West Mesa Loop (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

One of the things we love about Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is the fact that its numerous miles of interconnecting fire roads and single track trails can be combined into so many different hikes. This loop along the West Mesa Trail overlaps a portion of the Airplane Monument/Arroyo Seco Loop, but begins at the West Mesa trailhead and travels south towards the monument.

From the West Mesa parking turnout, we crossed the highway and passed through a gate onto the West Mesa Fire Road.

The West Side Trail crossed the fire road just past the gate, we continued straight along the fire road heading uphill.

The road ascended steadily through a mix of healthy oaks and burned remains.

Around .6 mile we came to a “T” junction – the start of the loop portion of the hike. You can take the loop in either direction but we decided to go counter-clockwise, and turned right onto the Fern Flat Fire Road.

The Fern Flat Fire Road continued to ascend, heading northeast. We spotted some pine saplings along the side of the trail – signs of recovery from the 2003 Cedar Fire.

We had some lovely views of Stonewall Peak in the northeast.

Around 1.4 miles the road leveled out for a stretch and turned west.

Shortly thereafter, around 1.5 miles, we found the turn off for the West Mesa Trail. The junction was partially hidden by shade and thick brush.

We turned left onto the West Mesa Trail, heading southwest through a large patch of basketbush, which bears a striking resemblance to poison oak but does not share its irritative properties.

We found swaths of recovering oak trees mixed with patches of downed and decaying wood.

We were starting to gain some nice views of the East Mesa area on our left.

There were also some beautiful Manzanita bushes.

The trail began to gradually ascend again, and we found ourselves passing towering walls of ceanothus.

Around 2.1 miles we came to a “T” junction where the Fir Trail branched off to the right. We continued straight, staying on the West Mesa Trail.

We continued a gradual ascent along the hillside which was covered in dry buckwheat bushes and young pine trees.

The views towards East Mesa continued to draw our attention.

We were pleased to find a stretch of trail that was well-shaded by mature, healthy oak trees.

Around 2.8 miles we came to another “T” junction where the Burnt Pine Trail led off to the right. Once again, we continued straight.

This was the highest point of the hike, and the views did not disappoint.

We began to descend gradually along the grassy hillside.

At 3.3 miles we came to another junction. The Arroyo Seco Trail led off to the right. We took the left fork towards the Monument Trail.

The trail led southeast along Airplane Ridge.

We had some lovely views to the west, where we could see a thick marine layer still shrouding the coast.

The trail eventually crossed to the northeast side of the ridge, giving us views across the park, with Stonewall Peak visible in the distance.

We continued a gradual descent and at 4.1 miles came to a junction with the Monument Trail and made a sharp left.

We walked a short distance through looming ceanothus to another junction. We turned left to make the short journey to Airplane Monument.

We’d last been to this spot the previous summer while doing the Airplane Monument & Arroyo Seco Loop. The monument hadn’t changed. A few bees buzzed around lazily, but there didn’t appear to be an active nest inside the engine as there sometimes was.

After paying our respects, we continued past the monument and along the trail through the ceanothus.

After a short distance we came to another “T” junction, reconnecting with the West Mesa Trail, and turned left.

The trail made its way along the slope of the hill, with the dry Japacha Creek below us.

We found more impressive stand of ceanothus looming above us.

Eventually the ceanothus gave way, and we crossed some dry grassland.

Around 5.4 miles our single track trail ended as we came to a “Y” junction at the West Mesa/Japacha Fire Road.

We took the left/straight fork which would take us the final stretch back to the start of our loop

On our right, Arrowmaker’s Ridge rose up.

The road alternated between mostly flat and some gentle ascents.

Around 5.8 miles, we crossed a small trickle of water that was flowing across the trail.

Finally, around 6 miles, we came upon the junction with the Fern Flat Fire Road where we had begun our loop.

We continued straight, going downhill along the fire road back to the highway, admiring views of Stonewall Peak in the distance.

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 7.3 miles to the small West Mesa parking area on your right. map

Total Distance: 6.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1280 feet
Dog Friendly?: No dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes are only allowed on fire road sections
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
California State Parks – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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