Located just north of downtown Julian, the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is a 3,000 acre Preserve run by the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department. While many parts of neighboring Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the Laguna Mountains have suffered from the devastating wildfires of recent years, the unscathed Volcan Mountain offers an increasingly rare trek through lush oaks and conifers.
The preserve is open from dawn until dusk year round, however the upper half of the Summit trail is only open on weekends and major holidays from April through October. But even when the mid summit gate is closed, one can still have a worthwhile hike by taking the Summit trail to the second Five Oaks trail junction and making a shorter 3.2 mile loop. Park your car along Farmer Road and walk about 200 feet up the gravel road to the distinctive Gateway to begin your hike. Trail maps and other information are available at the trail head, and a sign indicates whether the mid-summit gate is open or not. The hike begins along the former fire road. Despite the dry winter, we were treated to a variety of wildflowers along the side of the trail, the most abundant being purple lupine. After about a quarter of a mile, oak trees began to appear and provide some cool shade. Approximately 0.4 miles up the trail is the trail head for the Five Oaks trail on which which we’ll return. But for now we continued our ascent along the fire road, winding through the lush oak trees, for another .85 miles. There are occasional glimpses of Julian visible through the growth, but the real spectacular views are still to be had.
At 1.2 miles, the trees open up to a wide grassy hill top and we reach the other end of the Five Oaks trail. We’ll take that on the way back, but for now it’s onward to the summit! From here on the trail alternates between the steep ascents we’ve been experiencing and more level stretches. After another .3 miles we reach the mid summit gate and continue on. The trail winds through some thick, beautiful patches of oaks and conifers not often found on most of San Diego’s hikes. We pass by the remnants of an outpost built around 1930 when astronomers were deciding where to put the Hale telescope. Volcan mountain was one of several potential sites and astronomers would spend many nights observing the sky from the mountain peak. The chimney is all that remains of their outpost building. Climbing the last stretch we were assaulted by a strong continuous breeze that threatens to relieve us of our hats, but the cool breeze is quite welcome on a warm day. I noticed a hawk and several crows frolicking in the forceful wind. Upon reaching the top, the road splits and circles the actual peak, offering some nice views of Anza Borrego State Park to the east. After exploring the summit, we sheltered under some oak trees to escape the wind and had a quick snack before beginning our descent. We returned to the Five Oaks Trail junction and took that path for our return trip. Almost immediately we came upon a stone bench strategically positioned to provide a breathtaking vista of the Banner Canyon below. The Five Oaks trail makes a meandering descent through a dense oak forest. The trail is much more narrow than the fire road, providing a feeling of seclusion. Interpretive signs describing many of the local plants dot the trail, including everyone’s favorite, Poison Oak. The poison oak is easily avoided as the path appears well maintained. The trees occasionally open up to provide some fantastic views of Julian below us. We soon met up with the Summit Trail and turning left, headed back to the gate. View the full photo gallery
View the full photo gallery
Directions to trail head: From downtown Julian, head north on Main Street (towards the fire station and cemetery). Main Street turns into Farmer Road. Continue on Farmer Road approximately 2 miles, then turn right on Wynola Road. In a few hundred feet, turn left on to Farmer Road again. The entrance to Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is about 1/10 of a mile up the road on your right. Park along Farmer Road. Walk about 200 feet up the gravel road to the trail head. Map
|Total Distance||5.2 miles|
|Elevation Change||1200 feet|
|Best Time of Year||Late Spring – Early Fall (The mid-summit gate is only open weekends and holidays April – October)|
|Dog Friendly?||Leashed dogs are allowed|
|Bikes Allowed?||On Summit Trail Fire Road only, Five Oaks Trail is hikers only|
|Facilities||No bathrooms, no water|
For more information visit:
The Vulcan Mountain Foundation
Have you ever hiked Volcan Mountain? Was it as crazy windy on the top when you were there? Leave us a comment below!