Volcan Mountain is a moderately trafficked out and back trail near the town of Julian, California. The trail is part of the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve which makes up nearly 2,900 acres of mixed conifer and oak forest open space land.  

Hiking Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

If you’re looking for a reason to feel less guilty about indulging in some of the famed Julian apple pie, then a quick stop to Volcan Mountain is a perfect option. This five mile trail will climb over 1,200 feet in elevation to offer rich and rewarding views of the surrounding mountains, desert, and coastal valleys of San Diego County. 

Volcan Mountain is the main feature of what makes up the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve. Managed by the County of San Diego, there are over 2,900 acres open space land that fall under jurisdiction of this area. The main goal of the preserve is not only preservation but it also acts as a crucial wildlife corridor for animal species to move through the region. Some of San Diego’s larger wildlife can be seen  here such as mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, and coyotes. 

The mountain itself has been an integral part of San Diego’s history by serving as an important contributor to the region’s water supply. Dating back several thousand years, the Native American people of the Lipay Nation historically used this area’s abundant water to help fuel their way of life. Altogether the Volcan Mountain Range is responsible for feeding the San Luis Ray, the San Dieguito, and San Diego River watersheds. The mountain is also responsible for supplying a portion of the Anza-Borrego and Colorado Basin from the San Felipe creek which originates near the peak. 

On A Personal Note

This is a great trail for exploring San Diego’s four seasons. Everything from fall colors to snow capped peaks and wildflowers can be found here during the right time of year. Do note, according to the preserve’s website, trails will be closed to allow for drying out after rain events of more than half an inch. Preserve hours can be found under the directions tab.

Part way up the trail will fork off to the right to another trail called the Five Oaks Trail. This short detour takes hikers through a more scenic route and features a variety of species of oak. The trail eventually connects back to the  main trail but is a worthy side trip to take on the way up or on the way back down. 

On a clear day one could easily see across the Anza-Borrego Desert and past the Salton Sea. Some of San Diego County’s most notable peaks such as Palomar Mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, Iron Mountain, and Mount Woodson can be seen. Down below will lie the quaint down of Julian, Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve, and even the Pacific Ocean on a clear day. 


  • Overall Difficulty: 65% 65%
  • Overall Views: 90% 90%
Volcan Mountain Trail Quick Facts:
  • Max Elevation: 5,258 feet.
  • Elevation Gain: 1,167 feet.
  • Estimated Distance: 5 miles.
  • My Actual Distance: 4.8.
  • Estimated Time: 2-4 hours.
  • My Time: 2 hours 35 minutes moving; 3 hours 24 minutes total.  
Volcan Mountain Trail Directions:

Open in maps. Park along Farmer Road and then proceed to walk down to the gated entrance to the preserve. Typical of many other hikes in the county, weekends are the busiest time. However, because of the isolated area, the crowds here will be quite lighter than those of more popular San Diego hikes. As I mentioned previously, the county will close the trail for a short period of time for any rainfall totalling more than half an inch. This is to help prevent erosion. 

The trail is suitable for hikers, bikers, and equestrians. For pedestrian traffic, the trails are open from sunrise to sunset daily. There is no public vehicle access on December 25th. For any preserve questions or trail closure information please call the County of San Diego at the following numbers: (760) 765-4098 or (760) 814-0208.

Volcan Mountain Trail Pictures:
Who Volcan Mountain Trail Is For:
Novice Hikers: Those new to hiking will find this hike a challenge. There is a moderate amount of elevation gain in just two and a half miles. For those hikers who want to try themselves at a longer moederate distance, this is a perfect trail to try. 

Advanced Hikers: This will be a fun trail to check off the list of fun hikes to do in San Diego County. Although short, the amount of elevation gain is fun enough to be a challenge and the sights are bountiful.

Expert Hikers: This hike will definitely be on the easier side. For an extra challenge, try this trail immediately after it snows. Despite the ease, the views and seasonal sights make this hike worth it at some point. This is also a great trail for families who are unable to do long distance or difficult hikes. 

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

Best Time Of Year To Hike Volan Mountain:
The worst time of year to hike this trail will be depending on what you’re looking to get out of it. Summer is the hottest time of the year and in my opinion, the worst time to hike this trail. With that being said, if you’re an ambitious hiker, an early morning start before it gets hot would be ideal scenario during the hot months. Thunderstorms can be a possiblity during the summer and that brings the threat of lightning. 

As for the other months, fall can be quite beautiful with golden and yellow hues amongst the native oak species that line the trail. Winter can have some absolutely beautiful days with dustings of snow along the trail. An occasional strong winter storm can dump a couple feet of snow in the higher elevations making for a fun winter playground. Once spring comes the trail starts to look alive with plenty of greenery and wildflowers. 

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

Volcan Mountain Trail Conditions:
The trail is in great condition and is maintained by the County of San Diego as well as the Volcan Mountain Foundation. From the streetside parking along Farmer Road, proceed down towards the main gate entrance to Volcan Mountain Preserve. The trail will look like a utility road, and it pretty much is. As the road leads to the main gate you’ll be walking past some of the apple orchards for what Julian is so widely known for. 

As the trail passes through the main gate, the ambiance becomes a lot more scenic. The trail will soon be leading through patches of oak trees as it climbs in elevation. In no time the trail will be opening up to expansive views of the many peaks that line the coastal and mountain areas of San Diego County as well as a birds eye view of the town of Julian. 

About a quarter of the way up the trail will be a fork to the right for a detour called the Five Oaks Trail. The Five Oaks Trail will eventually meet back up with the main Volcan Mountain Trail. This fork in the road will take hikers along the side of Volcan Mountain and will be lined with five different species of oak. This trail will bypass some of the main trail but doesn’t really add any increased distance. I highly recommend doing it either on the way up or on the way down to mix up the scenery. 

When the trail is nearing its completion you’ll notice the oak groves begin to thin out. The trill will appaer to bend sharply to the right along a wooden fence with a trail marker that reads “summit.” Keep following the trail to the right and the summit will be over one last rounded hump.  At the peak will be two placards on the east and west facing portions of Volcan Mountain. These placards will point out the various sights to enjoy from the birds eye view of Volcan Mountain.