William Heise County Park

William Heise County Park in Julian has a number of shorter trails running throughout. We had previously explored the Kelly Ditch Trail, which runs from Heise to Lake Cuyamaca, and several trails on the northern side of the park including the Desert View Trail. That left us with three remaining trails to explore: the Fern Trail, the Potter Loop, and the Cedar Trail. Since all three of these trails connect, we elected to combine them into one larger loop. The result was this moderate 3.2 mile hike with a wonderful variety of scenery.

It’s a long drive to Julian, but the beauty and serenity of William Heise County Park make the trip well worth it (not to mention, PIE). We paid our entrance fee at the kiosk, then left our car in the parking lot just before the kiosk. On the southern end of the lot was a “Trail” sign directing us to the right. We followed the road to the trailhead.

We passed briefly through a scenic stand of pines, and soon found ourselves surrounded by ceanothus.

We traveled downhill to .3 mile where we crossed a wide dirt road and picked up the trail on the other side.

We passed through a gate and traveled downhill towards the creek.

Once across the creek, we found the turn-off for the Fern Trail and turned right.

The narrow trail led uphill through dense brush. There was plenty of poison oak along the trail so we proceeded carefully.

Around .45 mile we found a tranquil little spot just off the trail where a bench overlooked the running creek. It was a perfect spot to sit and enjoy the quiet woods.

As idyllic as this spot was, we didn’t linger as we had just begun our hike. We continued up the trail as it bent southeast and began to climb uphill.

At .9 mile the Fern Trail ended at “T” junction where we met the Kelly Ditch Trail. There was another bench, and another creek crossing just to the right of the junction – another tranquil spot perfect for relaxing to the sound of the burbling creek.

We continued by turning left onto the Kelly Ditch trail, once again heading uphill.

We climbed steadily through tangled oaks and ceanothus until we came to another “T” junction around 1.2 miles. Here we turned right towards the Cedar Trail and Potter Loop Trail.

We followed the wide dirt road uphill. Around 1.25 miles we found the turn-off for the Cedar Trail on our left, but for now we continued straight to tackle the Potter Loop.

It was more gradual uphill, with thick brush on either side.

Like most of the trails in the area, there were plenty of remnants of past fires sticking up through the new growth.

Around 1.45 mile we came to the start of the Potter Loop. We decided to take it clockwise and took the left fork.

The trail continued uphill.

Around 1.55 miles the trail turned right, private property lay straight ahead. Just past the boundary was an interesting artifact you don’t see on every hike.

We followed the loop to the right, where it soon began to level out.

We found another strategically placed bench overlooking the beautiful valley below.

The loop continued around the hill, and at 2.2 miles we came back to the start.

We turned left and retraced our route back to the junction with the Cedar Trail, then turned right.

Around 2.55 miles we came to a “T” junction with the Cedar Trail. The full Cedar Trail makes a loop, so you can go either direction and explore, but to accommodate the larger loop we were going for, we turned right.

We went up a short hill then starting descending back down towards the campground.

Soon, we began to see exactly why this was called the Cedar Trail.

The warm sun was blotted out by a towering canopy of Cedar Trees, and small cedar seedlings carpeted the ground.

Around 2.94 miles we came to another “T” junction. You’ve got some options here depending on where exactly you want to end up in the campground. We turned right here, following the signs for the Cabin Loop.

Right around the 3 mile point, we spotted a cute little wooden foot bridge spanning the creek and crossed over it.

The trail led us to the section of the campgrounds where the cabins were (the aptly named “Cabin Loop.”) From here we walked out to the main campground road and walked back out towards the entrance to our car.

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From downtown Julian, head west on Washington Street (CA 78/79). After approximately 1 mile, turn left onto Pine Hills Road. After approximately 1 mile, turn left onto Deer Lake Park Road. Follow Deer Lake Park Road for 2.1 miles, then turn left onto Frisius Drive. Keep right to continue onto Heise Park Road and follow it to the park entrance. map

Total Distance: 3.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 800 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Restrooms and water at Park
Fees/Permits: $3 day use fee per vehicle

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego Parks and Recreation – William Heise County Park
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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