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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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|
|Total Ascent:||785 feet|
|Facilities:||Less than stellar vault toilets at parking area; no water|
|Fees/Permits:||Adventure Pass required|