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

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.

Gear 2022 8

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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.

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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

Video Directions

Have a question about the guide or want to see what other people are saying/asking? View the Youtube comments for this video. Leave a comment and I will do my best to respond.

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!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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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!).

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