Stonewall Peak is one of the most popular hikes in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. It is a relatively short and easy climb with a great payoff in the form of sweeping views of large swathes of the park, including a clear view of Lake Cuyamaca to the north. Although the area suffered tremendous damage during the 2003 Cedar fire, thick chaparral has regrown over the hillside and the path actually has some decent shade.
Our journey began at Paso Picacho Campground. We parked in the Day Use parking area (which is also a great spot to sit and watch Stellar’s Jays and squirrels frolic about during a post-hike picnic) then walked back out to the road.
We crossed highway 79 to reach the trail head, directly across from the campground driveway. The initial portion of the trail here was shaded by a group of oak trees and the occasional pine which managed to escape the ravages of the 2003 Cedar fire.
The Cold Stream trail, which runs roughly parallel with the highway, intersected the path here. It’s possible to combine lengths of the Cold Stream and other area trails with Stonewall for a longer hike, but today we were focused on just hitting the peak and back. Through the trees we could see the boulder topped peak above us, and could just make out the iron railing and interpretive signs that occupied the summit. As we headed up the trail, we turned towards the right, following the marker for the Stonewall Peak trail.
Around ⅓ of a mile we crested the slope and saw the path straight ahead was blocked by an “AREA CLOSED” sign, and our destination looming above. Our trail veered to the right around the closed section.
At this point the route leveled out a bit, and we would enjoy rather gentle switchbacks for most of the remaining ascent. Manzanita adorned the edges of the trail along the lower sections. At approximately ½ mile in, we rounded a curve and got our first views of Cuyamaca Lake to the north, surrounded by golden grasslands. North Peak loomed above.
The switchbacks continued and we wound our way steadily up the mountain. Most of the trail was sheltered by tall ceanothus and other bushes towering above our heads on either side of the trail, keeping the path shady and cool.
Occasionally we would encounter a break in the wall of the ceanothus hedge maze and enjoy more spectacular views of the Lake and surrounding peaks. At approximately 1 mile – halfway to the top – we wrapped around a rocky bend on the south edge which was mostly clear of tall growth.
We paused to enjoy open views of the chaparral covered slopes to the south and Cuyamaca Peak towering above the campground to the west. It was interesting to note the cluster of pine trees surrounding the campground which had survived the fire, while the mountain above was littered with the charred remnants of trees now being overgrown by chaparral. It likely took some pretty heroic efforts to save the campground from the fire that devastated so much of the rest of the park.
At 1.8 mile we came to another trail intersection, and the end of the switchbacks. The left branch leads down the back side of the mountain to meet up with some other trails, which as stated previously, can be used to make a longer loop. We took the right branch to ascend the peak.
From here it was just a short, easy but cautious climb to the top. At the top we found the pipe railing enclosed viewing area and several interpretive signs, as we expected, and some rather unwelcome visitors inhabiting a stone pedestal at the top.
If you’re not quite sure what those critters are, don’t feel bad. We didn’t know at first either. They seemed to be minding their own business so I minded mine and didn’t get too close. The local lizards didn’t seem to care what they were and appeared to have gotten quite fat feasting on them.
My intrepid photographer/husband was, as always, willing to brave the dangerous unknown to get photos of the stunning views that surrounded us.
To the west was Cuyamaca Peak, Middle Peak, and the distant outline of the Palomar Mountains (we could just make out the tiny white bubble of Palomar Observatory on the ridgeline).
And looking south across more of the park:
I stayed near the stairs while he snapped his photos, well away from the creepy looking swarm on the pedestal. I thought the bugs were preoccupied with whatever they were crawling on and eating until I heard my husband yelp in pain and swat at his neck. “Whatever those things are, they bite or something.”
I looked a little closer… “Oh… wasps. I think those are wasps.”
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 9 more miles to Paso Picacho campground on the left. Pay the parking fee at the kiosk and park in the Day Use parking on the right. map
|Total Distance:||4 miles|
|Difficulty:||Easy – Moderate|
|Elevation Change:||840 feet|
|Best Time of Year:||Year Round|
|Dog Friendly:||Dogs not allowed|
|Bike Friendly:||No bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Bathroom and water available at campground|
|Fees/Permits:||$10 per vehicle parking fee|