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El Cajon Mountain Trail is a 11.3 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Lakeside, California that features a river and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking, running, nature trips, and mountain biking and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Length 11.3 mi Elevation gain 3,576 ft Route type Out & Back

Dog friendly

Hiking

Mountain biking

Nature trips

Running

River

Views

Wild flowers

Wildlife

Bugs

Rocky

Scramble

Washed out

No shade

Description
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Facilities
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Tips
Getting There

Note: As of April, 2020 this trail is still open. All trails within El Capitan County Preserve are open. Parking and staging areas are closed. 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.

Summer hours for parking are 7-7 winter is 7-5, restrooms located at trailhead a half mile up blue sky ranch road.

http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/parks/openspace/El_Capitan.html

This is a big hike with a lot of ups and down including some steep sections. Take plenty of water as normally it is very arid and hot in this area.  

I-8 E from San Diego to Hwy 67 N to Willow East-bound to Wildcat canyon road north-bound. 3.2 miles wile be a parking lot on the corner of Blue sky ranch road. Park there and walk. Google earth images will suffice for trail directions.

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Reviews (1204)
Photos (1328)
Recordings (952)
Completed (2616)
Amanda Kathleen
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarMon Jul 13 2020
HikingBugsNo shadeOff trailOver grownRocky

This trail is a challenge. Great views at sunrise. Quite buggy throughout. Bring plenty of water—64oz and a liquid IV was NOT enough. Took 6 hours total from the street, as we started at 4:30AM and the parking lot was closed. I don’t recommend starting any later than 4-5AM on high heat days. Hiking shoes and poles are recommended for good reason. Barely any shade on the trail back, and it continues to be challenging because there are 3 saddles. Not a beginner hike!

Nicole Mitchell
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarSat Jul 11 2020
No shadeScramble

A great spot for a solid workout. I really enjoyed this hike the 3 times I've gone so far. Pros: uncrowded, beautiful views, spring wildflowers, excellent workout, dog friendly, free parking. Cons: long, steep, requires some rock scrambling (pretty tame, but may deter some people), terrain on trail can be sketchy in steep areas with silty, slippery feel, no shade, continuous hills out and back. This is not for beginners.

Sebastian Perez Godinez
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jul 11 2020
No shade

Start early in the morning.. bring alot of water. Started at 8am and finished at 12pm.

Arrien Dismuke
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jul 11 2020
Hiking

I started at 10:30am mistake number one because that heat was unbearable at some points! I brought only 57 ounces of water which was mistake number two! You need at least 100ounces!!! Up and down and it gradually got steeper as you elevate towards the top. The way back was about just as painful. I stopped to rest about 25 times. No shade. If iron or cowels is something you struggle with don’t do this one! Good luck!

George Albertson
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jul 04 2020
HikingNo shade

dank hike, but uphill both ways! bring loads of water!

Manmeet Khurana
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarFri Jul 03 2020
HikingNo shadeRocky

Did el cajon mountain hike today for the first time. Total distance is around 12 miles with appropriately 3600ft elevation gain. We started around 4.30am to avoid Sun as much as possible and started with slow and steady pace. Reached summit around 7.15. Was a nice clear view up there. Rested for sometime, started the return path around 8 and reached back to trailhead around 10.30. Parking opens at 8am, but there's plenty of curbside parking option if you arrive before that. Try to start as early as possible, because the lack of proper shades on most part of the trail makes it really hard to bear with Sun

W M
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarFri Jul 03 2020
HikingNo shade

Not a beginner hike, but the views and bragging rights are worth it if you’re up for it. Highly recommend doing this hike with good hiking shoes, poles, snacks, and at minimum 3L of water. Started at 8am and finished at 2, with a good 20 min break at the summit to refuel. We felt good at the top but then started to feel how beat up we were about halfway down to the car. It was hot on the way back down midday so definitely recommend an early start. We saw about five people going up after 1pm on our way back down which was insane (85+ degrees, minimal water, no poles). Don’t take this hike lightly.

Charles Collins
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarThu Jul 02 2020
Hiking

Early morning hike featuring fog and clouds! Still a great work out! Completed round trip in 4:00 hours!

View Charles's Recording
Jennifer Simpson
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMon Jun 29 2020
Hiking

Tough trail with very steep sections that made me question my physical fitness level and my sanity! The parking lot says it’s open 8am-7:30pm but the gate was open when I parked along the road at 6:30am. I still parked on the road because I wasn’t sure if I’d get in trouble for going into the lot early. Thank god I started early and there was cloud coverage/low fog. The sun started to poke through the clouds just as I got to the last 1/2 mile at the top. Definitely smart to start early to avoid heat stroke! Really this was a tough hike! Both directions had serious inclines so you really don’t get a break at all. Shoes with good tread are a must as the downhills are a bit slick. Water! Bring more than you think you’ll need! There’s a good sign at the beginning with recommended amounts based on how far you hike.

Hyungyu Lim
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 27 2020
Hiking

It was extra strenuous for me. Bring at least 2 L (a half gallon) for hiking. I could have died if I didn’t meet an angel who gave me a gigantic bottle of Powerade. So many stiff up & down hills. Took 6 hours (including stopping by El Capitan) for the round trip.

Darren Boyd
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarThu Jun 25 2020
Hiking

By far one of the most challenging. Lots of ups and downs. Good one fur sure. !

Lisa W
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMon Jun 22 2020
HikingRockyWashed out

Difficulty: Hard Mileage: ~11.5 Pets: Dog friendly View: Mountains, San Diego What to bring: At least 3 liters, snacks, hat, trekking poles Parking: Lot, opens at 8am or street parking if come earlier Fee: No fee Time: ~5-6 hours Start early! Or burn in the sun, the sun is strong. We started at 6:30, park on Wildcat Canyon Road. Parking lot doesn’t open until 8am. Street parking is ok. Thank god it was overcast. We didn’t hit any sun until we ascended to the peak. Hike day 6/20. Bring lots of water and snacks. The hike is a gnarly one. Lots of steep ascends. The last mile is tough. It’s definitely difficult, and it’s because you go up then down then up then down then back up. If you hate potato chip then you’ll hate this 10x more. And if you can’t do potato chip don’t do this. It’s a trainer hike to the big boys like San Jacinto or Baldy. Glad I did it!

Enrique Anciso
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarMon Jun 22 2020

the trail is easy to follow and the gain is exactly what I wanted out of the mountain. You climb, climb, then climb some more all the way to the top. i would recommend starting early, i started at 5 am, parked in the dirt since the lot was closed. after 8 am the trail gets busy. The way down from ECM is nice because it is mostly down hil; I jogged the down hill and was able to finish at a good time. I will do it again. the at blue sky ranch kept chirping.

Katie Baarck
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarMon Jun 22 2020
Hiking

Take a lot of water and start early to avoid the heat!

Alexander Losikov
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarGray StarGray StarSun Jun 21 2020
Hiking

Just a good trail, nothing special.

View Alexander's Recording
Rajesh Kulkarni
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 20 2020
HikingOff trail
View Rajesh's Recording
Mike Morales
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarThu Jun 18 2020

excellent hike . the wife joined me and we set out on at 930 am. the conditions were warm 80° with no cloud coverage or shade. bring a rimmed hat, sunglasses, 3 liters of water , snacks and your trekking poles and you're set for a challenging , vigorous and extremely rewarding local hike . we made it to the halfway mark at 1115am ( steady pace ) . summited around 1pm. the summit was very rocky with green posts to indicate the direction to the summit ( the trail begins to break with slabs of granite in between). ate lunch and made our way down reaching the parking lot at about 5 pm. plan for your whole day! happy trails !

Zena Begin
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarThu Jun 18 2020
No shadeRockyScramble

Definitely hills on hump day. We were lucky the weather was overcast the first 4 1/2 miles then the sun broke through to the top and back to the parking lot. This is not a hike to do in warm weather. The trail is all hills up and down to the peak. Just when you think your there, you have nearly a mile to get to the peak. The signs and trail markers are very helpful to keep you on the trail.

Joshua Hagquist
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarWed Jun 17 2020
HikingNo shadeRocky

Really tough hike but the views throughout are epic. Leave early in the morning if you’re going to hike this route. I parked on the dirt shoulder along the road and started at 6:20am. The overcast cool temps kept things nice until the 5 mile mark. The hike up to the summit was easy to navigate, and the views from the top are unbeatable. Wear sunblock, bring hiking poles, and lots of water and snacks.

Steph Beever
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarSun Jun 07 2020
HikingNo shade
View Steph's Recording
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