Stonewall Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

Stonewall Peak trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
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.
Paso Picacho Campground at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
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.20140809StonewallPeak1000

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.
Stonewall Peak trail at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

The trail traveled up a relatively steep grade and soon left the shady cover of the trees.Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

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. Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

We passed alongside some large boulders before the trail wrapped around to the north.
Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

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.
Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

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.Stonewall Peak trail at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

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.
Stonewall Peak trail at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

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.
View of Cuyamaca Peak from the Stonewall Peak trail

We continued on, observing the whitish grey skeletal remains of oak trees poking up through the brush around us.Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

Periodically the trail passed through open rocky stretches, providing less obstructed views of the surrounding areas
Stonewall Peak trail at Cuyamaca Rancho State 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.
Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

At this point there was bit more steepness to endure before the trail wound to the left and we found ourselves at the base of pile of large granite boulders and slabs.Stonewall Peak trail at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park

We carefully made our way up the rocks on the east side of the rocky expanse until we found the metal pipe railing and stairway carved into the granite boulders.
The stairs at Stonewall 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.
Newly hatches wasps inhabiting the pedestal atop Stonewall Peak

Fat lizard at the top of Stonewall PeakIf 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).

To the North: Cuyamaca Lake and North PeakView of Lake Cuyamaca and North Peak from Stonewall Paek

To the East: the eastern side of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and the Laguna Mountains beyond
View to the East from Stonewall Peak

And looking south across more of the park:View to the South from Stonewall Peak
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.”

We hastily made our way back down the stairs, and retraced our route to the campground.Descending the stairs on Stonewall Peak

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

For more information visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
View route on Google Maps

One thought on “Stonewall Peak (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  1. I believe those wasp are Thread Waisted Wasps and it did not swell until the next morning.