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.
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.
Brutal. Unforgiving. Gorgeous. All words I would apply to this trail. I brought about 50oz of water and boy, that was a mistake. Bring a camelbak or something. Lots of ups and downs. Certainly like life. Would have liked hiking poles for my return trip.
This is work. The geocaches and benchmarks and views are worth it, but it is work. The downhill parts beat up my knee and toes. It took over 9 hours round trip for our small group. It was worth it, and a reminder that I need to condition a bit to take on bigger hikes. I went for the summit and didn't go to the cliff on this one. Maybe next time.
Harder than I thought. You'll need plenty of hydration. I have almost 4 liters of water and on my back down it was already gone. Try to get there earlier. I start at 10 and ended at 4 pm.
Great climb ... lots of uphill and beautiful scenery. What goes up must come down. Not for a beginning hiker. Recommend you have some hiking under your belt. Loved it!!
Great hike for those looking for a challenge and multiple hours out on the trail. I completed it for the second time this past weekend and would highly recommend it for those training for a more challenging peak.
Make sure to have at least 3 liters of water and some food. Shoes with good traction are a must, as there are several steep inclines and declines. Trekking poles would probably be helpful coming down but I managed well without.
Hiked El Cap twice on 1-6-17 - back to back. Per my Garmin, 22.7 miles, 7800 feet of elevation gain, 9 1/2 hours. A great training hike for Whitney later this year! Trail was a bit muddy but not too bad. Fun stuff!
Got there early and knocked it out before noon. New PR on this one, under four hours. Lotsa people this time. I guess people are getting in shape for the new year? This one will definitely test your "resolution". Wah wah. Still love the views too.
did this hike yesterday. it's a great hike with challenging peaks and valleys.
Hiked this for the third time this year. 2 hours up and 2 hours down. Cold and a bit rainy. Trail was kinda washed out and very muddy - it had rained the day before. Great hike though. Will use this as a training hike for Whitney. In the spring, plan on climbing this twice (back to back) on the same day as a good training hike for Whitney (roughly equivalent to the total mileage and elevation gain of Whitney, but obviously not the high altitude).