Thunder Spring and Chimney Flats Loop (Palomar Mountain State Park)

There aren’t a lot of areas in San Diego County that really make you feel like you’re in “the mountains,” but Palomar Mountain most certainly qualifies. With nearly 30″ of average annul precipitation, Palomar is a unique and beautiful gem within our otherwise mostly arid county. The Thunder Spring and Chimney Flats Loop takes you through large swathes of Palomar’s cedar, oak, fir, and pine forest, while providing some great wildlife viewing opportunities.

Our adventure began driving through the park to the Doane Pond day use parking area. While descending down the narrow, curving road, we saw a bobcat running up the hillside away from the road as we approached. We considered this a very auspicious start to our day! After parking near the pond, we found the trailhead on the southern edge of the parking lot.

We followed the path around the pond – you can go either direction here. We chose the right fork which led across a newly re-built wooden footbridge.

A few hundred feet along the path, the Cedar Trail branched off to the right. We’d be returning along that trail, but for now we stayed to the left towards the Thunder Spring Trail.

As always, Doane Pond was serene and idyllic.

The trail continued past the edge of the pond and along Upper Doane Valley.

Before long we were surrounded by trees, mostly oaks and cedars.

Below us on our left, Doane Creek flowed by.

Around .6 mile we reached Thunder Spring. A small trickle of water seeped out of the hillside on our right.

From Thunder Spring, we continued on through the quiet woods.

We came upon an open area where water was running down the hill, across the trail, and into the creek below. Looking up the hill, we spotted two deer staring back at us.

At just under 1 mile we came to another junction. The Upper Diane Valley Trail branched off to the left, returning to our starting point at the pond. We took the right fork towards Chimney Flats.

The trail began to climb uphill alongside a trickling stream (Chimney Creek), crossing it a couple of times.

We enjoyed a gradual ascent through the woods, and 1.48 miles came upon a wide grassy clearing with a wooden post labeled “Chimney Flats.”

Off to the left was an interesting field full of clumps of some kind of plant.

Continuing up the trail, we re-entered the woods. We spotted another pair of deer, but they quickly took to the brush upon hearing our approach.

Around 2.1 miles we reached a paved service road. The trail continued just on the other side.

We crossed the road , following the Scott’s Cabin Trail.

Re-entering the woods, we came upon yet another group of deer. These ones were slightly more accommodating regarding pictures.

After the deer wandered off, we continued hiking. At 2.65 miles we came to a “T” junction. The left fork led to the park entrance and the Silvercrest Picnic Area. We continued straight on the Scott’s Cabin Trail.

A little past 2.75 mile we reached Scott’s Cabin Site.

From there the trail began to descend through thick tangles of ceanothus, overgrown in a few sections but still passable.

We also found a few obstacles in the form of fallen trees. Apparently trail maintenance crews hadn’t gotten here yet this season, but the logs were easily surmounted.

At 3.2 miles we came to another “T” junction. The Scott’s Cabin Trail continued straight, heading towards the group campground. We took the unmarked Cedar Trail on the right, which led downhill.

We had more wonderfully dark woods all around us. In the past we had spotted turkeys foraging for acorns in the leaf litter – or more accurately, heard them foraging as they make quite a ruckus. But today we only had smaller, quieter birds to keep us company.

Finally, around 3.7 miles we reached the pond again. Here, we turned left to follow our original path back to the parking lot.

Take I-15 north to the Via Rancho Parkway exit. Turn right onto E Via Rancho Parkway, continue as it turns into Bear Valley Parkway. Turn right onto E Valley Parkway, continue as it turns into Valley Center Road. Turn right onto CA-76 East. After approximately 6 miles, make a slight left onto S Grade Rd/Palomar Mountain Rd. Turn left onto S Grade Road, then turn left again onto State Park Road. Follow the road to the Park entrance where you will stop and pay your entry fee. Then follow the road down to the Doane Pond parking area. map

Total Distance: 3.85 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 830 feet
Dog Friendly?: Dogs not allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: Restrooms and water at trailhead
Fees/Permits: $10 per vehicle day use fee

For more information, visit:
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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