Stonewall Peak Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

Stonewall Peak is one of the most popular hikes in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and with good reason. The trail is easily accessible, beginning just across the street from the park’s main campground, and it provides some amazing views. If you’re looking for a new twist on this popular hike, you can try this variation. After summiting, continue along the Stonewall Peak Trail as it descends the back side of the mountain to meet with the California Riding and Hiking Trail, then continue on the Cold Stream Trail to loop back to the start. This adds about 1 mile to the hike, but will offer significant solitude compared to the busy trail that leads up to the Peak.

We arrived at the park in the morning and found it was already pretty busy. After parking in the Day Use area of the Paso Picacho Campground, we walked back out past the Ranger’s kiosk, and carefully crossed the Highway to the trailhead just on the other side.

A short distance ahead, the Cold Stream Trail crossed our path, paralleling the highway. Our loop would have us returning along the Cold Stream Trail on the left, but for now we followed the Stonewall Peak Trail as it turned right and began ascending.

The climb began straightaway, taking us up a steep hill beneath colorful oaks.

We could see Stonewall Peak on our left.

After around .1 mile the road turned to the left and continued upwards.

Around .16 miles the service road we were on was blocked off, and a single track trail branched off to the right. We turned onto the single track.

As we continued up the hill, we had beautiful views of Cuyamaca Peak behind us.

The trail bent north, passing through an expanse of low-growing manzanita.

Soon, Cuyamaca Lake and North Peak came into view.

Towering ceanothus quickly blocked our views, and we began climbing a long series of switchbacks up the western flank of the mountain.

The switchbacks continued for almost a mile. The tall ceanothus periodically openied up to give us views our surroundings.

Finally, around 1.75 miles we came to a “T” junction. Our eventual path to continue our loop was to the left, but our first order of business was to bag Stonewall Peak, so we turned right.

The rocky trail led us to the base of the peak, where enormous slabs of granite awaited us.

We made our way up the large boulders, aiming for the eastern edge of the peak where carved steps and a metal handrail led to the peak.

Stonewall is a very popular hike, and we encountered several groups at the summit and surrounding rocks.

But everyone was cool, and once they’d taken their summit shots and selfies, moved out of the way so we could have a turn taking pictures.

Its no wonder why Stonewall is such a popular hike, with amazing views in all directions. To the north was North Peak with Lake Cuyamaca at its foot, and Anza Borrego in the distance. We could just barely make out the Salton Sea far to the northeast.

Just west of us was Cuyamaca Peak, with Middle Peak to the right.

To the east were the Laguna Mountains, and Cuyamaca’s east mesa area in the foreground.

We didn’t linger long at the top, making room for new arrivals to enjoy the view, and eager to explore the quieter backside of the mountain. We retraced our route back to the last junction and continued straight.

Here, the Stonewall Peak Trail continued on, heading towards the California Riding and Hiking Trail. Already, it was much quieter.

We crossed a ridge and soon found ourselves heading down another relentless series of switchbacks. The views and scenery were very similar to the path we’d taken up, however the trail seemed rockier and more rugged.

We started to see Black Oaks along the trail, their leaves a mottled mix of green, yellow, orange and brown as they made their fall transition.

Eventually the switchbacks subsided and the trail turned northeast.

Ahead we could see the long ridge of Little Stonewall Peak rising up.

The trail turned north, winding down a saddle between Stonewall and Little Stonewall.

We found thick walls of ceanothus surrounding the trail.

Continuing on, we eventually began to see some pine trees ahead.

Right around 3.5 miles, we reached the pine trees and found a “T” junction where we met the California Riding and Hiking Trail. We turned left, following the sign for the Los Caballos Trail.

At 3.7 miles we came to a “Y” junction where the Los Caballos Trail split off to the right. We went left, staying on the California Riding and Hiking Trail.

The pine trees became much more sparse, evidence of fire still evident. But I was happy to see some small saplings here and there along the trail, and envisioned a day far in the future when this was a shady, wooded trail.

As we progressed, we found more and more colorful Black Oaks.

Around 3.9 miles we came to another “Y” junction. The California Riding and Hiking Trail turned right, crossing the highway a short distance away. We turned left onto the Cold Stream Trail to begin the final leg of our hike.

Once again, we had views of Stonewall Peak to admire as we hiked.

The trail moved close to the highway, and we periodically heard the sound of cars and motorcycles passing by.

We spotted a cluster of pine and oak trees around the road in the distance, and knew we were getting close. Sure enough, before long we found ourselves at the base of the Stonewall Peak Trail where we had begun.

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: 5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1085 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: Restrooms 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 or download GPX from CalTopo

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