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Goat Canyon Trestle Hike

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Goat Canyon Trestle
  • Where to Park for the Goat Canyon Trestle Hike
  • Navigating the Tunnels & Bridges
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance16.5 miles (26.6 km)
Hike Time6-8 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)1,200 feet (366m)
Highest Elevation2,720 feet (829m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Private Property by Anza Borego State Park
Park Phone760-767-5311

The Goat Canyon Trestle hike is iconic: a meandering trail along what is dubbed “the impossible railroad,” through the spectacular Carrizo Canyon, and finally to the world’s largest wooden trestle bridge, hidden miles away from civilization. Although not offering any big mountain climb, it is a strenuous hike through a harsh desert environment, with over 16 miles of distance to cover.

The hike described in this guide is on private property, which you may not be authorized to use. Please hike safely and obey all laws and guidelines set out by the property owners and law enforcement. If you are not allowed to be on this private property, the information presented here is for entertainment purposes only.

How to Get to the Goat Canyon Trestle

There are several routes to reach the Goat Canyon Trestle, all of which involve walking or biking, and all accessing private property at some point. This route to Goat Canyon Trestle starts in Jacumba Hot Springs, and is generally considered the most popular way to access the trestle, whether by hikers or by mountain bikes. You’ll be parking just over 2 miles north of the Mexico-US border.

Use this trailhead address:
1800 Carrizo Gorge Rd, Jacumba Hot Springs, CA 91934

There are no bathrooms or water fills at the trailhead.

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Once you exit I-8 and pass the gas station, the road to the trailhead is sand and is doable by 2wd and low-clearance vehicles.
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Look for the small parking area on the right, just before the “End County Maintained Road” sign.
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There are parking areas past the county road warning sign, but I’ve heard of people being ticketed here. The land past the sign is private property, part of the De Anza Springs Resort.
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You can also go straight and park in the “clothing-free” De Anza Springs Resort, which charges a small fee. Freedom isn’t free.

Gear For the Hike

As you’d imagine, at 16 miles, this is a “hike hike”, even if there’s not a lot of elevation change. The conditions are harsh, and aside from the tunnels, there is no protection from the elements.

Moab 2 Mall

The Best All-Around Hiking Footwear
For most hikers, a hiking shoe is the great choice, and the Moab 2 is a winner. The ventilation is great, they last forever, offer good protection, and have a solid grip. There are sizing options for everyone’s foot in this really comfortable and reliable shoe. This shoe is also a favorite of thru-hikers. The only downside is that they are a little heavy. If you are looking for something more aggressive or lighter, check out the bottom of my gear page.
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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated April 2021.

My April 2021 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Goat Canyon Trestle Trail Map

Aside from a few stretches of trail, you’ll be hiking along the railroad tracks for most of the way, so it’s very straightforward. I’ve included lots of waypoints in the map and GPX file below so that you know what to expect. And remember that your GPS won’t work in the tunnels.

Some of the tracks, bridges, and tunnels on the hike are over 100 years old. The area is prone to rockfalls and seismic activity. Extreme care needs to be taken when navigating this hike.

Click Here To View Map

Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File

If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 Smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

Elevation Profile

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike Elevation
Overall the hike heads downhill to Goat Canyon Trestle. The good news is that, aside from the detours, the path is graded for a train, which means no steep hills and an imperceptible maximum incline of under 2.2% the whole way. The sharp elevation peaks you see on this graph are incorrect – those are tunnels. The GPS can’t get an elevation from inside the tunnel, so it plots the elevation from the earth’s surface.

3D Map

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike 3d Map
After a wide-open start at Jacumba Hot Springs, you enter a Carrizo Canyon, and hike along the east side of it, generally around 500 feet above the canyon floor.

This Hike Is On Private Property

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike Private Property 2
The sliver of private property up the middle of the map is where the hike is. The railroad is on private property, while all around it is a mix of BLM and State Park land.

Let me reiterate, this hike is on private property and there are numerous “no trespassing” signs, so you should only be on the land here if you have permission. Depending on what is happening at the time with the railroad (more below in the hike brief), there may be railroad personnel along the route. If you are caught and the owners decide to press charges, you could be ticketed, fined, etc. However, there are many times that hikers pass along the route without seeing any officials and without any problem.

Hiking there has always been illegal, but it’s always been overlooked.Reena Deutsch, a UC San Diego professor who gives talks on the history of the railway

There are several other routes to Goat Canyon Trestle, all of which have their challenges. If you want to try the hike with minimizing your time hiking on private property, the route to the trestle via Mortero Palms is your best bet. Most of the hike goes through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, with 0nly the last part of the route being on private property. Know that if you do choose that route, it’s a very challenging desert overland hike with boulder scrambles and minimal navigation aids. You can read about that route in Afoot and Afield: San Diego County. I’ve done that route and didn’t feel comfortable recommending it to most hikers.

As you hike, you’ll notice lots of railroad gear and equipment. This is all private property. Taking it with you is considered theft.

Walking the Tracks

Goat Canyon Walk Or Tracks
The majority of the hike has a walkway next to the railroad tracks.

The good news is that you don’t have to walk down the middle of the railroad tracks for 16 miles, which would probably drive most people insane. The tracks have a smooth walkway alongside where you can walk as normal. Some sections are smaller and rockier, but in general, it’s always there.

As of the time that this guide was published, no trains running along this route. If you find that changes, please let me know. Theoretically there could be the odd maintenance train out there, but I believe the last one was in 2012.

Crossing Bridges

There are several bridges of varying lengths before you get to Goat Canyon Trestle. Because of the extreme conditions on this hike, the bridges are susceptible to decay from dry rot and other natural forces. Don’t assume that stepping down will be safe. Always think wisely about where you are stepping and don’t shift your weight onto a step until you know that it’s safe.

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There can be railroad ties (the wood in between the tracks) missing or badly decayed over bridges.
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Some bridges have metal grates on the side catwalk, which can also be bent or have holes in them.
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Wooden catwalks on the side seemed to be the worse of all the options, with dry rot, holes, and broken sections.
Strong Sections Of Bridge At Goat Canyon Trestle
I’ve found that the strongest sections are the wood running parallel (ladder track) and the ties right over the sides, which have wood underneath (called a stringer).

If you are going to sit on the bridge or crawl around it, I’ve read reports of wood ticks (also known as dog ticks), so heads up. I’ve never had a tick on my leg from walking over the bridges.

Navigating the Tunnels

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Here’s what a typical tunnel looks like from the inside.

There are several tunnels along the hike that you’ll have to pass through, ranging from 100 feet to 0.5 miles long. While at first, the tunnels may seem unnerving, after one or two, it’s fine. Some tunnels are blocked off, in which case I’ll show you the detour in the directions below.

Again, no trains are running, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in a tunnel with one. And because I know people will ask, there are no bats or animals that I’ve ever seen in these tunnels. They cool, dark, and a nice respite on a hot day.

Goat Canyon In Tunnel
All the tunnels have the same walkway alongside the tracks.
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Some areas have minor rockfalls that you can just walk around.
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Most tunnels are short enough to be illuminated by daylight, but having a headlamp will help in the longer ones.
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You’ll notice that every tunnel has a “walk-around” that workers used to transit a tunnel area before it was bored. Some of these side trails are very well-worn and defined (such as the ones around closed tunnels), and some probably haven’t been walked on in 100 years. In the following guide I’ll point out when to take them and when to not.
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The tunnels are all numbered by the railroad, and you can find the number spray-painted on the entrances. In this guide I’ll always refer to a tunnel by its official railroad number, not by the sequential order that they come in (which could change based on the shortcuts you take).

Goat Canyon Trestle on a Mountain Bike

You can do the route described in this guide to Goat Canyon Trestle on a mountain bike without having to carry the bike up over any scrambles or steep sections. That said, there are some extremely narrow sections and stretches that have cacti alongside, with little margin for error. Mainly this is on the detour around Tunnel 8. My advice is to just get off and walk through any really narrow sections and the bridges.

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike Directions 67
Here’s a section of trail that’s probably 8 inches across, with a 150 foot drop down to the right. Here’s what happens when you don’t make it through here. Do what is comfortable for you based on your experience level, but don’t dive-bomb this route on your first try. Some mistakes could lead to a certain bad time.

Hike History

Cariizo Valley Image 2
When you hike this route today, it looks pretty much the same as how it does in this photo from 1923, four years after the railroad opened. Photo Middlebrook Photographs of San Diego & Arizona Railway Locomotives

There’s a lot of history on the Goat Canyon Trestle hike. Let me point out the salient points for this adventure.

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

When I can get cell coverage, I’ll do a live stream from some of my hikes on Instagram. Here’s my live video from Goat Canyon Trestle. Subscribe to catch them for new hikes.

Goat Canyon Trestle Hike Directions 13
There’s a small access trail to the tracks directly across from the parking area. Head to the tracks and make the right.
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Follow the trail alongside of the tracks for an easier hike.
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Avoid any side trails. If you parked at the resort, you’ll join the tracks from one of these side trails.
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Cross your first baby-bridge. This is the first of many to come.
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There’s a cross with the number 143 written out in stones down to the left. Anyone know what this is? Please contact me if you do.
Goat Canyon Trestle Hike Directions 18
Okay, now a bigger bridge or two to warm up on as you make your way to Goat Canyon Trestle.
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If you look along the sides you’ll see the property fence that separates this sliver of private property from the BLM and parkland surrounding it.
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You’ll see the double-decker grafitti-covered cars at Dubber Spur ahead. The hike continues straight down the tracks, but go ahead and check out the cars before you continue.
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The cars are a more popular attraction than the trestle, since they’re less than a mile from the parking area.

These are unique double-decker “gallery” cars where the middle section of the interior is open. They are still used by METRA, a small commuter service from Chicago, and the only passenger trains run by Warren Buffet’s BSNF railroad. Eleven of these cars were sold to the railroad here in 2007 to run the Tren Turístico Tijuana Tecate on the Mexican side of the line. A commuter train between Tecate and Tijuana was also floated but never implemented.

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You can poke around the cars if you’d like, but be careful. There’s lots of broken glass, holes in the floor, etc.
Goat Canyon Trestle Detour Turnoff
Continue hiking and after about 1.25 miles, look for this trail to the right. This is the detour that we’ll take around Tunnel #5.
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You can also walk a minute or two up to Tunnel #5, which is blocked off. Some people climb up to the left and over the tunnel, but I find the detour from the last photo preferable.
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The detour climbs up the hill and is a nice break from walking along the rails.
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When you get to the intersection, hike to the left.
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There’s usually a piece of wreckage or a pile of rocks to mark this intersection.
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Lots of art all over.
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When you come back around toward the tracks, look for a turn down to the right and toward the track, as marked here by the piece of metal.
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Once you make that turn you’ll see the tracks stretch down below, hike down and rejoin them.
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You’ll also notice this mini-trestle in the distance.
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Go ahead and cross over the trestle.
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And then another bridge.
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The hike gets exciting as you enter the Carrizo Gorge proper. Look ahead for the tunnels that you’ll be going through later.

Carrizo is a reed used for weaving mats, baskets, and arrows, found at bottom of the canyon. It’s also seen spelled as “carisso.”

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Okay, here’s your first tunnel, #6.
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The first tunnel isn’t that long and is a good way to get used to the experience. The tunnels were built high so that the smoke from the original steam trains would blow out quickly and not envelope the train.
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After you pop out of that tunnel, you get some incredible views down the canyon.
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Just before 4 miles in, you’ll see more passenger cars ahead.

These passenger cars are from Montreal’s commuter service, STCUM (Société de transport de la Communauté Urbaine de Montréal).

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Like the last set of rail cars, these are also covered in graffiti and artwork.
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Soon you’ll see tunnel 8 in the distance.
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As you approach Tunnel 8, look back to see the abandoned Tunnel 7, which collapsed.
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Tunnel 8 is closed, so we’re going to take the well-worn detour to the left.
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As you hike up, look back and down into the canyon to spot two boxcars. I believe these were from a derailment in 1953 where two boxcars full of Coors beer went over the side of the canyon. Allegedly hikers in the 1980s found some cans of the 1953 beer and said it tasted like fermented wine and dirt.
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In front of you on this section is Mount Tule, located in the nearby Carrizo Gorge Wilderness BLM land. The Carrizo Gorge Wilderness is home to three herds of endangered Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep.
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And directly down the gorge, way in the distance, you can see the distinct Whale Peak at 5348 feet.
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This detour has some cacti, be careful not to brush them.
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Soon you’ll see the tracks again in front of you as the mile-long detour comes to an end.
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When you rejoin the tracks, look back to see the open end of Tunnel 8. Don’t make the mistake of entering the tunnel when you hike back.
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From here until the Goat Canyon Trestle, you’ll have a handful of tunnels to hike through, including Tunnels 9&10, seen here, in quick succession.
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From here on out you’ll tackle Tunnels 11-13.
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Look for this cool little shelter just past Tunnel 11.
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This is Tunnel 14, the longest one, at almost 0.5 miles long.
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When you finally finish the long Tunnel 14, you’ll see the old tunnel that was abandoned to build the Goat Canyon Trestle ahead of you.
Seven Siters Trestles
If you look to the far left as you exit the tunnel, you can also see the “Seven Sisters” trestles in the distance. These are past Goat Canyon Trestle and not on this hike.
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Take the tracks around the abandoned tunnel.
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And hike through the short Tunnel 15.
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And when you’re out, you’ll see Goat Canyon Trestle directly in front of you. It’s not so impressive from this angle, so go ahead and cross over the bridge. Also, notice the tank car on the hill above the bridge in the left of this picture. That’s filled with water and is there in case of a fire.
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As you cross, look back to your left to see the abandoned tunnel.
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Take your time and enjoy the views from the bridge.
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When you get to the other side, there’s a cool mural on the side of a ballast car.
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Just past the ballast car is an area in a gully where you can see people have overnighted before. It has flat areas for tents and a fire pit with a bench.
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You can also go to the catwalk underneath the tracks.
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I’ve never walked across the catwalk under the bridge, and I’m not sure how safe it is. But you can take a look.
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If you contnue along the other side you’ll reach a nice viewpoint where you can grab a photo of the entire bridge span. Otherwise, that’s it! Just hike back the way you came from here.

This guide last updated on February 27, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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