Little peak with a big view
Stonewall Peak is easily one of the most popular hikes in San Diego's backcountry, and has been for decades. You're likely to encounter large groups of kids from schools and summer camps, and families as well. I hiked it when I was a kid in Campfire Girls. The peak is located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, between Descanso and Julian. Several more prominent peaks are found in the park, including Cuyamaca Peak, 6,512 feet, one of the highest in the county. But hiking Stonewall is a great introduction to this park because from its summit you can see a good portion of the park, and a great deal of Southern California as well. The Salton Sea to the east, San Jacinto Mountain to the north and the mountains in Mexico to the south are visible. To the west you'll see the line-up of peaks called "The Three Cuyamacas," which are Cuyamaca Peak, Middle Peak, and North Peak. There are trails to the first two of these, but North Peak is not in the park and is mostly private land. (Note: Cuyamaca is pronounced "Kwee uh Mack uh," NOT "Coo yuh...")
Parking is not at the trailhead, but is in the day use area of Paso Picacho, across the highway from the trailhead. There is also a campground here. There is a day use fee per vehicle. Check fees near directions for the current rate. After visiting the self-pay booth and parking at the picnic area, walk back across the highway to the trailhead, easily visible.
In 2003 the Cedar Fire decimated Cuyamaca, burning 90% of the park, including most of its old-growth forest of oak, pine and fir on the mountain slopes. The chaparral brush is growing back, but the trees will take decades. Some efforts have been made at finding donations to purchase seedling trees, which you'll see planted alongside the Stonewall Peak trail. The campground at Paso Picacho did not burn, however, so camping there would be very pleasant under the shade of the old trees. For those of us who remember the "old" Cuyamaca, it's a bit heart-rending. In my youth, I backpacked and hiked all over the park, and used its trails as connections to get to the Laguna Mountains and Borrego Desert. Backpacking is still allowed, but is extremely limited, with only two trail camps available. Backpackers can also opt to camp in the Cleveland National Forest which partially surrounds the park, or in the car campgrounds.
Although the park has the Southern California version of a four-season climate, with occasional heavy snow in winter, the snow does not last long, and the hiking season is generally year-round. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are possible, very occasionally.
The trail to Stonewall Peak is very straightforward, switch-backing up the slope until it gets to a T-junction at the top of a ridge. Turn right here and a short distance later make your way over boulders to the rock steps leading to the summit rock which has a railing around it. Informational placards are also placed here to orient the hiker to vistas in the four directions.
If you had turned left at the T-junction, you'd head back down the mountain on a different trail to the north. You could then connect with the Cold Stream Trail, and loop back south to the parking lot. Doing this loop would add an extra mile to the total distance hiked.
1. A very superior trail map is available from Tom Harrison Maps.
2. USGS 7.5 minute topographic map: Cuyamaca Peak.
3. Park brochure map, available online.
More information about the park can be obtained at http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=667 or by calling the park at (760)735-3020.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
When hiking several trails on a single "hike", log it with a generic name that describes the hike. Then link the trails traveled, check out the example.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.