arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter tiktok youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

Seven Best Mountain Hikes

Explore San Diego's Surprising Mountain Landscapes

These 7 best mountain hikes in San Diego County offer beautiful landscapes, spectacular views, and are just around an hour's drive from the beach.

By: Scott Turner, Co-author of the 5th Edition of Afoot and Afield in San Diego County

Beyond the quaint mountain towns and historic gold mining districts, San Diego County's mountains contain some of its most surprising landscapes. These mountains, known as the Peninsular Ranges due to their association with the Baja Peninsula, rise gently from the inland valleys, attaining heights sufficient to support coniferous forests. The higher peaks offer commanding views across much of Southern California. On the mountains' eastern boundaries, the terrain falls away spectacularly into the arid expanses of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Few visitors expect to encounter lush meadows graced by a parade of wildlife or trickling streams under the cool shade of pines and oaks. Yet, you'll find all of that and more an hour's drive from San Diego.

French Valley - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

LOWER DOANE & FRENCH VALLEY, PALOMAR MOUNTAIN STATE PARK

Difficulty: Easy - 3 miles
Fee: $10* fee for vehicles
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

A trail for inspiration, this easy loop travels through a forest reminiscent of California's central coast. You'll visit an old stone gauging site and travel through the habitat of a rare endemic banana slug before crossing a sprawling meadow graced by towering Ponderosa pines.

Observatory Trail - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

OBSERVATORY TRAIL

Difficulty: Moderate - 5 miles
Fee: $5
Hours: Dusk to Dawn

This National Scenic Trail connects a popular campground and the world-famous Palomar Observatory. Hikers will travel through oak and pine forest before reaching the Observatory campus, where you can enjoy the unusual trail destination of the Hale Telescope. This hike requires a National Forest Adventure Pass, which you can purchase for $5* at any outdoor recreation store. The trail is open dawn to dusk, although the Observatory is only open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Volcan Mountain - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

VOLCAN MOUNTAIN

Difficulty: Moderately strenuous - 5.5 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

This steep trail winds through lush grasslands shaded by deciduous oaks before attaining the summit ridgeline. From the summit, you'll observe vistas that span the county from the Salton Sea to the Pacific Ocean. During spring, you'll experience an eruption of wildflowers, while fall brings shades of gold and red. Loop back on the Five Oaks Trail and see how many different types of oaks you can identify. Open dawn to dusk, although the reserve closes during and immediately after inclement weather.

Lake Cuyamaca - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

LAKE CUYAMACA

Difficulty: Easy - 2.5 miles
Fee: $10* vehicle fee to park near the Stonewall Mine
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

This gentle hike visits the shores of one of the county's oldest and most scenic reservoirs as well as the region's most profitable gold mine, the Stonewall Mine. Along the way, you'll walk under the cool shade of oak trees and butterscotch-scented pines before watching a variety of birds patrolling the lake's cool waters.

Stonewall Peak - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

STONEWALL PEAK

Difficulty: Moderate - 4 miles
Fee: $10* vehicle fee at Paso Picacho Campground
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

A great introduction to San Diego's high country, this twisting trail climbs to the craggy summit of Stonewall Peak for an aerial view of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The 2003 Cedar Fire took a heavy toll on the oak groves along the trail, but a riot of fire-following wildflowers rewards hikers during springtime.

Garnet Peak - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

Garnet Peak

Difficulty: Moderate - 2.5 miles
Fee: Free
Hours:
Dawn to Dusk

The wind-swept heights of Garnet Peak will take your breath away. From the summit, you will witness a spectacular 3000' escarpment (a long, steep slope) that drops from the forested Laguna Plateau into the arid expanse of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This east-facing slope is the county's premier sunrise viewing location.

Sunset Trail - Seven Best Mountain Hikes in San Diego County

SUNSET TRAIL

Difficulty: Easy - 3 miles
Fee: Free
Hours:
Dawn to Dusk

This gentle, looping trail travels through pine and oak forest to a sheltered corner of massive Laguna Meadow. Here you will find a serene pond, quaintly named "Water in the Woods." Nearby grinding stones (morteros) highlight this area's importance to the Kumeyaay people, while various waterfowl patrol the pond's waters for tasty morsels.

7 BEST MOUNTAIN HIKES IN SAN DIEGO MAP



A Note About Mountain Climate

Unlike the rest of San Diego County, the mountains here experience traditional seasons. Snow is known to fall in depths of up to two feet, necessitating chains and also inspiring caravans of curious San Diegans to head up from the lowlands. Winter precipitation is often three times heavier than at the coast, so you will definitely want to check the weather reports before visiting. Fall brings with it golden foliage, while the vibrant wildflowers of spring arrive later (May and June) than along the coast and interior. Summer brings occasional intense thunderstorms, and during those times, lightning can be a concern.

*2020 Fees

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Deals just for you

Venues

SHOW YOUR BADGE!

Original 40 Brewing
Valid: Jun 26, 2023 - ongoing

Receive a FREE Fish Taco with your same-day San Diego Convention Center Badge! 

Restaurants

Weekday Lunch Deals

Bronze Bird - The Westin San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
Valid: Jan 5 - ongoing

Level up your lunch with weekday deals that include our special of the day + your choice of a soda, lemonade or iced tea.  Monday- Grilled Sirloin Burger and fries ($14). Tuesday- 3 Short Rib...

Accommodation

Simple Pleasures Package

Best Western Plus Island Palms Hotel & Marina
Valid: Nov 13, 2023 - ongoing

LOVE IS IN THE BAY BREEZES OF SAN DIEGO'S HAWAIIAN ISLE! You and that special someone will be treated like royalty when you reserve this pleasurable package. Delight in one of our well-appointed...

Events to check out

Event

Port of San Diego Big Bay Boom!

Jul 4, 2024

The Port of San Diego Big Bay Boom July 4th Fireworks Show is back, promising another spectacular display over San Diego Bay. Fireworks will be discharged simultaneously from barges placed...

Event

Comic-Con International: San Diego

Jul 25 - Jul 28, 2024

Comic-Con International is the largest comics and pop culture event in the United States, attracting thousands of artists, celebrities and fans of comic books, movie memorabilia and all things related...

Event

Bike the Bay

Aug 25, 2024

San Diego's finest annual cycling event across the Coronado Bridge and around the bay! Ride the bridge, Bike the Bay for the 17th annual ride on Sunday, August 25, 2024! Cruise around San Diego Bay...

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up

Partners

Explore

Plan

Stay

Follow Us

Language:

English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China
Germany
Great Britain
Japan
Mexico
Korea
Switzerland
Brazil
France
Australia
Canada
USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans
Albanian
Arabic
Belarusian
Bulgarian
Croatian
Danish
Deutsch
Español
Estonian
Filipino
Finnish
Francais
Georgian
Greek
Haitian-Creole
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Indonesian
Irish
Italian
Japanese
Korean
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Malay
Maltese
Nederlands
Norwegian
Persian
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Serbian
Slovak
Slovenian
Swahili
Swedish
Telugu
Thai
Turkish
Ukranian
Vietnamese
Yiddish