Cuyamaca Peak Hike Loop

Hike Cuyamaca Peak

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Hike Directions to Cuyamaca Peak
  • Cuyamaca Peak Trail Maps
  • Parking and Entrance Fees
  • Insider Tips & Recommendations
Total Distance (?)7.7 miles (12.4 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,850 feet (564m)
Highest Elevation6,512 feet (1985m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entrance Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Park Phone760-765-0755
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.

The hike to Cuyamaca Peak brings you to San Diego County’s second-highest point at 6,512 feet. It’s only 20 feet lower than the highest peak but much easier to hike. On a clear day, you can see for 100 miles from the summit, including the Coronado Islands and Table Top Mountain in Mexico. Even though the hike goes to a high point, it’s not a tough backcountry expedition but rather a great hike for a beginner – no tricky twists and turns.

Cuyamaca is pronouced “kwee-e-mecca” and is the native Kumeyaay word for “place behind the clouds.”

Where is the Cuyamaca Peak Hike?

The hike starts in the Paso Picacho Campground in Ranch Cuyamaca State Park. Use this trailhead address:
Paso Picacho Campground, Julian, CA, 92036, USA.

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When you pull into the campground, make the first right to enter the day-use parking area.
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There’s an entry fee for the park, or you can get in with your California State Parks pass.
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The lot is large but does get popular on weekends. If it’s full, ask the entry attendant where to park.
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The parking area has bathrooms, a water fountain, and picnic tables.

Here’s what I recommend if you visit Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The Cuyamaca Peak hike is right next to Stonewall Peak hike, and both can be done in a day. Break your hikes up with a picnic in Paso Picacho Campground.

Gear For the Hike

The San Diego high country is a place of extremes. In the summer, this hike can be brutally hot, and in the winter, the trail can be covered in snow and ice. Check the weather before you head out to the hike. The trails are not too technical, but hiking footwear will help the muddy and rocky sections. If you climb with trekking poles, they’ll come in handy here too. I’d bring 2L of water.

Garmin Inreach Mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

Altra Lone Peak 6
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Gregory Zulu 30

Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.

Women’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.

My May 2022 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 keep the website ad and promotion free. There is no cost to you.

Cuyamaca Peak Trail Maps

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Look for these trail markers which are consistent at all the trail junctions on this hike.

For this hike, we’re going to take the Azalea Glen Trail from the campground and loop around to the summit. This is one of the nicer approaches from the parking area in the campground. Of course, you could also walk up the paved road, but what fun would that be? Once you get to the summit, walk back down the road to the campground for the quickest way to wrap the hike up. Or, if you prefer, you can go back the way you came on the trails.

Click Here To View

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.


How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

Elevation Profile

Cuyamaca Peak Hike Loop Elevation
The beginning of the hike is relatively flat, but after about 2.5 miles in you start to climb in earnest. It’s a tough climb but nothing extreme.

3D Map

Cuyamaca Peak Hike Loop 3d Map
We’re going to do the hike in a counter-clockwise loop, starting on the Azalea Glen Trail and making our way up the right side of the mountain. Then we’ll take the direct Fire Lookout Road back down to the start of the hike at the campground.

Hike Brief

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Keep your eyes open for animals on your hike, like this hawk flying above the trail. You may be able to spot a bald eagle here; they spend winters in this area.

Cuyamaca Peak Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Go back to where you entered the parking lot, but bear right instead of heading to the exit.
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After passing an RV pump-out station, look for the trailhead on the right.
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Here’s the start of the Azalea Glen Loop Trail. Start heading down the trail.
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We’re taking the Azalea Glen Loop Trail for a portion of its length, which is why Cuyamaca Peak isn’t listed here. Also, notice the callout for the California Riding and Hiking Trail. When the state government authorized it in 1945, it was planned as a 3000 mile loop trail from Mexico to Oregon and back. It never happened but short segments still exist, including a very popular route in Joshua Tree NP.
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The beginning of the Azalea Glen Trail is flat and pleasant.
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At the split with the Paso Loop Trail, stay left on the Azalea Trail.
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And shortly after that the other end of the Azalea Glen Loop joins in from the left. Keep hiking straight.
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Look back to the right on this stretch for nice views of Stonewall Peak.
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Bear left where the other end of the Paso Loop rejoins the trail.
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And then keep straight at the junction with the California Riding and Hiking Trail.
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Now you start a gentle climb along a creek. All the junctions are behind you. Now you can just hike for a while.
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As you climb look for the peak with the radio towers on it. That’s Cuyamaca Peak.
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When you get to the junction of Azalea Spring Fire Road, make the hard right.
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And continue downhill on the road for a short stretch.
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To your right are Middle Peak (left) and North Peak (right with the antennas).
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After about 0.4 miles on the road, look for the hidden and sharp left turn onto the Conejos Trail.
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The start of the trail is easy to spot if you don’t blow by it.
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And there’s a sign for the Conejos (rabbit) Trail. Our next stop is Lookout Fire Road in 2 miles.
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Now you start to climb. After an initial straight section, switchbacks appear making the climb a little easier.
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As you climb you can see Granite Mountain, in Anza Borrego SP, off to the left.
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After the switchbacks stop, you’ll be following the ridge along the east side of the slope.
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The pointy peak you see is Monument Peak.
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And also Whale Peak, one of the higher peaks in Anza Borrego SP.
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Eventually the Conejos Trail winds into the pines. You’ll notice that at this point the landscape has changed from oaks and scrub to tall pines.
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When you get to Fire Lookout Road, make the right onto the pavement.
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Follow the steep paved road up to the summit.
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At the end of the road, you’ll reach the clearing. This is Cuyamaca Peak!

You’ll notice radio towers off to the left. Hikers are discouraged from entering the area, but if you do, there are boulders and some more views. You’ll also find a USGS marker and the footprint of a fire tower that once sat on the summit.

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If you’re lucky, there will be a summit sign up top for you to pose with.
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Soak in the views, which are incredible.
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Head back down the paved road after enjoying the summit.
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When you get to the junction of the Conejos Trail where you came up, go straight to continue down Fire Tower Road, directly back to the trailhead. Or you can go back on Conejos the way you came up.

The road back down is steep and paved, and can be tough on the knees if you have problems in that department.

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If you take the road, you’ll get some nice views including Mount San Jacinto in the distance (close to Palm Springs).
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Keep straight on the paved roads through any and all intersections.
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And when you start to see the cabins of the campground, cut across into the campground on the little connector. There are bathrooms here too.
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Once you’re off the connector, make the right and continue downhill through the campground to the park entrance and the parking lot. That’s the hike!

This guide last updated on April 21, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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