Corte Madera Mountain Trail

HARD 123 reviews
#12 of 121 trails in

Corte Madera Mountain Trail is a 6.4 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Morena Village, California that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

DISTANCE
6.4 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1,404 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dogs on leash

birding

hiking

nature trips

walking

views

wild flowers

wildlife

rocky

The trail is great for hiking and normally takes a half day. Start off along an oak lined road and then take a left and head out through San Diego typical shrubbery. When you reach the main saddle you'll be rewarded with a spectacular view of Corte Madera Mountain, which some call San Diego's half dome. From there you'll head northwest along a dirt road and then branch off onto a single track trail. As you head up, you'll be rewarded with pine trees, granite boulders and wonderful views of the surrounding Cuyamaca and Laguna mountains. It can be cold in the winter, so make sure to layer. There is some shade on the trail so it might be good for hiking all year round. Take your time and enjoy the views!

2 months ago

Absolutely beautiful hike with views in every direction. Parking is crappy with room for only 5 or so cars so go early. there is tremendous variety of terrain from boulders to forrest overhang. it's definitely the prettiest hike I have done yet. we passed a few people but we were the only ones at the top, I actually cried! bring a lot of water. I have a 1.5l pack and it wasn't enough. I was happy that my husband had a 3l. be super careful if you are on the path in what I have now deemed "snake o'clock". when we turned the corner from behind a boulder there was one that was half in the path. we backed away and went over another boulder to avoid it. we warned everyone that we saw on the way down but there was a deaf couple on the hike heading in when we were heading out....I was scared for them. all in all it was very scenic and definitely challenging even just in the length alone. highly recommend!

hiking
2 months ago

I did this hike for the first time on 5/27/18 and REALLY enjoyed the hike. This is definitely not a "Hard" hike and should be considered "Moderate" since there are some steep parts but there are just as many level or mild incline parts so it doesn't kick your butt too much. I did this as part of the Tardigrade Tough 8 Challenge which comprises 8 of the hardest hikes in the San Diego area. If you are interested follow @tt8challenge and/or @resilientsquad on Instagram.

Here are the main details of the hike:
Name: Corte Madera in Alpine, CA (east of San Diego)
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,500 ft
Elevation at Peak: 4,657 ft.
Duration: 3-4 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate

*I used the directions from the All Trails App...basically the 8 East to Exit 51 Buckman Springs Rd, turn right and in 3.3 miles you will turn right on a small side road named Morena Stokes Valley Rd which is a narrow somewhat paved/dirt bumpy road and in 4.8 miles you will see a green metal gate with a red cross on it...parking for about 5 or 6 cars on the left of the road and the hike starts at the metal gate

We arrived at 6:15 am and we were the first to park in the parking area. We saw no one on our way to the peak and saw less than 10 people on our return from the peak. I really enjoy hikes where there are little to no people and there are no sounds of cars or noises except for nature.

For the first .7 miles of the hike you are on an access road lined with oaks provided cover until you reach a metal garbage can with a wooden sign that says Espinosa Trail on the left, this is the way you need to go and you will now be on a narrow single file trail.

At 1.5 miles you will come to an official metal sign which indicates Los Pinos Peak to the left and Espinosa Trail straight, just below this sign is a handmade looking wooden sign with "Corte Madera Mt" and an arrow pointing to the right...follow this sign.

At 1.9 miles you will see an official sign indicating you are entering a nesting area for birds of prey with a wooden handmade sign pointing the way to "CM" and an arrow...follow this sign.

At about 2.6 miles you will see the destination off to your left and you will see why it is called by some the San Diego Half Dome. The final .9 miles to the peak will curve around to the left and you will make a half circle to the peak when you reach about 3.4 to 3.5 total miles. There was no sign at the peak but there was a green metal container with the name and elevation on it.

There is a variation to the scenery on this trail with some shaded and some exposed areas and some cool rocks and there was a nice variety of colors (green, yellow, and violet), but most importantly were the great views at the top. On the day we hiked it was misting in the beginning and lots of fog/low clouds, but by the time we got within a mile from the top we had hiked high enough to be above the clouds and it was clear and beautiful up there. It is definitely worth the drive to do this hike and I highly recommend it.

2 months ago

By far the best hike I've done in San Diego! Great views, lots of flowers butterflies and birds. And most of all very few people. I highly recommend it.

hiking
2 months ago

It’s a long but beautiful hike. It’s super green and clear. I’m going to say this is a moderate hike only because it’s long but to be honest it wasn’t difficult at all. The views are amazing!!! Prob my fav hike thus far!!!!

2 months ago

I loved this trail! A little of everything, and breathtaking views. The dirt road to the trail head was longer than I expected. We were privileged to catch a bald eagle in flight. I would recommend this trail for sure!

hiking
2 months ago

This is my favorite hike in all of SD county. It's a gorgeous, moderate hike. Definitely account for time to soak up the view at the top.

3 months ago

Not hard very beautiful ⛰

3 months ago

Moderate hike with some impressive views throughout. Spring is definitely the right time for this hike, although it would have been even better after some rain. The creek is currently dry, but there are plenty of wildflowers and butterflies in the area.

3 months ago

Very nice hike. Beautiful views. There are shady spots throughout the trail. The incline is steady so you get a good workout.

hiking
3 months ago

Just beyond epic

4 months ago

5 months ago

Beeeeauuutiful. At the first juncture stay on the right then at the second one follow the tall brown arrow sign. The views at the top really hit your soul.

hiking
5 months ago

In my opinion, this hike should be rated as moderate. I did it during the rain with no problem. The views are awesome.

backpacking
5 months ago

Tried to do an overnight trip here, but the rain and wind sent us packing to the car and down to Alpine for some burgers and beer. My fellow hikers and I didn't bring enough cold weather gear and trying to stay warm in wet jeans wasn't working out for them. The trail wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Its pretty well defined about 70% of the time, so you need to stay focused. The Manzanitas that line the trail throughout the hike are cool, some were completely covered in the bright red bark. When the fog did clear the views were exceptional. We were able to snap a few pics and then the fog and rain came back with a vengeance. There's a good spot off the trail to set up camp about 3/4 of a mile from the peak, there is also appears a good spot further down at the Los Pinos trail junction. Will definitely be coming back when the weather clears up for another try at an overnighter.

hiking
5 months ago

Best trail so far. The views are amazing. Don’t forget to pick a permit up for parking. The pine valley store is couple of exist before you get off the freeway. First mile is boring but, after that, it’s gorgeous. Highly recommended

5 months ago

Great fun to be out with so few people around. This is an 8.5 mile trek round trip, not 6.5 miles. I followed the All Trails map here exactly (I had cell service the entire time so I knew I was on the right track at all times). My phone calculated 8.5 miles. It was 2 miles just to get to the crossing of Los Pinos Road with the Espinoza trail, and then over 2 miles more to get to the summit (at the very end of the trail, past the false summits along the way...)

hiking
6 months ago

Nice hike, if you want to beat the heat go early. Make sure to take a hat and enough water. Had lunch at the top very nice view. You need a permit to park that is $5, you have to go to the pine valley store to buy it. The entrance of the trail is by a gate with a red heart. You'll see a sign that says Espinoza trail on a trash can which you'll need to go through and then make a right turn once you reach a dirt road. You'll end up in another dirt road and you'll see a sign about raptors and you'll continue on that trail that will lead you to the top.

hiking
7 months ago

My husband and I took this hike on New Years Day. Started off at 11:30 and got back to the car at 4:30. We drank 2L water each, and it was only 65 degrees. Great hike overall. Beautiful mountain scenery and amazing walking views on the way up of Corte Madera, which fits its billing as “San Diego’s Half Dome.” Great spaces for eating lunch on the summit with breathtaking views of many of the county’s other peaks. Note, the trail directions were spot on and very helpful. Pants and long sleeves recommended due to the underbrush. Can be a little windy at the summit so bring layers. Definitely recommend this hike.

hiking
7 months ago

Awesome views all around with the potential to see the ocean on a clear day. I would rate this as intermediate. There are some inclines with pretty rocky ones along a couple of segments. However, the inclines are not constant and level off flat before you climb again. Lots of rest in between! The hike takes you along the back of the rock face aka the mini half dome. It gets windy at the peak but the views are vast and beautiful. Not too many people know about this hike so you get lots of seclusion. You can start this hike where AllTrails takes you or, if you have a 4x4 or a high clearance vehicle, you can continue along the dirt road and knock off maybe 1.5-2mi. A car with good suspension might be able to make it too but there are some deep ruts along the way so make sure you steer around those. We finished in ~5 hours with lots of breaks/ pictures in between though. Adventure pass needed to park.

hiking
7 months ago

Great hike, excellent views. Other reviews describe the hike well.

We started our hike at Los Pinos Road. We drove up past trail head on Morena Stokes Valley Road, took a right on Los Pinos Road, drove up paved road, and then drove down through open gate near Los Pinos Lookout. About 1.4 miles down rough road, but not a problem for Subaru Forester or other 4x4.1.7-mile hike from the open gravel parking area at intersection with Corte Madera Road (or aka Espinosa Trail).

8 months ago

On Sat, Dec 2 at 9:30am, we got about a mile into this hike and came right up on a Mountain Lion, just off the trail. 200 yards past the trash can sign. He let us know he was there with a BIG growl. We calmly turned the hell around. So keep your ears out on this hike. YEAH NATURE!!!

hiking
8 months ago

This is hands down one of the most spectacular backcountry hikes in SD county. It's been on my to do list for a while and I finally got to it.

A few things to note:

This is a backcountry wilderness hike, it's not the potato chip rock. It's in a very remote, far flung area of the county. Drive a reliable vehicle, go with another person, bring basic survival gear, know the weather conditions before you go and prepare accordingly. Check the weather for Pine Valley or Morena Village on your phone, or call a local business and ask what the weather is like. This area can be blazing hot in the summer and below freezing in the winter, it's not San Diego!

The trail is ambiguous in a few spots, a user posted a review further down with really good directions. Around the summit, the trail vanishes in a few spots, so stay sharp. I had a solid phone signal the entire hike and was able to reference this app when needed.

Adventure Pass needed to park in this area, you can buy one for $5 at Pine Valley Store.

I arrived at the trailhead on a Monday morning around 11am. The whole area was shrouded in mist and dense fog. I kind of wanted to abort the mission, but went ahead and got on with it. The emergency rain poncho I've had in my backpack for ages finally came in handy. I would've been 100% screwed without it. Visibility was about 50 yards from trailhead all the way to summit, which was a bit demoralizing and kind of eerie. In terms of difficulty, it's not bad at all. The elevation gain is very gradual throughout. If you've done Iron or Cowles, this one is nothing. It was quite cold and windy as well, and I got pretty wet even with the poncho. I dressed in layers and kept an additional dry layer in my bag which, again, saved my ass. Preparation.

At the summit, the fog began to peel away and the clouds sailed under the peak, opening up the view of the valley below. Pretty incredible sight. By 1pm, it was almost completely clear skies and sun. On my trek back down, I got to look back and see everything I missed on the way up. Very scenic and gorgeous views of the wilderness all throughout.

Got back to the car about 2:30pm, so about 3.5 hours in total. I'll definitely do this one again, and try to go on a crystal clear day!

8 months ago

One of the best hikes in SD. Not as difficult as it's rated. Some of the best views. Very green in November with sparse pine trees that add some surreal beauty to the trail. Make sure you make your way down the to the cliff and just hang out and enjoy the view of the valley. The trail kinda ends at the top, but is regenerated from hikers and climbers making it to the cliff. NEED AN ADVENTURE PASS. Do it.

10 months ago

Great weather, cool at the peak.

hiking
11 months ago

Great hike. Curtis' directions were very helpful. Great views, tons of hawks & eagles flying around. Was lucky enough to watch a thunderstorm pass to the north without us getting a drop.

Definitely gets tough towards the second half of the hike, bring plenty of water if you're going on a warm day.

hiking
11 months ago

Monday, August 07, 2017

Great views

hiking
Monday, July 24, 2017

I agree with all who have said this is a fantastic hike. If you're looking for a true hike, in the wild, with few people around, this is the one. I started at 6:30 am on Saturday and finished around 9:30. I was the only one on the trail until I passed two groups of two near the beginning on my way back. I broke every spiderweb haha.

A few tips:
Take the Espinoza Trail, but when you reach an open area with a sign, go right! It will say no outlet, but that's the way. You will see pine trees immediately on that trail. Follow this until you reach another semi-open area. You will see a faded birds of prey sign, go straight there for Corte Madera.

I should have worn pants, my legs got scratched up from the narrow trail with impeding weeds/plants. There was so poison oak along the beginning of the trail, but I did not run against it and came out unscathed.

Breath-taking views from every spot. Native trees, shrubs and plants abound. Flies are a nuisance, but you're in the wild, deal with it.

Get your parking pass at Pine Valley Store beforehand.

I hiked the trail fasted, just take water and some electrolytes. Anyone in moderate shape should be able to handle this no problem if you take proper precautions.

hiking
Thursday, June 22, 2017

A nice variety of terrain with just a few steep sections. The last half mile or so to the top is not only very scenic, the pine trees make the air smell great. The constant bugs are definitely annoying. The view at the top is great in all directions and big flat sections of rocks to rest on a while and enjoy the view before heading back. It was a total distance of 7 miles from where I parked on Corral Canyon Rd.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bring bug spray, the flies were super intense

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