Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is the closest and most accessible state park in San Diego county. The park features 26,000 acres of dense pine, fir, and oak forests, expansive meadows, steady streams, and seasonal waterfalls. Additionally it includes the 6,512-foot Cuyamaca Peak, the second-highest point in all of San Diego County.
There are over 100 miles of hiking trails available here to explore, however if you find yourself in a pinch for time or will be visiting the area by far, we’ve got you covered on must-do trails. These are our top eight best hikes in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Stonewall Peak Trail
Stonewall Peak may not be the tallest peak to bag at this state park (here’s looking at you Cuyamaca Peak), but it is the peak that arguably offers the best views. At the summit, you can see as far east as Anza Borrego and to the north you’ll see Palomar Mountain looming in the distance. The views along the 2-mile hike to the summit aren’t too bad either, with the glistening Lake Cuyamaca noticeable from early on. The gradual ascent up to Stonewall Peak is also mildly tame, making this a good option for both novice and advanced hikers.
Airplane Monument Trail
It’s not every day you have the opportunity to hike to the site of a WWI plane crash. After a scenic climb up Japacha Ridge, you’ll come to a large bronze plaque at the base of an old Liberty V-12 engine. The plaque reads “In memory of Col. F.C. Marshall and 1st Lt. C.L. Webber who fell at this spot Dec. 7, 1922.” An easy 4.5-mile loop trail presents nearly a century-old relic of American history as well as the opportunity to hike through some of the more densely wooded areas of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Stonewall Mine Trail
One of the most notable attractions found at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is the Stonewall Mine exhibit, a look at a former gold mine. The Stonewall Mine Trail is only 0.6 miles in length and serves a great introduction to the state park for hikers of all ages and athletic abilities. It features impressive views of the nearby Lake Cuyamaca and offers several spur trails that’ll take you right down to the lake. Once you’ve completed the short loop, head to the Miner’s Cabin Trail which is under 0.1-miles and where you’ll find both the Stonewall Mine and a small museum.
Cuyamaca Peak Trail
No trip would be complete to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park without tackling Cuyamaca Peak. The trail traverses the entirety of its course on a paved fire road, leading to the top of the highest peak in the state park. The views at the top can be hit or miss—fog can greatly obstruct your summit views so try to aim for a day with clear skies to fully appreciate this trail. Added bonus: This is also the only trail in the entire state park where you are allowed to bring leashed dogs.
Green Valley Falls Trail
Chasing waterfalls is always a good way to spend a Saturday. Why not find them at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Located in the Green Valley campground, the Green Valley Falls are a seasonal waterfall that can be found by taking a short 0.25-mile walk. The falls are also often accompanied by small pools of water, the perfect outdoor playground for children and adults alike. For best views, visit the Green Valley Falls after heavy rainfall and in months when the campground is open.
Middle Peak Trail
The Middle Peak Loop Fire Road may not take you to the actual peak, but rather circles the peak for all encompassing views of Julian all the way to Poway. One of the most common sights on this trail are the remnants of charred cedar trees. Middle Peak once housed some of Cuyamaca’s biggest trees until the 2003 Cedar Fire wiped most of them out. This devastation can still be seen all along the trail, however the wide open views are one positive to this unfortuntate loss. In the fall, this trail is one of the best for viewing fall foliage. Likewise in the spring, flower bloom is very prevalent all along this trail.
Pine Ridge Trail
The Pine Ridge Trail may be one of the most underrated hikes in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Found in the Green Valley Campground area, this trail takes hikers up a ridge dotted with pines, a nice reprieve from the barren landscape found on other trails. This area escaped most of the devastating 2003 Cedar Fire, and therefor offers views of plenty of greenery. In fall, the leaves drastically change color, giving visitors and locals a true taste of Autumn.
Oakzanita Peak Trail
Oakzanita Peak is a trail distanced farther away than other trails found at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, but this outlier is worth visiting. At a little over 6-miles in length, the trek up to Oakzanita Peak is a bit more strenuous than other hikes found at this state park, but also offers divergent views because of its location. The peak also differs from Stonewall and Cuyamaca in that there are boulders strewn about everywhere rather than one actual spot to stand and take your summit photos.
Do you have any trails at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park you think should make the list? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!