Scouting a Six-Pack of Peaks on the ‘Tour de San Diego’

San Diego may not have the tallest peaks in SoCal, but it has some beautiful, challenging hikes and delightful biodiversity.

The past two weeks, we took the Six-Pack of Peaks Disco out on the road to check out some of the trails and meet up with some friends — socially distanced, of course — along the way.

We planned a road trip with camping stops along the way to minimize COVID-19 risks. We loaded our gear and our two dogs, Lucy and Farley and headed out.

Staging for San Diego, many of the state campgrounds remained closed due to fire hazards. We ended up spending a night sleeping in a vineyard in Temecula.

Saturday, we headed to the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation to hike the highest mountain in San Diego County: Hot Springs Mountain.

The trail is mostly double-track jeep trail. While I normally prefer single-track, the views and ever-changing scenery made this hike beautiful. When you reach the dilapidated (and closed) lookout tower, head across the turnaround and follow the flags which mark the short, brushy single-track to the true summit, which requires an optional boulder scramble to reach the mark.

Joining us on this hike were Will and Shannon, aka @TheTacoSlayers. Will even whipped up some shredded beef tacos at the top!

Sunday morning I headed for a solo hike up Cuyamaca Mountain. This mountain lies within the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. As with all state parks in California, dogs are only allowed on paved trails, and I wanted to explore the Azalea Glen Loop.

This is a scenic, often-rocky single track that joins the paved fire road for the final 0.4 miles to the summit. The weather was cool and damp — a ‘driving' sprinkle that ultimately soaked me even through my Gore-tex shell.

The views at the top were shrouded in clouds, cold, windy and wet. The last 0.4 miles to the summit has been closed much of this year, but the road is complete and was open on the Sunday I hiked.

Normally I'd linger at the summit, but the cold and damp motivated me to hustle down the quick and short way — taking the fire road all the way back through Paso Picacho Campground to the trailhead.

Monday morning, I hit the so-called “hardest hike in San Diego” — El Cajon Mountain. This is roller-coaster route has wonderful views, and earns the reputation for being uphill both ways. The last push to the summit requires carefully following green trail markers to navigate through the thick brush, and a boulder scramble to the true summit.

Tuesday morning, we headed to Mount Woodson. Or Woodson Mountain. It depends on who you ask. Most know it better as “Potato Chip Rock”, even though that namesake feature is a bit downhill of the actual antennae-covered summit.

For this hike, Joan, the dogs and I were joined by 100 Peaks finisher Chris Griffith and Derek (Mr. @100Peaks) Loranger. The weather was cool, but this trail still heated up due to the lack of shade and the cloudless day. Needless to say, our burgers and libations at Burger Bench in Escondido were well-earned.

We hit four peaks in four days, but now we had a trek back.

We spent a day in San Clemente. Every Wednesday for a few years I led a group hike on the Roller Coaster Ridge Trail. Several SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challengers joined me for an encore hike to the flag pole, including Tara (and Meka), Misha and one of our ambassadors, CeCe. The sunset was beautiful and the hike was like a stroll down memory lane.

Working our way up the coast we had an invitation from our friend Curt (who hiked the Theodore Solomons Trail with me) to join him at Gaviota State Beach, where he was a host. No hiking, just a stroll on the beach and good times around the campfire.

Our original plan included hikes in NorCal, including Mt Saint Helena and Berryessa Peak, but the devastating wildfires closed both of those peaks. That didn't stop us from continuing up Highway 101 to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The beach was beautiful, but the hike in Fern Canyon was the real highlight.

We're home and grateful for a safe journey, being able to explore peaks in the San Diego area, and meeting up (safely with social distancing) with friends along the way.

And as an added bonus? I completed the 2020 SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. Now to write up some trail guides…

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  1. I did 6 pack of SoCal last year. It was fantastic. I’ve done the ones that you mentioned. I agree El Cajon is the toughest. Monserate in Fallbrook is a short hike but very steep the first 1.5 miles I believe around 1100 feet then it’s a breeze.

  2. Great blog! Thanks ! Yes, El Cajon Mountain is the bragging rights of San Diegans. Well done! I am a new member here and grateful to be a part of the hiking community. Headed to the bottom of Grand Canyon, Phantom Ranch and Clear Creek in January. Training consists of the six peaks challenge! Thanks again for everything!

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