the right. Park at the picnic area and remember to post your Adventure Pass. map

Total Distance: 4.9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 785 feet
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Bike Friendly?: Yes
Facilities: Less than stellar vault toilets at parking area; no water
Fees/Permits: Adventure Pass required

For more information, visit:
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area Map
View route or download GPX in CalTopo

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