Despite being well known for its dense pine woods, many trails found on Mount Laguna also provide breathtaking views of the distant Anza Borrego Desert. The Desert View Trail does just this, in an easy 1.7-mile loop—providing impressive vistas of both the lush woodlands and expansive desert. Due to its short length and stunning sights, it is a good introductory hike and can easily be combined with other hiking trails in the near vicinity.
The Desert View Trail picks up in the Burnt Rancheria campground, one of the many places you can camp on Mount Laguna. To reach the trail, turn left once you reach the fee station and park in the day-use parking lot. The trailhead is marked by a sign that reads “Desert View Trail Loop”, also accompanied by a sign for “Amphitheater”. Follow the well-marked trail as it takes you on a paved path to start, soon passing an outdoor amphitheater.
For the first part of your trek, you’ll be making your way through the Burnt Rancheria Campground and will need to keep a close eye out for signs that will help you continue to follow the Desert View Trail. At 0.4 miles, you’ll meet up with the infamous Pacific Crest Trail, which takes long-distance hikers all the way up to Canada. You’ll find a bench for viewing the admirable scenery here, a good place to stop and enjoy. This is the most scenic portion of the trail, with sweeping views of the Laguna Mountains and eventually, views of Anza Borrego.
After another approximately 0.4 miles, you’ll see the Laguna Observatory in the north, and a small glimpse of, as the name of the trail indicates, Anza Borrego desert views. Enjoy the desert views while you can as they will be brief.
Soon, the Desert View Trail will branch off to the left. Leave the Pacific Crest Trail behind to conclude the last portion of the Desert View Trail. The trail will take you away from the desert and bring you back to the Burnt Rancheria Campground. When the official Desert View Trail commences, you’ll find that you are not back at the trailhead. To return to your vehicle, you’ll need to follow the paved road that runs through the campground until you reach the day-use parking area (about another 0.3 miles).
Desert View Trail Tips
- Remember to place an Adventure Pass on your car’s dashboard upon parking. An Adventure Pass costs $5 at the time of this post.
- Keep your eye out for Desert View Trail signs. The first portion of the trail can be tricky and signs can be easy to miss.
- Be respectful of the campers. Most weekends in the summer and fall this campground is packed to the brim.
- Bring a picnic lunch. There are a few benches along the Desert View Trail where you can sit and admire the stunning views before you.
- Combine this trail with others nearby. Mount Laguna offers a plethora of hikes, ranging from as short as 0.5 to 10 miles in length. Several of these can be found in the related posts below.
From downtown San Diego, take CA-163N. Take exit 3A to merge onto I-8 E toward El Centro. In 12.9 miles, keep left at the fork to stay on I-8 E. Follow I-8 E for 29.2 miles and take exit 47 toward Sunrise Highway. Turn left onto County Rte S1/Old Hwy 80.
Follow Sunrise Highway for approximately 9.4 miles and turn right when you see a sign for the Burnt Rancheria Campground. Turn left at the fee station to reach the day use parking area on your right. Pay the fee station and park in one of the designated day-use spots. Do not park in campground parking spots.
Elevation Gain: 220 feet
Dog Friendly: Yes
Total Distance: 1.7-miles
Trailhead Address: Burnt Rancheria Campground, Mt. Laguna, CA 91948