El Cajon Mountain Trail

HARD 457 reviews
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El Cajon Mountain Trail is a 11.1 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.

11.1 miles
3533 feet
Out & Back

dog friendly



mountain biking

nature trips

rock climbing

trail running




wild flowers





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.

2 hours ago

This hike is perfect for pushing yourself. There is no escaping the uphill because it is both ways. I saw a rattlesnake so keep your eye out.

2 days ago

9 days ago

This hike is not for the beginner and This hike is NOT kid friendly. I’ve always read other peoples reviews of hikes saying how hard the hike is and there is always that one person who says the hike is easy. You won’t find that person saying that about this hike. This hike will test you. I’m not kidding when I say it’s up hill both ways. Bring a lot of water and food. I went through 3 liters and it wasn’t very hot out. Take breaks and enjoy views. The last 1/4 mile to the main peak is brutal and rewarding.

10 days ago

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17 days ago

Definitely the best challenging hike in San Diego! You have to go to Borrego for anything more challenging! This is our training grounds for the JMT and so many other trips we take annually!!!

18 days ago

20 days ago

The trail lived up to its reputation. Quite the challenge. Our legs were weak by the time we hit El Cajon Peak. Didn’t have the energy to cross to El Cap Peak in the same trip. Now we must return for another 12 miles to cross them both off of the list. The way back is only challenging because of all of the uphill the first 6 miles. Trekking poles encouraged, especially for coming back down the steeper hills. Went trough almost 4 liters of water, and some electrolytes.

22 days ago

12 miles and 4000' elevation is quite the challenge. It is absolutely just as hard to get back as it is to reach the summit. Definitely recommend poles. All in all, took my group about 5:40 to complete.

24 days ago

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26 days ago

This is a great training hike. Challenging and tough!

27 days ago

This hike is so tough but fantastic.

28 days ago

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