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HIKERS ONLY TRAILS

Sunset Trail

The trail starts in relatively open pine/oak woodland, skirts the Laguna Meadow, crosses Water of the Woods on a man-made dam, climbs into the denser pine forest to a high point with spectacular views west, then descends and terminates at the Big Laguna Trail at the northern edge of Laguna Meadow.
Features: Meadows, pine forests.
Length: 4.0 miles one way.
Elevation gain/loss: +300′
Hiking time: 2 hours.
Users: Hikers only.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Any time, but fall foliage spectacular in places.
Potable water: None.
Access point: Southern trailhead is across from the Meadows Information Kiosk near the 19 Mile Marker on Sunrise Highway.

 

ABOUT

Lightning Ridge Trail

A stone obelisk at the eastern end of the amphitheater marks the trail. It crosses a small drainage and parallels a narrow meadow to your right, then forks and switches back abruptly to the left. The trail now climbs the ridge in long sweeping switchbacks through sparse brush and woodland, crosses an access road, and terminates at the top of a knoll at the water tank. Many of the pines you see are Coulter pine, which yields the heaviest cones of any pine species. Wildflowers bloom on the west side of the slope in spring and early summer. Below to the west lie Laguna Meadows and Little Laguna Lake, while to the east, are contrasting images of Storm Canyon and desert landscape.
Features: Meadow views, Coulter Pines, Storm Canyon.
Length: 1.5 mile loop.
Elevation gain/loss: +278’/-278′.
Hiking time: 1 hour.
Users: Hikers only.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: In the campgrounds.
Access points: Laguna Campground, Horse Heaven Group Camp.

 

INTERPRETIVE TRAILS

Desert View Trail

The trailhead is in the main parking lot in the Burnt Rancheria campground.  The trail leads away from the parking lot in the campground, connects with the Pacific Crest Trail for about one-half mile, then leaves the PCT and re-enters the campground near Site #70.  No mountain bikes or motorized equipment can be used on the PCT.  On clear days, views to the east can extend across the desert floor to the Salton Sea, fifty miles away.  A rustic bench under shade trees awaits hikers near the end of the trail. 
Features: Desert vistas.
Length: 1.25 mile loop.
Elevation gain/loss: +130′.
Hiking time: 1 hour.
Users: Hikers only.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Seasonal.
Potable water: Fountain near the end of the trail, and in the campground.
Access point: Burnt Rancheria Campground Amphitheater Parking Lot, open April thru October or Desert View Picnic Area parking lot, open year round (Adventure Pass required when parking in picnic parking lot)
Brochures describing features found along the trail can be obtained at the trailhead, from the camp hosts, or in the Visitor Center.

 

Kwaaymii Trail

Description: The trail leads from the Visitor Center to the top of a small knoll. Numbered signs along the way coincide with the trail brochure at the trailhead. At the top, you can find morteros ground by Kwaaymii Native Americans hundreds of years ago, when they spent the summer months in the Lagunas. There is also a fine specimen of Pinon Pine at the top. Pinon Pines dominated the vegetative landscape of the Lagunas for centuries until the Laguna Fire of 1970 wiped out nearly the entire population. Specimens can still be found scattered throughout the area, and the pines are slowly increasing in numbers. From the top, the trail meanders downward through pine, Mountain Mahogany, and Bay Laurel, and ends back at the Visitor Center parking lot. Please advise Visitor Center staff if the box for the trail brochures is empty.
Features: Morteros, Pinon Pines.
Length: 0.5 mile loop.
Elevation gain/loss: +99’/-99′.
Hiking time: 20-30 minutes.
Users: Hikers only.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: In Visitor Center.
Access point: Visitor Center parking lot.

 

Wooded Hill Trail

Wooded Hill is a self-guided loop trail. Trail brochures are available in the wooden box at the trailhead but don’t rely on there being a copy available. The stops along the trail are also available in the Recreation Area Trail Guide, available in the Visitor Center. The trail begins in a heavily wooded area where a prescribed burn has been planned for several years. If conditions finally allowed for the burn, the area could look quite different than described. But keep your eyes open for squirrels, Scarlet Bugler, and Baby Blue-Eyes, advantageous life forms like Staghorn Lichen and Mistletoe, and enjoy the expansive views of the San Diego State Observatory domes, San Diego and Mexico at the summit.
Features: Wooded hills, views. A self-guided interpretive trail.
Length: 1.5 miles (loop).
Elevation gain/loss: +191′.
Hiking time: 2 hours.
Users: Hikers only.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Seasonal.
Potable water: None.
Access point: Trailhead 1/2 mile north of Sunrise Highway on the old county road, often referred to as Wooded Hill Road. A gate 400′ north of Sunrise Highway may be locked due to seasonal and/or nesting conditions. There is room here for about 6 vehicles, but parking here will add 1/2 mile to the length.

 

HIKER, EQUESTRIAN TRAILS (NO BIKES)

Garnet Peak Trail

From the trail sign for Garnet Peak, follow the trail 0.5 mi North through the skeletal remains of trees devastated by wildfire. Cross the Pacific Crest Trail and continue northeast on the unmarked rocky path leading upward toward the peak. The exposed summit harbors metasedimentary rock characteristic of the Laguna’s eastern ridge and sharply falls away yielding an unobstructed 360º view of the jewels of Southern California. To the east is Storm Canyon and the desert badlands below. Along the eastern horizon lies the Salton Sea some 60 miles away. Looking northwest, the dome of Palomar Observatory may be visible, while a more westerly gaze will reward you with peaks of Mts. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. West and south are the Laguna and Cuyamaca mountain ranges. You are likely to feel the notorious desert winds from this vantage point, so prepare accordingly.
Features: Panoramic views, rocky ascent to the summit.
Length: 2.4 miles round trip.
Elevation gain/loss: +500’/-500′.
Hiking time: 2 hours.
Users: Hikers, equestrians. No bikes.
Difficulty: Moderate.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: None.
Access points: Sunrise Highway 0.1 miles south of Mile Marker 28, near Deer Lake Park Road.

 

Pacific Crest Trail

This section of the PCT within the Recreation Area offers expansive vistas to the desert east, 4,000 feet below your elevation. This eastern edge of the Laguna escarpment is the transition area between the montane and arid desert climates. The trail winds intermittently between mountain mahogany and manzanita bushes and Jeffrey, Coulter and Pinon Pines, which grow disproportionally on one side due to the prevailing jet stream-strength winds that can whip through the area. The village of Mt. Laguna is very near the southern beginning of this section. Mt. Laguna has a post office, store, restaurants, cabins for rent, water and restrooms. Adventure Passes can be purchased in the Visitor Center on Sunrise Highway at the intersection of Los Huecos Road.
Features: Panoramic views, mountain to desert transition.
Length: 10.4 miles one way from La Posta/Thing Road to Kwaaymii Point.
Elevation gain/loss: +100′.
Hiking time: 5 hours.
Users: Hikers and equestrians only. No mountain bikes, motorized equipment.
Difficulty: Moderate.
Best time of year: Year-round.
Potable water: At Burnt Rancheria Campground, Laguna Lodge, Visitor Center, Desert View picnic area, Laguna Campground.
Access points: At La Posta/Thing Rd. 0.5 miles south of Sunrise Highway, south end of Burnt Rancheria Campground, Desert View picnic area 0.2 miles north of Visitor Center, Penny Pines trailhead (Mile Marker 27.3 on Sunrise Highway), Garnet Peak trailhead (27.8 Mile Marker), Pioneer Mail trailhead (29.3 Mile Marker), Kwaaymii Point (30.3 Mile Marker).

 

MULTI-USE TRAILS

Big Laguna Trail

The Big Laguna Trail is technically termed a “trail complex” consisting of the main trail and 8 “spurs” that radiate from the main trail and link to other trails. Parts of the trail complex utilize the roadbed for the old Sunrise Highway. This description includes part of the BLT from the Laguna Campground to Penny Pines.
The marked trail across from the Laguna amphitheater leads westerly, skirting Little Laguna Lake and passing through enormous oaks to an opening in a fence. If you go left, you can follow the BLT across Los Huecos Road and Sunrise Highway to the southern terminus of the trail at the Pacific Crest Trail. Going right from the fence opening, you cross the meadow and over a wooden bridge to the intersection with the El Prado Spur, one of eight along the trail. Trending left (westerly), the trail follows the contours within the pine forest and branches at the lower end of Big Laguna Lake. Going left takes you to Water of the Woods Spur, the Sunset Trail, and a northerly lane of the BLT on the far side of the meadow. Turning right at this point, the trail follows the eastern contours of Big Laguna Lake, meandering in and out of shaded forest and meadow. You will soon come upon the northern end of El Prado Spur. Continuing north, you reach the top of the meadow where you can circle back to the westerly path if desired. Continuing northerly, you come to the intersection with the Filaree Flat Spur. The trail trends easterly then northerly for about a mile when you come to a horse gate and the intersection of the Noble Canyon National Scenic Trail. It’s only about 200 yards from here to the Penny Pines parking area, where you can arrange for a ride back to the campground.
Features: Meadows, Big Laguna Lake (seasonal), wildflowers.
Length: 4 miles (Laguna Campground to Penny Pines), 17 miles including Spurs.
Elevation gain/loss: +300’/-300′.
Hiking time: 2.5 hours (main trail).
Users: Hikers, bikers, equestrians.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: None.
Access points: Penny Pines parking area, Sunrise Highway, Laguna Campground.

 

Indian Creek Trail

Indian Creek Trail leads from the Noble Canyon Trail several miles from the Penny Pines trailhead, intersects with the Pine Mountain trail, and continues westerly to the boundary of Cuyamaca State Park. This is a delightful “linker” trail, that provides a great way to put several interesting and relatively long loop hikes together. Starting at Penny Pines, follow the Noble Canyon Trail for 2.4 miles, then turn right onto Indian Creek Trail. Descend west through pines, oaks and high chaparral almost one mile. Here, the broad, shallow Indian Creek Canyon comes into view. Indian Creek carries a bit of water most of the year, and small herds of cattle graze in the tall grasses of the meadow during the summer. After the trail crosses the creek, it ascends 1 mile across an east-facing slope devoid of trees to arrive at Champagne Pass, which marks the halfway point. At 0.10 mi further, the trail intersects the Pine Mountain Trail.

You now have three options for your return trip.
First, continue on Indian Creek Trail for 2 miles until it ends at the western boundary of the Laguna Recreation Area, and then return as you hiked in (total 12 miles round trip). Second option, turn right (east) on Pine Mountain Trail and follow it for 2.5 miles to Sunrise Highway just N of the Pioneer Mail Trailhead (mile marker 29.3). To make a loop back to your car, cross through Pioneer Mail picnic area to pick up the Pacific Crest Trail on the east side and proceed S for 4 miles to arrive at your starting point at the Penny Pines Trailhead (total is 11 miles round trip). Note: mountain bikers, use Sunrise Highway to return, instead of the PCT. A third alternative is to proceed W on Indian Creek Trail and link up with the Harvey Moore Trail in Cuyamaca State Park to Sweetwater Bridge on Highway 79, about 4.5 miles (total is 10.5 miles).

Features: Intermittent stream crossing, link to Cuyamaca State Park.

Length: 4 miles one way, from Noble Canyon Trail to the State Park boundary.

Elevation gain/loss: -650′.

Hiking time: 2 hours.

Users: Hikers, equestrians, mountain bikes.

Difficulty: Hard.

Best time of year: Any time except during storms.

Potable water: None.

Access points: Noble Canyon Trail, Pioneer Mail picnic area.

 

Noble Canyon National Scenic Trail

Noble Canyon is a world-renowned trail for mountain biking enthusiasts. It is not recommended to hike this trail from Pine Valley to the top, because of the length and extreme elevation gain. This description discusses trail descent from the top.
The Noble Canyon National Scenic Trail begins about 1/10th of a mile from the Penny Pines parking area near the 27.3-mile marker on Sunrise Highway. Hike west from the parking area past a water spigot/tank to the intersection with the Big Laguna Trail. Continue straight (west). It runs initially through pine and oak woodlands with a couple of ascents, until Filaree Flat becomes visible far below. Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. San Gorgonio can be seen shimmering to the north, often covered with snow. The trail begins to descend, crossing Deer Park Road and Noble Creek in several places, and then climbs around a chaparral ridge covered with white ceanothus in the spring. Descending again, the trail passes through a grassy area sporting abundant wildflowers in the spring and early summer.
At about 3 miles, the trail approaches Noble Creek and parallels it through pines, black oaks and live oaks until it emerges in a wider sunlit section of the canyon. The trail passes through shady watercourses and riparian areas which offer magnificent colors in the fall, and cool shady resting spots in summer. Remains of an old gold mine, active in the 1880s, and foundations of two old cabins are still visible.
The trail crosses to the west side of the creek (NOT a water source for hikers unless purified) and switches back the remaining 3 miles to the lower-end trailhead and parking lot. This part of the trail is very exposed, dry and hot in the summer (and sometimes in spring and fall). Carry lots of water!
As you approach the tri-fork near the Pine Valley trailhead, take the first wide trail that goes left. It follows a dry creek and eventually winds over a ridge, then down to the trailhead. (Note: the third trail on the right leads to Pine Creek Road). If you are in the majority that has arranged a car shuttle for this hike, the West Noble Canyon Trailhead is located 1.2 miles N of Pine Valley on Old Highway 80, then 1.6 miles NE on Pine Creek Road and 0.2 miles on a spur to the parking lot.
It is important to note trail etiquette on this trail because of the heavy use of mountain bikes hurtling downhill amidst hiking and equestrian traffic. Hikers yield to equestrians, and bikers yield to hikers AND equestrians.
Features: Pine/Oak woodland, Noble Creek mines, and mining artifacts, rugged descent.
Length: 10 miles (one way).
Elevation gain/loss: -2,400′.
Hiking time: 5 hours (downhill).
Users: Hikers, bikers, equestrians.
Difficulty: Hard.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: At eastern trailhead.
Access points: Eastern trailhead at Penny Pines parking area along Sunrise Highway, western trailhead off Pine Creek Road in Pine Valley.

 

Pine Mountain Trail

Features: Views of and access to Cuyamaca State Park.
Length: 2.5 miles one way.
Elevation gain/loss: +500’/-500′.
Hiking time: 1.5 hours.
Users: Hikers, equestrians, mountain bikes.
Difficulty: Moderate.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: None.
Access points: Pioneer Mail Trailhead, Mile Marker 29.3 Sunrise Highway.
Description: This trail, like the Indian Creek Trail, is a great way to put together a loop of greater than 10 miles, with varied scenery and vegetation. Pine Mountain Trail begins W of Sunrise Highway just N of the Pioneer Mail. It descends briefly, goes through a gate and continues along the fence line and highway, rising for a bit. Turning S, the open trail winds through low chaparral with good views of Cuyamaca State Park to the south and west. At about 1 mile it crosses a dirt road and at 2.5 miles it ends at the Indian Creek Trail. A right turn on Indian Creek Trail leads to Cuyamaca State Park. A left turn on Indian Creek Trail leads to Noble Canyon Trail.

 

NON-MAINTAINED TRAILS

Cotton Creek Falls Trail

A steep descent to an old easement road under power lines, and continues downward to an oak wooded area where the trail splits. Stay to the left trail, and begin climbing up the canyon to the falls. NOTE: This trail is not managed as a Forest Service Trail. It is neither marked nor maintained.
Features: Intermittent stream, waterfalls.
Length: 1.8 miles round-trip.
Elevation gain/loss: -466’/+466′.
Hiking time: 1 hour.
Users: Due to the steepness of the initial descent, horses are not recommended.
Difficulty: Moderate.
Best time of year: Year-round. Falls are much more voluminous after spring snow-melt.
Potable water: None.
Access point: Sunrise Highway across from the 15.5 Mile Marker at the northern end of the guardrail. Plenty of parking in the large turnout.

 

Oasis Spring Trail

Features: Desert views, a spring, cistern and old pumphouse, Big Leaf Maple.
Length: 2 miles (round trip).
Elevation gain/loss: -292′.
Hiking time: 1 hour.
Difficulty: Easy.
Best time of year: Any time except during storms.
Potable water: None.
Access points: Sunrise Highway.
Description: This is a hidden treat of a trail. Below the 26.5 mile marker parking area, join the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) just to the east. Proceed North as the PCT dips into a shallow ravine and, after several hundred yards, joins the road to Oasis Spring. Follow the road through a chaparral forest of mainly mountain mahogany. To the east is a stunning view of Storm Canyon and the desert below. The road soon deteriorates into a path descending in tight switchbacks through dense live oak and bay laurel, ending at an old pumphouse. This was the original water supply for several Laguna camps and cabins, as well as the Forest Service Fire Station. Note the bigleaf maple and grape vines, not usually found here, which were probably planted near the pumphouse caretaker’s residence. Note: this trail is not managed as a Forest Service trail. It is not marked or maintained.