El Cajon Mountain Trail

HARD 173 reviews
#1 of 3 trails in

El Cajon Mountain Trail is a 10.9 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Lakeside, CA that features a river and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

10.9 miles 3753 feet Out & Back

dog friendly

birding

hiking

mountain biking

nature trips

rock climbing

trail running

walking

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

bugs

rocky

scramble

washed out

1. You'll start out at the Parking lot which is .5 miles from the pit toilets and trail head. Elevation gain is 246 feet to get your legs limbered up. 2. From there you have the option to follow the road or to take the trail. If you take the road to the trail junction it's .4 mile with an elevation gain of 268 feet. 3. If you take the trail to the junction with the road it's .5 mile with an elevation gain of 257 feet. Plenty of switch-backs with some nice views. Take the trail. 4. From trail road junction, over the next 1.4 miles, the trail/road ascends and descends with a couple of steep spots. Enjoy the views and relative ease of the hiking, this is probably the easiest part of the trail. 5. At 2.2 miles from the parking area, the trail will start a steep descent into a drainage for the surrounding peaks and will take a sharp southeasterly turn. Because the water that falls on the surrounding hills is focused into this drainage the vegetation becomes much more lush with trees and other vegetation not seen on other parts of the trail. 6. Around 2.8 miles from the parking lot, the road will begin a very steep ascent as it swings back to the east and then northeast. This is the first of the worst part of this hike. The trail gets more rugged and rutted at this point and if you aren't wearing hiking shoes or boots you may begin to wish you were. 7. As you continue to ascend you will notice another trail/road that veers off to the left. Going back to paragraph 5, if you look left and up-slope you can see this trail slashing across the mountain. You can continue on the trail ahead or take this alternate route. If you go left it is slightly shorter but considerably steeper. I've gone both ways, and staying to the right is probably the better way. As you ascend, the views become more and more spectacular. On a good day you can see all the way to the ocean. 8. As you continue you will come to a stop sign with a notice that tells you it will take 1.5 hours to return to the parking lot from this point and that if it's past 12:30 pm you should not attempt to reach the El Cajon mountain summit. In winter, they close and lock the gates to the parking lot at 4:30 pm, so if you are parked in the lot, plan accordingly. The point here is know your limitations! 9. From the stop sign, over the next .6 mile, you will climb 467 feet to a saddle between a large peak on your left and a smaller one on your right. From there you will drop 290 feet over the next half mile or so, until you start the climb to the next saddle. This section of the trail is steep, rutted and in some places partly washed out and it doesn't improve much the rest of the way. You may find yourself wondering if you've gone astray, because the trail seems to be going north away from where you want to be. But stay steady, the trail is taking you around, rather than over the peak to your right at the saddle. 10. As you continue, you will find yourself climbing again to another saddle where you will come to a three way junction. Over that .8 mile stretch, you will gain 642 feet, so if you thought the other side of the mountain was tough, this is tougher. But congratulations, you're almost there. Stop and check out the old jeep hulk as you go. 11. The saddle is a good place to take a break, load some calories and steel your nerves for the final push. When you are ready, you'll take the trail to your left (due east). At this point, you will begin bushwhacking, there are only a couple of trail markers to be seen, but if you pay attention, the trail isn't that hard to follow. Over the next .6 miles to the summit, you'll gain another 424 feet. Once at the summit you'll find that the view and sense of accomplishment make the hike worthwhile. Don't try this hike unless you are in relatively good shape. As many people have already said, bring plenty of water, food and good footwear.

hiking
3 days ago

Made this hike on December 1st. It is now the 6th and my calves and feet are still sore. I'm not the smallest of men. I stand just shy of 6'0 and weigh about 260 lbs. That said, I do know that for a tubby guy, my cardio is good. Had it been otherwise, I'd have never made it....and I surely wouldn't have made it in the summer heat. This hike absolutely tested my mettle. I wish I would have studied the comments more in depth prior to going because as I have come to find, I stopped my trek short of the peak. I lost the trail in the brush on the last saddle, took pics of the view (which was still phenomenal), lied down on a big flat rock to recover for a bit and then headed back. It hurt me. I can't lie...but I can't accept not having made it all the way to the peak so FML right now....I gotta go back. ;) Pack that water, hit it a couple days after a fall or winter rain if you can and physically prepare yourself if you aren't hiking at an advanced level. The downhill, depending on your state of being, can be absolutely brutal on the thighs during your return.

hiking
6 days ago

What a great workout. Fall is a much better time to hike this one.

hiking
22 days ago

I like the new maintained trail

hiking
22 days ago

hiking
29 days ago

real life hike here. minimum a gallon of water.

hiking
1 month ago

Got the summit and the Capitan this time. Got pretty hot so remember to bring water. This is definitely a for real hike.

1 month ago

Bring lots of water! Amazing eagle's nest view makes this difficult hike worth the climb

1 month ago

Bring lots of water! This trail is super difficult but worth the trek! Did it 10/20/16, got a late start 1145a 95 degrees! Got to mile 3 started to get calf cramp, decided to suck it up. Had to reach the peak! Just past mile 3 there is a sign warning not to continue if it is past 1:30 pm as the trail & parking lot closes at 6:30pm sharp. I was there at 1:00 pm and decided to continue on. At mile 5, the trail is very confusing, hard to make out which way to go to the peak. At this point you are climbing rocks and walking through knee high brush. 1/2 mile took me 30 minutes and once at the top the calf cramp was unbearable! Thought I should call 911, instead decided to suck it up and limp my way back. At the 4 miles to the parking lot my right leg started to cramp and I ran out of water (A CAMEL PACK ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH). Now I'm face with one leg hurting when climbing and the other hurting on down hills. At mile 3, getting dehydrated and thinking I'm not going to make it, on the verge of calling 911! Suck it up is all I could say to myself and thinking of the show I shouldn't be alive! The last two miles I basically was in a daze, thirsty in pain but had to get out!

Great hike, not for the faint of heart, not for beginners! Be in excellent physical shape! Be hydrated before you go, take lots of water and sunscreen as there is hardly any shade.

Would love to do it again but not alone. HMU if you want company on this hike! Marco 760-486-5389.

hiking
1 month ago

Steep hike. The climbs are steep enough that coming down is delicate regardless of how sure-footed you are. Two false peaks will try to drain your resolve. Half mile to the summit is a bit of a bushwhack. Cliffs are another mile+ past the fork at the saddle before the summit. ATT LTE nearly the whole hike. Great to be away from crowds of hikers though. Budget 5 hours at least to hike the trail. Gate closed at 630pm on Sunday in October.

1 month ago

Did this hike today....would recommend to start as early as possible... if doing the hole hike we started at 5:30 am. but for sure next time at 4 am to not catch sun alot.. oh bring lots of water .... awesome hike and amazing views :).

2 months ago

Tough but REWARDING! Lots of undulation. Up!Down!Up...up....UP......down.......UP......
And then you have to get BACK! Pack a lunch.

2 months ago

difficult from an endurance standpoint. amazing workout and spectacular views! reserve energy for the hike back. hike on a cool/cold day as there is very little shade. bring lots of water (a few liters minimum per person) and bananas will help if you experience cramping. hiking poles and good tread shoes will be helpful as well. For me this is the toughest hike in the San diego area, but also the most rewarding. enjoy!

3 months ago

3 months ago

Brutal hike. Bring lots of water! Lots of incline and decline. Make sure your toe nails are cut! Trekking poles are super helpful. Can't wait to be back. The view was amazing!

3 months ago

3 months ago

More incline-decline than anything. Pretty view, good workout, but not super exciting.

hiking
3 months ago

Hiked this in JUL/AUG.. Loved this hike because it was a challenge! It was a major workout... The steep and rocky inclines and declines were throughout so it was uphill basically both ways and a lot of rock climbing lol... Many people had a rough time.. Bring a lot of water and a snack... Enjoy the burn and reapply sunscreen frequently! You will fell accomplished after! Get there early!

3 months ago

Closed until 9/1/16

3 months ago