Sunny San Diego is known best for its abundance of sandy beaches and near-perfect weather. What many often overlook are the nearby mountains, a quick 45-minute drive from downtown. One of these mountains, Mount Laguna to be precise, is a true gem for nature lovers. With its dense pine forest, sprawling meadows, and crisp mountain air, Mount Laguna is a welcome retreat from traditional boulder-strewn San Diego Hikes.
Additionally, Mount Laguna is also one of the few places in San Diego County that truly experiences all four seasons. The Sunset Trail is just one of many trails found here, but serves as a nice introduction to the area due to its short distance and minimal elevation gain.
The Sunset Trail picks up on the left-hand side of Sunrise Highway (SR-1) at mile marker 19.1, also known as the Meadows Information Kiosk. Parking will be on the shoulder on the left or right side of the road. Please note than an Adventure Pass needs to be displayed on your vehicle’s dashboard. If parking on the right side of the highway, with caution, cross the street and walk towards the cattle guard. After passing the cattle guard, the trail almost immediately comes to a fork. Follow the trail to the left (towards Noble Canyon) and avoid the trail that continues straight (to Old County Road).
Continue to follow the trail toward Noble Canyon, as you pass beneath staggering pine trees looming overhead. This portion of the trail is my favorite as it gives you the opportunity to hike through divergent microclimates not often found on other San Diego hiking trails. At 0.75-miles you will cross another cattle guard and the trail will spit you into the Laguna Meadows.
In the spring, summer, and autumn cattle can be found grazing in this area. While it can be disconcerting being surrounded my throngs of cattle there isn’t much to be feared as they are more afraid of humans. Any time we got near cattle they quickly ran away from us.
At 1.5 miles you will reach a sign at the “Water-of-the-woods”, a small pond where cattle graze and ducks swim in spring and summer. The sign will point you forward on the Sunset Trail, which tightly hugs the pond. Here you are faced with a decision, you can continue forward on the Sunset/Big Laguna Trails to extend your hike or you can follow the Big Laguna Trail South to complete a 3.25-mile loop. If it is your first time in the area, I’d recommend closing the short loop as the larger 9-mile Sunset Trail and Big Laguna Trail Loop is more difficult to navigate.
While the Sunset Trail can be hiked year-round, I’d recommend hiking this trail in the fall when the leaves are changing colors and the air is cooler or in the winter where traces of snow are usually present.
Sunset Trail Tips
Tip #1: There are no restroom facilities or water stations at the Meadows Information Kiosk. You will need to drive further into town to access a restroom.
Tip #2: Pick up an adventure pass before taking this hike. Passes can be picked up at REI stores, in the town of Mount Laguna, and at the main Cleveland National Forest office at 10845 Rancho Bernardo Rd in San Diego.
Tip #3: Dogs are permitted on this trail with a leash, so bring your furry friends along for the hike.
Tip #4: As aforementioned, it is best to hike the Sunset Trail during fall and winter months to truly experience the changing seasons. Chains may be required for tires during winter.
From downtown San Diego: Take 163N to I-8. Take I-8E for 42 miles and take exit 47 for Sunrise Scenic Highway. Turn left onto Sunrise Highway and continue north for 5.5 miles. Park on the left or right side of the road just past mile marker 19. The trailhead will be on the left side of the highway.
Total Distance: 3.25 miles
Trailhead Address: Meadows Information Kiosk Trailhead, Mount Laguna, CA 91948