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Hiking San Diego

Corte Madera Mountain Hike

  • 7 miles - Moderate Effort
  • Or: 11 miles with Los Pinos Fire Tower
  • 3-4 Hours (Total)
  • Expect to See Some Other Hikers
  • 1,600 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 4,657 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

Nestled in San Diego's backcountry is Corte Madera, a 500-foot sheer cliff face known as “San Diego's Half Dome.” In this guide, I'll show you how to hike to the top: no cables or scary parts included. I'll also include a side trip to Los Pinos Mountain, home to a fire tower since 1925. The hike has some uphill sections but is doable for almost everyone.

In this Guide:
  • Video and Turn By Turn Directions
  • How to Get to the Trailhead
  • What to Watch Out For & Insider Tips

Where is Corte Madera Mountain?

There's no official parking lot for Corte Madera Mountain, but there is a sand parking lot on the side of the road. The drive there includes some small roads will potholes, but it is doable by all cars. Expect to go slower in the last couple of miles to the trailhead.

The location of the trailhead is in Campo, CA, at 32.736174, -116.555995, and there is a Google Maps address that has popped up too. You'll see signs for the nearby Coral Canyon OHV Area.

Corte Madera Hike Location
You can find the Corte Madera trailhead about an hour east of San Diego, just south of I8.
Corte Madera Parking Lot
There's a small sandy parking area next to the start of the hike. There are no facilities, and no parking pass is required.

Gear For the Hike

Corte Madera Overgrown Trail
Wear long sleeves and long pants if you have a problem with shrubs brushing against you. There are only some short sections like this, and most folks will be fine with whatever they usually wear.

If you're unfamiliar with the San Diego backcountry, summers can be scorching, and winters can be below freezing. The best season for this hike is in the winter when the temperatures are cooler, and the plants are green.

Corte Madera is a backcountry hike, and you should pack the essentials. Generally, 2L of water works well, as do trail runners and trekking poles. Cellular service is sketchy, so bring your satellite communicator.

Gear That I Love Right Now

Nothing is sponsored or promoted, just the actual gear that I use.

Gear Inreach Mini 2
Garmin InReach Mini 2Hit SOS or just tell loved ones that you're running late where your cell phone has no service.  Review here.
Gear Topo Pursuit
Topo Pursuit 2The best hiking footwear I've ever owned. No blisters. Get them wet, they dry quickly. Lots of cushion and comfort.
Gear Epix Pro Up Ahead
Garmin Epix ProHiking maps, route info, and fitness stats on my wrist. Review here.
Hikelite 26 Gear
Osprey Hikelite 26Lightweight, carries all your gear, and your back doesn't get sweaty. Oh yea, it's also one of the most inexpensive packs you can get.

Check out the complete list here. ( Updated July 2024)

Corte Madera Trail Maps

In this guide, I'll show you how to hike to Corte Madera and then add a side trip to the fire tower at Los Pinos Mountain. Including the Los Pinos extension adds about 4 miles to the total distance.

Click Here To View

Use This Map:
View in CalTopo | PDF Map | GPX File

Elevation Profile

Corte Madera Elevation Profile
This is an uphill hike, but the gradient is easy for most of the way. There are some short steeper sections, but nothing too extreme.

3D Map

Corte Madera 3d Map
The orange line is the out-and-back route to Corte Madera. The purple line is the optional extension to Los Pinos Mountain, easily done on the hike back down from Corte Madera.

Corte Madera Hike Directions

Corte Madera Hike Directions 2
Look for the trailhead across the street from the parking area.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 3
There's an interpretive display about nesting raptors on the cliff face of Corte Madera.

The cliff face of Corte Madera can be closed during nesting season. This mainly affects climbers, but it's worth checking the closure alerts before you leave just in case.

Corte Madera Hike Directions 1
Just past the sign the trail starts up the road to the left.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 4
The start of the hike, up Kernan Road, is mellow and shaded by huge oaks.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 5
After about 0.5 miles, look for the left turn for the Espinosa Trail.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 6
The Espinosa Trail is a gradual single track.
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At about 1.5 miles you'll come to the big intersection. You'll get your first postcard-perfect views of Corte Madera here. Make the right up Los Pinos Road.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 8
Pass the Coulter Pines up Los Pinos Road.

Corte Madera means "woodyard." The early Spanish settlers used this area to fell lumber to build the Mission San Diego. As you start hiking up Los Pinos road, you'll start to see the Coutler Pines that they used.

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When you get to the large clearing, the smaller trail to Corte Madera is off to the left.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 10
There's another interpretive display about raptor nesting as you start hiking the single track.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 11
This section has the toughest uphills of the whole hike.
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At the end of the uphill you'll see the famous kissing boulders.
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After the kissing boulders you have a rolling section with lots of ups and downs.

As you approach the summit you'll see several spots used by others for backcountry camping. If you'd like to camp, you'll need to get a backcountry permit.

Corte Madera Hike Directions 14
Here you are at the summit area!
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If you're lucky the the sign and summit register will be here. Unfortunately people steal these sometimes.
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In the distance you'll see quite a few peaks, including Tecate Peak, on the border with Mexico. The peaks past Tecate are in Mexico.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 16
And the closest peak is Los Pinos Mountain. I'll show you how to get there next.

From the summit, head back down to the big intersection by the Espinosa Trail and Los Pinos Road.

Corte Madera Hike Directions 18
If you want to finish up the hike, simply make the left and go back down the Espinosa Trail the way you came up. Otherwise, take the road straight.

Los Pinos Mountain Hike Extension

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Hike up the fire road, which offers great views of Corte Madera.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 20
At about 0.8 miles past the last junction, make the left and continue uphill.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 21
Continue uphill on the fire road, passing other trails joining in and lots of Coulter Pines.
Corte Madera Hike Directions 22
Hike straight through the white gate and continue uphill.
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Pass through the final gate by the summit. The summit is open to foot traffic.
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And here you are on Los Pinos Mountain! Usually the tower is open to visitors, and you can explore the summit area, enjoying the views.

From Los Pinos Mountain, just go back the way you came to the Espinosa Trail and then back down that to the start.

Cris Hazzard Corte Madera
That's it everyone! I hope you enjoyed the hike!

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.