This was not the hike I had planned for number 1000, but it's significant enough to be worthy of the distinction. Got to the TH around 7 am. This is a combo campground/TH so luckily there is a pay station ($5) that you can use to buy the needed Adventure Pass. (I have discovered that this is not the case at other National Forest TH where the pass needs to be purchased off-site
). This loop is composed of three trails - Dripping Springs, Palomar/Magee and the Wild Horse Trails. I noticed that at the start of the trail there were rails on both sides of the trail. I initially thought this was for show, but later discovered that it was constructed to preserve endangered frogs. The trail goes about .1 miles before the trail splits Dripping Springs to the right and Wild Horse to the left. If you are doing the loop not a big deal you will hitting them both anyway.
However, if you are looking to do an in and out - (and to be honest, based on the condition of the connecting trail(Palomar/Magee Trail) that is what you may be forced to do) - there are some noteworthy differences. The Dripping Springs is shorter (7 miles) and gets you to the top faster. It provides nice views of Temecula, Vail and .... Lakes, San Jacinto and Gorgiono Peaks. The trail is well maintained and for those inclined very joggable. The Wild Horse Trail is 3 miles longer and in my mind, has two distinct parts. The first 7 miles is a gradual climb as it wraps around the contours of the hills. There were a couple of sections that were the steepest sections of the hike, but they were very brief. After 7 miles the trail transitions from a single track to an old road. This is a steady climb where you'll have to navigate around 4-5 downed trees and at its end, will bring you to a ridgeline and a view of the coastline (on a clear day). Intersetingly, even though you have gone 3 miles more on the Wild Horse you are still not as high as you would be at the end of the Dripping Springs Trail. This trail to is very joggable with the exception of the trees that you have to climb over.
Back to my hike.
For my hike I had decided to go CCW and so started up Dripping Springs. My goal - as always - is to jog as much as I can. (This trail is very joggable...not nearly as steep as the Bell/Windgate loop in the McDowells, it's just long). I got about 6 in before my feet started protesting, that was good enough for me. The climb had two brief "shelfs" that provided a brief respite from the climb, but also provided a view into the interior valleys of the mountain. With the second "shelf" there was a short descent before starting the last major climb. When given the opportunity to enjoy the views, take them. The sides of the trail are frequently overgrown with 6+ foot tall shrubs that obscures all views. I kept waiting to get that wide open vista view as I reached the top, but if it came I never saw it. There was only one section of the trail that was bad and it was literally 100's of yards from its end with a down tree that I had to negotiate.
At just over 7 miles I came to the beginning of the Palomar Magee Trail. I was kind of dreading this trail because I thought I had read that this "trail" was an old road converted to a trail. I'm not a huge fan of hiking roads and wasn't looking forward to it. My "road hiking fears" we're quickly cast aside and replaced by "you've got to be kidding me". I tried to envision the road, but nature had reclaimed this road...this trail with a vengeance. I've only been on one other "trail" that was as overgrown as this and that was the Ken Patrick Trail at the Grand Canyon. At 7.8 miles into the hike the trail was just gone.
That literally was the look on my face. The trail was overgrown on both sides with 10 ft tall shrubs an trees. It was either forward or backwards, there was no left or right. After pondering the situation for a few minutes, I started pulling out dead debris and snapping small twigs. After doing several minutes of trail maintenance, I had enough room that I was able to crawl forward 6 ft and then I was able to stand and contort and climb over the bulk of the tree. As a side note, I was warned at the beginning of the trail to be aware of poison oak, poodle dog bush and ticks! After that obstacle, I came across 4 more downed tree areas - none of which were as bad as the first. Through this entire trail though, I was constantly bending my body trying to minimize foliage contact for fear of contact with above mentioned poison plants. At 10.25 miles I hit the halfway point and the beginning of the Wild Horse Trail. A couple of other notes about Palomar Magee Trail. There were several spots that opened up (mostly it was overgrowth on both sides) that gave great views to the west and the coastline. Also, there was a pine along the upper stretches, called the Coulter Pine, that had the most massive pine cones that I can recall seeing. They reportedly can get up to 10pds in weight, and they felt like it! Every time I came across one of the pine cones, I had to heft it, just to reconfirm that it was that massive. Also, at the juncture of the Wild Horse/Palomar Magee Trails, there was a third trail called the Cutca Trail that continued along the ridgeline toward the Palomar observatory. That trail would be for another day.
After Palomar, Wild Horse seemed like a breeze! It was all down hill, it was a very evident old road (8 ft wide in places, overgrowth encroaching in other places, but nothing serious) and it was shaded for a good part of it by oak trees that lined the path. Very nice! There were another 4-5 trees that I had to climb over (apparently the forest service is overwhelmed and has no time for trail maintenance in the upper reaches. I swear that one of the pictures from three years ago, showed the same downed trees that I had to climb through.
) and there was a bunch of gnats in the shaded regions, encouraging me to move along as quickly as possible. At just over 13 miles I passed around a metal railing, crossed over an old dirt road and hit a single track that was to be my trail for the next 7 miles. I had to cross a dry stream bed and do a short climb
,but thereafter was rewarded with flat or downhill stretches as it followed the contours of the hills back to the trailhead. No overgrowth and a fairly smooth trail. Ideal for running, if you are so inclined. It was only in the last 4 miles that I encountered anyone. I passed about 16 hikers in that last stretch.
The weather was perfect! A bit chilly at first, but I warmed right up with the initial climb. No jacket needed. Amazingly enough no wildlife to report. I thought I had made it through tick and poison free, but a day later I did discover a free loading tick
. With all the overgrowth in the upper regions I can't imagine doing this loop in the warmer months when the ticks are more prevalent.