Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has seemingly endless miles of trails and fire roads to explore, which can make for some nice long loops with varied landscapes to enjoy. This scenic loop through the northeastern section of the park does not disappoint, traveling along several streams and creeks and the Sweetwater River, passing wide open grasslands, and providing some great views of the back side of Stonewall Peak.
The first section of this hike travels along the Cold Spring Trail which has recently been re-routed. The original trail took a more direct route up and over the hillside to connect to the Stonewall Creek Fire Road. Unfortunately, its directness made it prone to erosion and difficult to maintain – not to mention it had a pretty healthy population of poison oak. After many years of planning and construction, the new Cold Spring Trail was opened this fall. This new section is a bit longer than the original, but makes a more gradual ascent, is free of poison oak, and is in much better condition. And unlike the original Cold Spring Trail, the new trail is open to mountain bikers, which may be good or bad depending on your personal view. (For the record, we encountered quite a few mountain bikers on our hike, and they were all extremely courteous).
We started off at the West Mesa Parking Area, and set off down the trail at the southern end of the turnout.
The path immediately descended to a small stone bridge that crossed Cold Stream. There was barely any water to be seen, but vegetation was abundant.
Immediately beyond the bridge was a “T” junction as the Cold Stream Trail went off in either direction. Our route today was a clockwise loop, so we turned left and headed up the trail. We’d be returning from the right.
The single track trail was lined with oaks and dense brush.
At .2 miles we came to a “Y” junction in the trail, where we found a small cistern of non-potable water. The Cold Stream branched off to the left here, following the course of the stream. We continued straight along the confusingly similarly named Cold Spring Trail.
A few hundred feet beyond, we came to where the old Cold Spring Trail turned right and began to ascend the hillside. It was now blocked off with a wooden fence. The new trail continued straight ahead.
The trail veered left and gradually made its way uphill. We were surrounded by a wild mass of oak trees, ceanothus, and dry grass.
Rounding a bend, the spire-like form of Stonewall Peak came into view.
The trail gently wound its way uphill, providing beautiful views as we climbed.
Around 1.5 miles the trail leveled out then began to descend.
At 2 miles, we found some nice shady oaks, and just beyond was a small wooden footbridge that spanned the currently dry Stonewall Creek.
From here, the trail climbed upwards again, winding along until we met Stonewall Creek Fire Road at 2.45 miles.
We turned left here, and followed the wide dirt road north.
Stonewall Peak was on our left, and we couldn’t help but admire it from every possible vantage point as we hiked.
Zooming in at one point, we could actually make out tiny little hikers on top.
The trail itself was beautiful as well.
North of Stonewall was the smaller, appropriately named Little Stonewall Peak.
And aside from the eye-catching peaks, there were great views of the open grasslands as well.
Just shy of 3.5 miles the Vern Whitaker Trail branched off to the left, leading to Los Vaqueros Horse Campground. We continued straight on the fire road.
We quickly crested a rise and found ourselves at a “T” junction. Stonewall Creek Fire Road continued on to the left. We turned right to travel along the Soapstone Grad Fire Road, but not before taking a few minutes to enjoy the breathtaking view before us.
For the next mile, we enjoyed awesome views of the wide open plain southeast of Lake Cuyamaca, edged by the occasional oak tree and boulder.
At 4.5 miles we encountered another “Y” junction, and took the right branch to stay on Soapstone Grade Fire Road.
The fire road soon became much rougher and rockier than it had been previously as we descended to Upper Green Valley.
Our descent ended at 5.2 miles, when we came to another “T” junction. We turned right onto the Upper Green Valley Fire Road.
To our left was the overgrown course of the Sweetwater River. Thick oaks and brush lined the roadside.
Around 6 miles we noted a closed gate on the left leading to La Cima Conservation Camp. La Cima is a fire camp run jointly by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and CAL Fire. The camp uses minimum security inmates to fight wildfires throughout the state and is closed to the public. We stayed on the Fire Road to the right.
The road continued southward through oak trees and grassy expanses.
After a while we started to see some pine trees along the road.
Around 7.45 miles we passed an enormous oak tree which overhung some beautiful boulders. This would be a perfect spot to stop for lunch or a snack, but we’d already scarfed down our sandwiches a mile or so before.
Just beyond the tree was an unmarked “Y” junction. We stayed right to remain on the fire road. The left branch appeared to head up towards La Cima Camp.
At 7.65 miles the Stonewall Creek Fire Road joined from the right, and just beyond the Harvey Moore Trail branched off from the left. We maintained our course along the Upper Green Valley Fire Road.
Off the trail, a pine-shaded bench offered a quiet spot to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The fire road continued to provide its own beauty.
We made our way up a small hill where we found a narrow single track branching off to the right. We turned here onto the creatively named “Hill Trail.”
This stretch of trail was more narrow than any of the previous sections had been, with thick ceanothus on either side.
As promised by the name, the trail made a short uphill ascent, then traveled down the other side of small hill.
At 8.4 miles the Hill Trail ended as it met the Cold Stream Trail. We turned right, heading back towards our starting point.
Once again, we had some nice views of Stonewall Peak in the distance.
The trail skirted a brown, grassy meadow lined with oaks. On the far side of the meadow, the trail passed through a dense thicket of manzanita.
The trail made its way slightly uphill. To our left was the overgrown course of the stream.
Just past 9 miles, we reached our starting point and found the small stone bridge on our left. We headed back up to the parking area and concluded our hike.
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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 7.3 miles to the small West Mesa parking area on your right. map
||No dogs allowed
||Bikes not allowed on Hill Trail segment
For more information, visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
View route or download GPX in CalTopo