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.

Distance: 11.3 miles Elevation Gain: 3,576 feet Route Type: Out & Back

dog friendly

hiking

mountain biking

nature trips

running

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

bugs

rocky

scramble

washed out

no shade

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.

hiking
no shade
11 hours ago

hiking
no shade
2 days ago

I have done this hike a few times and last completed it on 5/13. I highly recommend starting before sunrise at this time of year because it warms up fast. Be prepared for inclines on the way in and out. Take your trekking poles, lots of water, and sun protection. :) Happy trails!

hiking
3 days ago

Did today. Tough as always. Bring lots of water. Most people that I have ever seen in the trail and tough to distance in narrow parts.

hiking
bugs
no shade
rocky
7 days ago

The hike is for sure a HARD trail. Made it to the halfway point to the top (3 ish miles) and partner had to turn around. Just in that 6.6ish hike, I drank about 140oz of water. You need that much I promise. The flies are really bad, so have a hat. Also start really to beat the heat. The parking lot opens at 0800 but you can park on the road. Beautiful view, will be coming back to conquer Not your beginner hike by any means!

hiking
7 days ago

Great views, make sure to bring enough water.

hiking
bugs
no shade
rocky
7 days ago

Great elevation gain for Memorial Day. Start early. It was very warm at 11am start time. There is absolutely no shade the entire time. Brought 3L of water. Disappointed to see so many overheating dogs - leave them at home! Added El Capitan on the way down but other than additional mileage it was anticlimactic. 5 hours 15 total. Why limit the capacity of the parking area when there is unlimited parking on the street?

hiking
no shade
rocky
washed out
8 days ago

Please keep in mind that it gets VERY hot especially this time of the year. It took us 6.5 hours all the way to the top and back. The hardest and most strenuous hike I’ve ever done. Also please consider not going alone. I’ve heard some stories of people dying there...

hiking
bugs
rocky
washed out
10 days ago

running
17 days ago

Good for trail running and hiking. But take lots of water! Took me about 3 hours and 11 min there & back and I had walked like the last 2 miles because I ran out of water. IG: trail_goat

hiking
20 days ago

Amazing hike.... kinda kicked our butts. Haha. we did it though. Lots of uphill both ways

hiking
no shade
rocky
24 days ago

hiking
29 days ago

This was a hard trail! Definitely bring lots of water and load up on carbs! If your looking for a challenge, this hike is for you! Came across a rattle snake, be alert.

awesome day today made it to the peak talked to some friendly awesome people. challenging and awesome rolled together

hiking
scramble
1 month ago

5/2: They partially opened the parking lot today! There was also a box of cloth face covers for passing fellow hikers. Combined El Cajon Mountain summit + El Capitan summit + a quick visit to Old Mines = 12 miles

Una excelente área para todos aquellos que nos gusta el senderismo. Yo fui en Mayo 2 de este año 2020. Recomiendo que se vayan desde muy temprano si es posible a las 5:30 de la mañana porque toma más o menos 3 horas con 45 minutos llevarlo acabo completamente. Y por supuesto suficiente agua y un gorra para el calor. También muy importante si es posible bajar una aplicación en sus teléfonos que es relacionada con los caminos que se deben de tomar para ir con más seguridad. Les recomiendo una aplicación que se llama Alltrails

One of the hardest trails, got here on May 2 You need water as much as you can it’s fun but long

Old Mines visit

Great workout.

hiking
no shade
rocky
scramble
washed out
1 month ago

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