Garnet Peak is a short and moderately trafficked trail in the Mount Laguna area east of San Diego. This trail offers beautiful 360 degree views of the mountainous terrain of this area, many iconic Southern California Peaks, and of the Anza-Borrego Desert below.

Garnet Peak Trail

If one is looking for short trails with impeccable views, the Mount Laguna area of the Cleveland National Forest is a wonderful place to start. There are a handful of short trails within a short radius that offer beautiful desert and mountain views for little work. This short trail takes hikers up a short distance of 592 feet granite peak at 5,919 feet. The end result is a 360 degree view of the entire Mount Laguna area. From this view, hikers will notice the transition of the conifer wooded San Diego mountains to the Sonoran Desert below. This peak can be accessed from several points in the area including the staging areas for Monument Peak, Foster Point, and the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. For the purpose of this article, this trail will focus on the Garnet Peak staging area off of Sunrise Highway.

This specific area is managed by the Cleveland National Forest. Therefore an Adventure Pass or an America The Beautiful Pass are required. Parking at the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area is free, however (more on that in the directions tab). Garnet Peak is just a short distance off the ever so popular Pacific Crest Trail. The trail culminates at a rocky peak with a daunting drop-off that descends a few thousand feet below and out into the Anza-Borrego Desert. From here many prominent Southern California peaks are visible including Palomar Mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, Stonewall Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain, and San Jacinto Mountain. On a clear day the sun reflecting off the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Salton Sea to the east can be seen.

There are several nearby areas for camping. The most popular area is in the Mount Laguna Recreation area near the Laguna Lakes. Camping information can be found here. The Garnet Peak area is a part of the Descanso Ranger District which does offer remote camping outside of campground areas. These spots are limited and a permit is required. Remote camping information can be found here. Camping is the best option for stargazing opportunities.

On A Personal Note:

This is a short and very fun trail to hike. It’s impressive to see how quickly the wooded meadows from the San Diego mountains transition to the desert below. The battle between Mediterranean and desert climates are clearly evident here. What’s also still visible are the burn scars from the 2003 Cedar Creek and the 2012 Chariot Fires. For those that want to make the trek out here early in the morning, seeing the sunrise come up from the desert floor to light up the mountains would be quite the sight.

Camping near here would be better option for sunrise viewing as well as star gazing. Many iconic milky way photographs have been shot around this area from the late spring to early fall months when the core is visible. This trail is a great option for younger family members. My pregnant wife at 37 weeks completed the trail without any sort of difficulty. 

Have you recently done this trail? Please share any updates to the trail conditions or post recent pictures in the comments below.

  • Overall Difficulty: 50% 50%
  • Overall Views: 100% 100%
Garnet Peak Quick Facts:
  • Elevation: 5,919 feet.
  • Elevation Gain: 492 feet.
  • Estimated Distance: 2.2 miles.
  • My Distance: 2.2
  • Estimated Time: 1-2 hours.
  • My Time: 90 minutes
Garnet Peak Trail Directions:
Open in maps. Trail access is very simple and off the Sunrise Highway. There is a small dirt off road area to park. This area is managed by the Cleveland National Forest so an Adventure Pass or  America The Beautiful Pass is required to avoid a ticket. There are occasional snow conditions during the winter along this highway. Please check with the local authorities if you suspect snow in the area to avoid closures or check chain requirements.

There is a free area to park and this is located at the Pioneer Mail Picnic Site. The trail will be a little bit longer (about four miles) from this access point. To connect with Garnet Peak, follow the Pacific Crest Trail south until the Garnet Peak junction that leads to the east. 

Garnet Peak Trail Pictures:
Who Garnet Peak Trail Is For:
Novice Hikers: This is a great trail for novice hikers. Although there is nearly five hundred feet of elevation gain in a short amount of distance, it’s not so much to rule out beginner hikers.  Garnet Peak is a great family option. 

Advanced Hikers: It’s a bit short to feel like any sort of work was done. My suggestion is to explore several other short trails in the area such as Foster Point.

Expert Hikers: For expert hikers, Garnet Peak makes a nice addition to hiking the Mount Laguna or San Diego portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.

Best Time Of Year To Hike Garnet Peak Trail:
The summer months can be hot and unbearable at times. The best bet is to hit the trail early during the summer or check for the cooler days. Monsoonal moisture during the summer can bring the threat of thunderstorms with lightning. If you hear thunder or see lightning, seek shelter immediately. Winter conditions with snow can occur during occasional winter days. Aside from the hot summer months and occasional snowy conditions, most of the year is a nice time to hike this area. Spring is popular for wild flower blooms, and lots of green budding plants. Fall days can be beautiful as well. The fall can bring Santa Ana conditions with high winds. 

It’s always a good idea to check the weather before heading out.

Garnet Peak Trail Conditions:
The trail begins off of Sunrise Highway and proceeds to an old dirt road. The trail continues in this fashion until it intersects with the Pacific Crest Trail. From this point on the trail becomes quite rocky and it would be very wise to watch the footing. The rocky trail continues until it reaches a small outcrop of sun baked granite rocks at the peak. Please be alert for rattlesnakes in this region. There is no  poison oak along the trail. There is no shade along the trail so prepare to be in the sun.