San Diego isn’t exactly known for having much of a winter. However, during a handful of times throughout the year, San Diego’s tallest peaks can get a moderate amount of snow. The winter weather allows for some amazing sights and because of a recent storm, I decided to go and check out Cuyamaca Peak.
Hiking Cuyamaca Peak
Cuyamaca Peak is San Diego’s second tallest peak at 6,512 feet. Cuyamaca Peak is located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park within the Cleveland National Forest. The peak offers some amazing views of surrounding San Diego County. I did the hike on a cool winter day about five days after a winter storm blew threw the area. Snow was scattered across the hike six to twelve inches deep; more prevalent as I got to the higher elevations. The snow made gave a pretty cool winter vibe which isn’t often seen in San Diego. Once to the top, there were incredible 360 views of the entire San Diego County. The storm that blew through a few days prior left clear skies and views of the Mount San Jacinto Range, Anza-Borrego Desert, Salton Sea, Mount Laguna, and down to the Pacific Ocean. The hike begins in the Paso Picacho Campground. There are two ways up the mountin: straight up a fire road to the top or a loop trail that takes about twice the distance. I opted for the loop.
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Cuyamaca Peak Quick Facts:
Who Cuyamaca Peak Is For:
Novice Hikers: If you’re new to hiking, the elevation gain and descent will make it hard to squat for the next couple days afterwards.
Advanced Hikers: If you’re a regular hiker and in any sort of physical shape, this hike will be just enough of a challenge for you so that you won’t be disappointed when you’re finished.
Expert Hikers: Take a water bottle with you and maybe an apple. See how fast you can run up and down the peak. If you’re planning on getting tired, explore the rest of the trails while you’re there.
It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.
I had only used a pair of New Balance trail running shoes that had a moderately worn down sole. The snow had melted to slush and some parts remained icy. Because of this, my shoes weren’t the best and I had to go at a slower pace in the snow covered portions of the trail. I used my Teton Oasis 1100 18L day pack.
I got by on just 2L of water, a Cliff bar, and an apple. I also had a protein shake waiting for me when I got to my car with a full Nalgene 1L bottle of water. Simple snacks would be suffice for the day. However, during the summer months, you’re going to want to avoid the heat by hiking early in the morning and bringing extra water.
Best Time Of Year To Hike Cuyamaca Peak:
I hiked this peak a few days after a couple series of light winter storms had blown through the area. The result left about 6-12 inches of snow throughout the upper half of the peak. I couldn’t have imagined a better time of year to do this hike: winds were light at the top and the temperatures were comfortable. The cooler months of the year are the best. Always check the weather to see for any hazards. Winter months can have exceptionally cold days on occasion and summer days can just be unbearable. Prepare for the weather accordingly.
Cuyamaca Peak Trail Conditions:
There are a couple of different ways to get up to the top of Cuyamaca Peak. The shortest way is also the steepest way and is an in an out via an asphalt fire road that takes you to the top where the antenna tower is located.
The way I took was the Cuyamaca Peak Loop. The trailhead starts in the parking lot and makes a right onto the Azalea Glenn loop. The loops goes to the right to the Conejos Trail and eventually meets up with the fire road which takes you to the top. The Cuyamaca Peak loop descent is along the utility road and is much quicker than the way up.
The trail is reportedly moderately trafficked, although I only saw four people on a Tuesday during the middle of the day. That being said, the trail is maintained and in great condition.
Depending on the time of year, plan accordingly for the conditions. Winter months can be cold and near to below freezing under the right conditions while summer months can be unbearably hot.
- The trek down on the fire road can be a bit tough on the knees for those with knee problems.
- For those not up to doing the 7+ mile hike, don’t do the trail as a loop, but try it as an in and out trail instead.