Palomar Mountain is like a hiking oasis in San Diego County. While much of San Diego is arid and dry, filled with drought tolerant plants adapted to living on only minuscule amounts of water, Palomar is full of ferns, cedars, pine trees, and a multitude of other foliage more reminiscent of the wet and snowy Sierras Nevadas. Palomar Mountain State Park has a number of gorgeous trails that can be explored individually or combined into longer loops. This relatively short trek traverses several of the Park’s trails in the Lower Doane Valley area.
We started out at the Doane Pond parking area, and took the Doane Valley Nature Trail trail head at the west side of the parking lot. A box contained guides for the nature trail (a $.25 donation is suggested).
The Trail briefly wound through lush riparian brush as it passed along the dry creek, then emerged in a patch of cedar trees before crossing a small wooden bridge that led to the road. We carefully crossed the road and picked up the trail on the other side.
It led down across a dry stream bed and headed upwards again. We periodically passed numbered wooden posts that were markers for the Nature Trail – entries in the trail guide correspond to the numbers on the posts. Until recently, these posts (and nearby fencing) had been in a sad state of disrepair due to years of budget cuts. But fortunately for us hikers, a Local Boy Scout troop stepped in and replaced all the posts and made other improvements as part of one of the Scouts’ Eagle Project!
The trail was vibrant with fall colors. Black oaks and thimbleberry, among other plants, were bright yellow. Most of the bracken fern which lined the side of the trail had turned a deep golden brown after the long dry summer.
At .25 miles we came to an intersection. The Nature Trail continued to the right. We headed uphill along the left branch on the Weir Trail.
The trail continued through the lush trees, predominantly pines and cedars. I could hear the sound of birds moving through the brush and trees surrounding us, and the occasional rustling of leaves as a squirrel ran across the thick leaf litter carpeting the ground.
At .65 miles we encountered another intersection. To the left was the Baptist Trail, which leads up to the Cedar Grove Group Campground and eventually connects with the Boucher Hill Trail. It’s been several years since I’ve been on the Baptist Trail, at which time it was nearly overgrown with poison oak. We continued straight along the Weir Trail.
As we hiked, we began to get glimpses through the trees of the golden grasses of Lower Doane Valley to our right. The trees gradually thinned somewhat, providing more complete views.
We soon began to see vestiges of the 2007 wildfires in the form of scorched tree trunks and branches strewn about, but much of the damage was obscured by new growth.
Before long we found ourselves at another crossing of Doane Creek where we made our way across a wooden board.
On the other side we found the branch for the spur trail that led off to the Weir, so we headed left, continuing along the creek.
The trail passed through a short stretch of grass and brush before coming to another small creek crossing lined with rocks. Fortunately, we were taking our time and noticed this guy on one of the rocks before stepping:
Banana slugs are more commonly found in the wet environs of the coastal Pacific Northwest, but there is a small isolated population in Palomar State Park. This is the only place in the county you’ll find these guys! After taking some pictures, we bid adieu to our slimy new friend and continued another couple of hundred feet along the trail. After carefully making our way across a couple of damp boulders, we came upon the weir.
The weir is essentially an old gauging station that was built to measure the flow of water and determine whether it could be harnessed as a source of hydroelectric power. The flow proved inadequate and we’re left with this idyllic spot to relax and commune with the banana slugs. After enjoying the tranquility of the pooled water, we retraced our route to the last intersection and turned left along the Lower Doane Trail.
The trail delved into the grassy meadow, edged by lofty green conifers. We quickly came upon another intersection and turned left to follow the unlabeled course of the French Valley Trail.
We followed the trail through the brown grass, weaving in and out of small stands of pines. The trail began to bend northward, and I noticed a large flock of turkeys sauntering through the grass near a clump of trees.
Although we didn’t say a word about Thanksgiving, the turkeys were clearly worried by our presence, so we moved on.
Around 1.75 miles the French Valley Trail made a sharp turn to the right. A short spur trail continued on straight ahead, and we followed that a couple hundred feet to a view point overlooking more of the valley. Further progress was thwarted by an “Area Closed For Plant Rehabilitation” sign, so we paused for a few minutes to enjoy the view, then retraced our path back to the intersection.
Continuing on the French Valley Trail took us along the northeast side of the meadow.
After about a quarter mile we found ourselves entering a lush grove of oak trees. A carpet of dried oak leaves crunched beneath our feet and a thick canopy of branches blocked the overhead light. It seemed like a completely different world than the grassy valley we had just traversed.
The trail continued, passing in and out of more oak lined tunnels, alternating with open patches of grass and boulders.
Around the 2.3 mile mark, we came to a massive fallen oak tree lying across the trail.
My immediate instinct was to climb all over this enormous natural jungle gym, but remembering that I am not, in fact, 6 years old, I refrained. We contented ourselves with snapping pictures and observing some reverent silence for this fallen giant before we ducked underneath and continued along the trail.
Before long, we encountered another obstacle, although this one was much smaller.
We skirted around the fallen tree and reentered the oak forest. We soon came to an intersection where the Lower Doane Valley trail merged with ours, and we turned left towards the campground.
We enjoyed another quarter mile or so of mixed oaks and conifers before we reached the end of the trail and the edge of Doane Valley Campground. At this point, we had two options. We could go straight and follow the paved road through the campground back to our starting point at the pond, or we could turn right and take the Nature Trail back along the creek.. The campground route is nice, and if you’re thinking of camping here in the future I highly recommend this way just to check out the area, but we opted for the Nature Trail and turned right. We passed along the edge of a couple campsites, buffeted by a copse of trees.
The trail plunged back into the forest and wound through the bracken ferns and incense cedars. A small set of steps led to a small wooden bridge that took us back across the creek.
Around 3.5 miles we found ourselves back at the intersection where the Weir Trail split off from the Nature Trail. We turned left to retrace our path back to the pond and parking area and complete our hike.
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:||3.9 miles|
|Total Ascent:||745 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||No dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||No bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Bathrooms with water near parking lot|
|Fees/Permits:||$10 entry fee per vehicle|