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Best Trails in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park

410 reviews

#4 of 490 State Parks in California

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East of San Diego, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park offers respite from the dry Southern California landscape. The park’s 24,700 acres of oak and conifer forests and expansive meadows are broken by running streams. Located in the Peninsular Range of mountains, Cuyamaca Peak, at 6,512 feet, is the second highest point in San Diego County. From the peak, visitors can see Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to the east or the Pacific coastline to the west. Over half of the park's acreage is designated as state wilderness. The two family camps, Paso Picacho and Green Valley, are open and on the reservation system spring through fall. Green Valley sits at an elevation of 4,000 feet and has a creek which runs through the middle of the campground. The day-use area offers sets of cascades and shallow pools, great for water play on hot days. Green Valley has 74 campsites. Paso Picacho, 5 miles north, sits at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The most popular hikes start from this camp, including the 2 mile hike up Stonewall Peak (elevation 5,700 feet), and the 3.5 mile hike up Cuyamaca Peak (elevation 6,512 feet), both which offer breathtaking views of the deserts to the east, the coast to the west, and Lake Cuyamaca at the bottom. Lake Cuyamaca, operated by the Helix Water District, is two miles north of Paso Picacho and offers boating and fishing. Paso Picacho campground has 85 campsites. Day-use visitors may use the picnic areas provided at the campgrounds for $8 per vehicle. The receipt is good for the entire park for the day. The picnic areas offer tables, restrooms, and barbeques. Visitors may also park in legal turnouts along the highway and hike for free. Fire is not allowed anywhere except in the developed picnic areas and campgrounds. The beautiful park offers camping and hiking in an oak woodland forest, with a sprinkling of pines and lovely meadows with creeks. There are over 100 miles of trails which accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The Day Use Annual Pass is accepted at this park. The park is open from dawn until dusk. Dogs on a leash are allowed on the Cuyamaca Peak Fire Road. Dogs are allowed in picnic areas and in the campgrounds (except the primitive trail camps), but they are not allowed on trails or in park buildings.

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
3 days ago

hiking

This hike is no joke! You will dehydrate if you don't take enough water. I advise you to go prepared with at least 2 liter of water for each person. I went at 8 am and it was already 80 degrees. Try to go as early as possible to beat the heat. I also recommend to take hiking shoes and work out gloves since there are ropes you will be using to climb and need good grip shoes so you don't slip and fall. It's a very hard hike which is why you need to go prepared with enough water and food. Take breaks as much as you can and be careful on where you step and of poison oak. The trail can be confusing so try to follow the pink ribbon. The scenery is nice but was disappointed to arrive to no waterfall, it is all dried up. So I guess if you want to se a waterfall you'll have to go during rain season or during spring. It's a good workout but again please take enough water. People had to be rescued by a helicopter due to dehydration so don't let that be you.

on Stonewall Mine / Lake Cuy...
3 days ago

hiking

We did this hike yesterday with my 4 year old daughter. It was a nice semi-shady hike and not tons of people. We saw turkey, a bald eagle and plenty of squirrels. We tried to follow the loop shown but there really isn't a path for the last half of the loop. We will definitely be back out here again!

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
4 days ago

hiking

This was the most challenging trail I've been on. To get up to the falls, you will have to climb up and down hills and cliffs with the assistance of ropes others have secured to the trail. Once at the falls, the rocks are very smooth and slippery when wet. It's easy to see why improper footwear can lead to injury or death. Bring at minimum one gallon of water per person if you intend on hiking all the way to the falls. The day I went two separate groups had to take life flights out of the canyon... Which I'm sure made this the most expensive hike they've ever done. This trail is challenging, but not impossible for even a newbie adventurer like myself.

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
10 days ago

hiking

Great hike but not in the extreme hot weather. Make sure to check the weather forecast and also bring a minimum of a gallon of water per person. More is advised. Will definitely give you a workout!

on Cuyamaca Peak Loop
11 days ago

hiking

Kicked my butt, did out and back on the fire road from 79 to the peak took 2 hr 45 min total.

on Cuyamaca Peak Loop
17 days ago

hiking

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
19 days ago

Great trail for experienced hikers !! I brought 2;1/2 liters of water but almost ran out. Started around 9am finished around 2:30pm and it was so hot. Take breaks it will help. During the summer so bug repellent and sunblock help in the heat as well. Gloves .. Hat... Backpack. ... And good shoes are worth it or you might hurt yourself on the ropes and rocks. On bottom stick to the left to go up the water fall ..... When you come back stay to the right!!!!! The trail can be confusing so REMEMBER THE WAY YOU CAME IN. !!! Not for kids or pets. Loved it and probably will go again but will start earlier in the morning during summer because of the heat. The ropes weren't as bad as I thought but caution is advised especially at the top and when hopping the boulders and crossing the water fall. Better Trail markers would help a lot !!! Overall being prepared made it comfortable. It was a very beautiful and fun adventure!!!

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
1 month ago

hiking

Excellent hike. But don't underestimate the difficulty, the need for extra water, and the heat. The heat is what really does it. The water at the end is not water you want to get in it's pretty gross and stagnant at this time of the year, so don't expect to cool off in any water. If you want to see water, go earlier in the year. Other than that it's an amazing hike, it's a great workout, and still worth it and fun. Next time we will definitely bring more water.

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
1 month ago

hiking

Great trail - very varied and interesting. First section is a leisurely descent into the valley which slowly steepens, coming up to a very steep dusty slope with little foot grip which has ropes installed to help people down and several more rappel sections on the way down to the valley. Walk along the bottom of the valley is easy to get lost in as there seem to be many small side trails - when heading back from the falls make sure you shoot straight across the valley rather than getting sidetracked to the left.

Falls are almost dried up this time of year but there is a pool and some gently trickling water on the last fall which you can still have a dip in to cool off.

Not for the faint of heart - we saw two people get airlifted out on our hike and the guy we ran into from the sheriff's office said people need to get rescued every day. The ascent back up is much steeper than it looks, and there is absolutely no shade. Many people on the way back looked like they were about to pass out and were running out of water even though they'd brought gallons.

Would advise starting early and definitely need the advised gallon of water/person on this one.

on Three Sisters Waterfalls ...
1 month ago

HARD! Bring tons of water. Go early before it's too hot. I don't recommend this hike for anyone bringing kids or dogs. Just don't. Don't forget about plenty of water for the way back! Be safe!

on Cuyamaca Peak Loop
1 month ago

This is a magical little place.

on Stonewall Peak Trail
1 month ago

hiking

It was gorgeous. Went out with a few friends mid-october of last year, and it was cool in the morning with lots of shade. Almost lost my hat on top of the peak, but the views would've made it worth it. Full 360° view, and a great place for lunch/pictures.