El Cajon Mountain Trail

HARD 319 reviews
#1 of 2 trails in

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.

hiking
1 day ago

Killer hard hike! Gorgeous, strenuous, but worth every step! Consistently either going up or down steep grade, so be ready for some serious cardio! Start early to avoid heat and people. Lots of wildflowers right now too!

1 day ago

4 days ago

5 days ago

hiking
7 days ago

9 days ago

Awesome. Hard but easily doable if you're fit. Did it in 5 hours.

9 days ago

11 days ago

11 days ago

hiking
13 days ago

15 days ago

hiking
15 days ago

This hike kicked my butt but i made it to the top. The view is definitely worth it.

hiking
16 days ago

This is a very strenuous hike, but worth it if you're in good shape and want a challenge. I've done it three times and have finished in just over 4 hours. BEWARE, however, on my most recent trip there my car was parked alongside Wildcat Canyon Road and when I got back at the end of our hike it had been broken into (window shattered). I had nothing of value in the car (they did take my registration card and appeared to be looking for a hidden car key.) No other cars around mine appeared to have been broken into so beware that this is a risk and definitely leave nothing of value!

hiking
20 days ago

Hardest trail in SD so far. Took 6 hours out and back. Encountered 3 steep mountain to reach El Capitan reserve. I consumed 4 big bottles of water. Spectacular views on the top. Finally saw a rattlesnake slithering about on my way back. This trail needs s lot of endurance, leg strength and balance! I'm glad I did it for my bucket list.

21 days ago

hiking
22 days ago

hiking
23 days ago

Tough without many rest breaks, but worth it for the views. I definitely agree to bring lots of water and do this on a cooler day.

hiking
23 days ago

hiking
25 days ago

hiking
27 days ago

This is a good one!