El Cajon Mountain Trail

HARD 283 reviews
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El Cajon Mountain Trail is a 10.9 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Lakeside, California 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 3750 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.

trail running
44 minutes ago

I'm from Utah and wanted to make this hike, glad I did. Great hike and awesome views. Hiked uphill and ran downhill, made the round trip in just over 3 hours.

hiking
1 day ago

I was a bit nervous about doing this hike after reading lots of reviews online but it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Took us 5.5 hours in total and we summited El Cajon Mountain ...other option is to follow the trail at the top to the right which takes you to El Cap instead. We wouldn't have made this without trekking poles, the steep hills were really muddy and slippery. My friend who wore sneakers suffered more than I did as I was wearing hiking boots. If you pace yourself and take it easy I'm sure most fitness levels can do this, just be prepared that it will take 5-6 hours...I did see a few families with little kids...not sure how far they made it. Oh and bring LOTS of water!! We finished our camel paks and wished we had brought more!! I think the return journey was faster than getting there which is different to the reviews I had read online... I guess the excitement of getting back to the parking lot pushed us more and we did jog back on the downhill steeps.

hiking
3 days ago

hiking1 second ago
This was not as hard IMHO as Baldy Ski Hut Trail. Now don't get me wrong, it is a challenge. I hike quite a bit so your take on it will depend on how much you hike. You have some steep and sometimes slippery inclines and descents, but you also have what I call "reprieve" areas where you can catch your breath and recover. We stopped after each ascent and took water and a snack bite. We are all in our 50-60's and weren't complaining nearly as much as the "kids" in there 20's and 30's were when we reached the top. We just enjoyed and took the whole day to do the hike. The scenery is beautiful both ways. There were 6 of us, and there were 6 slip/falls, but those weren't divided equally...thank goodness. Your's truly got none! Just take it easy. Carb up before you go, take plenty of snacks/food/water. Wear boots and take poles. Enjoy!

hiking
3 days ago

A great, challenging hike! Took us about 6 hours.

7 days ago

hiking
16 days ago

Started at 7 am on Saturday and was glad I did. By the time I got back down to the car in the late morning, I certainly would not have wanted to be heading the other way up the trail in the relative heat.

The trail, but for the switchbacks just above the toilets and the last push to the top after the 5 mile marker is wide and easy to follow. There are sections that have more loose rock and ruts than others, but the trail is wide enough there always seemed to be a flat-ish, compacted section to take.

As many have said, the trail back is quite challenging, unlike many in the area. Those same steep ascents on the way out become knee jarring descents on the way back. I STRONGLY recommend trekking poles to distribute the load.

Enjoy the beautiful views and if you hike in the early morning, your shortened sleep will be rewarded with some amazing views of mist and clouds rolling over the surrounding hills and valleys!!!

17 days ago

Best challenging hike in SD, besides Borrego Springs.

17 days ago

hiking
18 days ago

I have hiked many trails in the county; EC Mt. is the most difficult. It is uphill both ways and more trail erosion after the recent rains has made it even more slippery and difficult to maneuver --Bring trekking polls and wear a good pair of hiking boots! That said, it is also very beautiful--and I love the bouldering toward the summit.

hiking
18 days ago

Great hike. Awesome view from peak.

18 days ago

Good variation in terrain. Some wide trails. Some scrambling. Very beautiful views all along the way.

hiking
19 days ago

Great weather and good hike today! Trail in decent condition. Not very wet - but water was running in the creek pretty good! Great views! Nice workout!

22 days ago

hiking
23 days ago

This was a fantastic workout. A couple of uphill stretches seemed like they'd never end, and it helps to be part billy goat for this one. I recommend hiking shoes with good grip! You will thank me on the downhill stretches. The views were excellent and the trail was very serene. Not crowded but plenty of friendly, serious athletes out there. The summit was perfect for lunch. I left at 7:45 when it was still cool out, and made it back to the parking lot in just under five hours. Nice bathroom at the base just above the parking lot.

24 days ago

24 days ago

Gorgeous views from a big ass hill. Very well marked with moderate but friendly crowds.

24 days ago

25 days ago

hiking
27 days ago

So far the hardest trail I have ever done. It's relentless, endless, steep, up and down so coming back is also tough. Thankfully, the views are incredibly rewarding. Just make sure to arrive no later than 11. They parking lot locks the gate at 5pm sharp and the hike is long. It took me five hours which included probably about 15 minutes of eating and relaxing at the top. It's tough but overall worth it if you are in the shape. Also a lot of people were also going up that day and none of the other people actually went to the top so do not underestimate this hike.

1 month ago