El Cajon Mountain Trail

HARD 372 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.

DISTANCE
11.1 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
3766 feet
ROUTE TYPE
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
3 days ago

hiking
3 days ago

hiking
6 days ago

excellent workout, extremely hard hike. we went very early and on the way back my dog almost couldn't finish. Bring lots and lots of water.

hiking
9 days ago

Super rough hike. Bring plenty of water and start early. I think I'll only be doing this hike in the cooler months.

trail running
13 days ago

Excellent trail with beautiful views. Hike is strenuous and should be done as early as possible during summertime. Recommend a minimum of 3L of water if you plan on completing the hike. As mentioned by others, the trail parking area opens at 8am, but you can park by the street if you arrive earlier (which I recommend).

Be mindful of wildlife on the trail, I encountered a Speckled Rattlesnake while running, luckily he warned me of his presence so I was able to avoid him. The snakes will not attack unless provoked, so do not attempt to relocate or harm them.

Only hikers/runners with some experience and knowledge of their own abilities should attempt to reach the peak. If you have any question regarding your health and fitness, do not attempt the hike, if you require rescue you are straining local resources, try something easier.

hiking
17 days ago

21 days ago

hiking
24 days ago

hiking
26 days ago

27 days ago

hiking
1 month ago

hiking
1 month ago

This hike is tough, even for experienced hikers. Upside: Good climbing and an overall challenging trail- the kind I've been looking for since moving back to SD. Downside: more crowded than I expected or like, but it's because everyone needs to start within the early a.m. window.

Recommend this hike for those looking for a more challenging trek to push yourself/test your stamina, but there are some things worth noting, most of which are mentioned in other reviews:
- Do start early. I left the parking area between 7:30 and 8 am but really should have started by 6 am in hindsight. I was concerned about hikers I saw still heading out when I was on the return; I hope they weren't planning to go the whole way out and back in the afternoon heat.
- I wouldn't recommend doing this in the summer, or any time we have hot weather. There's no shade and the east county heat blazes - not the type of conditions you want for this type of repeated climbing and descending. I'll wait until November or December before doing it again.
- Heed the advice to take more water than you think. I did, and took 4.5 liters. I didn't run out but I did use it all, though think I probably should have drank more given I didn't have to pee once over 7 hours. A group near me each had 3 liter camel backs and when I saw them on the return, they had been out of water for some time and it didn't look fun. (I cursed the extra weight on my back during the first few hours of climbing but so glad I had it, especially in the the last 3 miles of the return.)
- Carb up, no question
- The flys up top were horrible. Even max deet doesn't work on them for some reason. I was bit by horseflies 2x but more so driven out of my mind by the swarming. I'll only go again when we have wind/less sun. they were that bad, at least for me (and bugs have to be extreme for me to even care)
- Also, others have mentioned car break ins. There were two piles of freshly broken car window glass where cars are parked on the side of the road, so it's clearly still an issue.

Finally, Modern Hiker has a really informative post on this hike. It's worth a read if you want more info on what to expect: https://modernhiker.com/hike/hike-el-cajon-mountain

1 month ago

1 month ago

epic

hiking
1 month ago

trail running
1 month ago

hiking
1 month ago

Definitely start early, like 6-7am. You might even be above the clouds for part of the hike. Don't psych yourself out with the mile markers, but be humble and know when to stop. It's an up and down hike that is hard on the feet. Once you get to the top, you still have a deceivingly long climb to the summit, but find some shade up there and relax. Like everyone says, you can't have enough water.

hiking
1 month ago

Hiked over memorial day, was a great hike, that challenges your stamina. Its a long one with a lot of elevation gain. Its going to get hot over the summer as it was already getting pretty hot while we hiked. Trail is in fair condition, as you get higher up it breaks down a bit but very well marked. If you're ready for the challenge, go for it, don't forget to bring extra water and some food.

1 month ago

We did this hike on 6/12/17 and it was about 78 degrees and breezy. I have done longer hikes before but I definitely think the elevation changes made this one a challenge. It was pretty much uphill or downhill the whole time without much flat ground. I think this would be doable for anyone in good shape if the weather is decent and you are prepared with water, snacks, and good shoes. I went with running shoes and did okay but it was quite slippery at times so I agree with other comments that hiking boots and maybe even hiking sticks could help. The path was very well marked which I appreciated. The views were very pretty. We finished the round trip in a little under 6 hours including breaks.

1 month ago