El Cajon Mountain Trail

HARD 697 reviews

El Cajon Mountain Trail is a 10.6 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Lakeside, California that features a river and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

DISTANCE
10.6 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
3,576 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

no shade

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
2 days ago

September 18th: This hike was gorgeous and challenging. I underestimated it and took only 2 liters of water. I ran out about halfway back to my car, and by the time I got fluids I was very ill. I want to reiterate a previous poster's suggestion - take at least 3 liters!! Amazing views at the top, well worth the hard work.

8 days ago

not for beginners

20 days ago

love this trail! Quiet, not crowded at all. Good runnable trail for race prep!

hiking
1 month ago

Love this HARD hike but FYI the trail is closed for August due to high heat! We showed up at 6 am with tons of water and found closed sign and had to divert to mission trails. Def hike when cooler!

1 month ago

So a buddy and I did this hike on 8/6/18. Not a good idea. Do not do this hike in the summer. Wait until it cools off. There is very little shade to stop in. And please for the love of all that is holy, bring more than 3L of water. You will run out. You will be miserable. The hike itself is intense. A lot of big hills, the top has a 360 degree view of nothing but mountains. The last few hundred feet are tough. Small trail through big rocks.

1 month ago

This hike is legit and very steep and tiring. Bring tons of water and be prepared for uphill both ways. We did it on 7/21/18 and one of our good Freinds had a heat stroke and was life flighted out. Be prepared.

hiking
1 month ago

This is a late review but I hiked this trail back in the winter when the temps weren't too bad. I started the hike super early before the sun came up. It took a couple hours to finish the hike but its not too bad if you start early and do it before it gets too hot. I brought a gallon of water and pretty much drank the whole thing. I saw one girl practically having a heat stroke when I was hiking back toward the car. Her friends were pouring water on her head. I probably wouldn't recommend this hike unless you are in decent shape.

hiking
2 months ago

A tough one. Specially in the summer time. Took 5:50” heat definitely a factor. 4.5lt, barely enough. Nice views up top. Save energy for the return leg since you will find steep hills. Would recommend trekking poles and an early start.

hiking
2 months ago

Tough as it's made out to be. I hiked it when it was a high of 75 and felt like it was 90. I went through 4 liters of water and could have used more.

hiking
2 months ago

great hike for training for whitey. beautiful day...

hiking
2 months ago

One of my favorite hikes in SD and also one of the hardest I've done! Great training climb for those working towards higher peaks and distances.

hiking
2 months ago

Wow, this hike was tough! Very fun and challenging. We are still talking about it a year and a half later.

2 months ago

This was definitely a challenging hike! Would recommend starting as early as possible. We started at 8am and finished just shy of 4 hours and it was really hot! I had about 2L in my hydration pack and finished every ounce! It was an incredible accomplishment to summit, but you’ll definitely work for it!

hiking
2 months ago

Great hike and challenging. My Fitbit and the mileage on the trail didn’t coordinate and I clocked almost 13 miles. Definitely longer than 10.6. I found the 2nd hill around the 3 mile marker the most challenging.
Kudos to the guy who was jogging up! Are you kidding me?!?
Great hike and look forward to it again

trail running
3 months ago

This is a beautiful trail, and gorgeous country. I've run/hiked it three times. The trail is quite steep and rutted in some places. Using trekking poles helps with the step terrain and uneven surface. I like to run with one trekking pole. Wear a big hat, and carry at least three liters of water.

hiking
3 months ago

The toughest hike I have done in San Diego. Be prepared for steep inclines. I wish I had brought my trekking poles for the way down. I went in April with the temperature in the mid 70s and started at 8am. I brought 4 liters of water and it was just right. I can't imagine doing this hike in the summer time. Not enough shade to cool yourself off.

3 months ago

Great hike, fantastic views and I saw no snakes

hiking
3 months ago

This hike is the most difficult hike I've done so far. The view is nice, but there are easier hikes in the area with better views if that's what you're after. I would recommend this hike for the challenge, but keep in mind that it gets more difficult the farther you go. Be smart about your choices. Wear the right clothes, bring enough water (more on that below), and be generally prepared.

There are mile-markers along the trail to inform you of your current distance. It will likely take between 4-6 hours to complete the entire trek. It takes roughly the same time to reach the summit as it does to return to the trailhead. Most of the trail is void of shade. Beware of rattlesnakes.

At the parking lot there is a sign with recommended water, but I would recommend slightly more. The first time I went up with 3 liters and was down to .75 liters when I reached the top. I would recommend having at ~4 liters depending on the weather.

hiking
3 months ago

Did this with 30lbs on a 90 degree day, and I must say, this was a fairly challenging hike. There are a lot of steep inclines and declines, and very little shade to regulate your body temperature. I was fortunate to have hiked in with extra water, as I used 20% of it to cool myself down.

As challenging as this hike was for me, I found it be rewarding, and it provided me with a sense of accomplishment. If you’re preparing for a backpacking trip, this will certainly help boost your endurance. You also get a lot of epic views of the surrounding areas, but as far as vegetation goes, it’s a bit bleak.

As far as wild life is concerned, I saw a few condors, hawks and ravens. Oh! ... and beware of rattlesnakes! I saw two on this trial, and one California king. There is also a plethora of lizards scurrying around.

hiking
3 months ago

Strenuous hike, very hot! I brought 3L of water and ran out with 3 miles left back to the trailhead. Fortunately 2 guys better prepared hooked me up with another liter. One rattlesnake crossing the trail. Go early, I didn’t start until 8am. Water, water, water!!!

3 months ago

It’s really Hard I try tree times finally today I made the 10 millas. I get in love is a bountiful view..

3 months ago

Challenging. I felt prepared and that was still a killer hike all the way to the last step. Loved it.

3 months ago

Hardest hike I’ve done so far!!!!

3 months ago

This is a HARD hike. It took me over 4 hours there and back. There are just as many hills coming back as there were going to the top. Brutal, but just awesome. Unfortunately when I hiked it, the entire mountain was covered in fog so I couldn’t see any of the views

hiking
3 months ago

In a word, gorgeous. Hardest hike I've done but the views were worth it. The hills are no joke and that last half mile straight up the mountain was brutal. Definitely take poles. We went the day after a rain and felt like we hit the jackpot on the timing. It seems like it could be pretty slippery when it is dry. Our group of eight finished this in about six and a half hours with plenty of breaks and a long stop at the top for a snack.

3 months ago

If you get there before 8 am, park off the road/highway. Being extra water. There are a ton of ups and downs which make the hike back pretty difficult. Apparently the old mines are only 50 yards from the trail. Never did, but wish I had just checked it out. Took me a little over 5 hours. Challenging hike with only ok views.

hiking
3 months ago

This tops 3 sister falls on difficulty! Hardest hike I’ve done! Between 3-4 miles. Take the 40 yard off course trail and see the old gold mines. They are only about 8 feet deep. But they are great for a nice lil break or to cook your MRE

4 months ago

This hike is hard! That ain't no lie!!! One note, gates to parking dont open until 8, so street parking if you are are an early bird.

4 months ago

This hike was a KILLER leg workout. Def recommend good hiking shoes but amazing hike overall!

4 months ago

Wow not for beginners, take plenty of water . Atleast 3liter . I drank that and wanted more . It was only 71 out. Anyhow no much to see on trail other then wildflowers, and surrounded hills. Once at summit nice views of surrounding mountains. We missed out June gloom came early. Anyhow great hike its about 11 miles round trip. If you get to summit and think it was easy just wait for trek back. You will see . Wear comfortable clothes . Start early . Bring extra water . Have fun be safe......

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