view from cuyamaca peak hike

Hike Cuyamaca Peak

In This Guide
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions & Video
  • Cuyamaca Peak Trail Maps
  • How to Get to Cuyamaca Peak
Distance6 miles (9.7 km)
Hike Time2:30 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,610 feet (491m)
Highest Elevation6,512 feet (1985m)
Fees & PermitsPark Fee
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park WebsiteCuyamaca Rancho State Park
Park Phone760-765-0755
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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 a great hike for a beginner – no tricky twists and turns.

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, where the Cuyamaca Peak lives, is also a beautiful spot and worth the visit. The park is 24,700 acres of oak and conifer forests, with pristine meadows and mountain streams. Originally the Kumeyaay Indians made this area their home, and Cuyamaca is a Kumeyaay word for “the place where it rains” since the higher peaks here get about 3 times more rain a year than the rest of San Diego.

Wild Turkey Cuyamaca
Keep your eyes open for wild turkeys. They’re easier to spot on the lower slopes of the Cuyamaca Peak hike where there’s low scrub. Photo Kevin Cole.

You would think that Cuyamaca would be very lush, but it’s not. It’s still recovering from a devastating forest fire. In 2003, 90% of Cuyamaca park burnt down during California’s largest recorded wildfire, started by a lost hunter who made a signal fire. You’ll see evidence of the fire on the hike to Cuyamaca Peak; there are burnt logs and trees as you do the hike. The area has recovered well, and today is home to over 200 bird species, and lots of mule deer and wild turkeys, which you have a decent chance at spotting if you leave early.

Cuyamaca Peak is the only trail in the park that you can bring leashed dogs on.

Where is Cuyamaca Peak?

Use this as the trailhead GPS address: Paso Picacho Campground, Julian, CA, 92036, USA.

Cuyamaca Peak is in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and there’s an entry fee. If you have a California State Parks Pass, entry is free. There’s camping and other hikes in the park, so if you want to make a weekend of it, it’s an option.

cuyamaca peak hike parking
There’s plenty of parking. Make the right after the entrance gate for the main lot (not the campground on the left). The parking lot has bathrooms 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

water on the cuyamaca peak hike
You can fill up your water bottles in the parking lot by the campground. It gets hot in the summer, make sure you have plenty of water. You will sweat going up this climb.

This isn’t a technical hike and you can get away with fitness clothing here. It does get hot in the summer, and cold in the winter, so check the weather for the park before you leave.

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La Sportiva Spire

The La Sportiva Spire boots feel like comfortable sneakers but offer the protection of hiking boots. They’re great on everything from short hikes to longer hikes of 10+ miles. You don’t want to skimp on your feet.
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Opsrey Stratos 24

I test a lot of gear, and for short to medium day hikes, travel, and everyday use, the Osprey Stratos (men) and Osprey Sirrus (women) are consistently the best. They’re lightweight, hold a hydration bladder to make drinking water easy, have lots of pockets to organize gear, and most importantly, are incredibly comfortable. Check out the reviews; they are impressive.
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Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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 Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI.

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Cuyamaca Peak Trail Maps

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The peak has great views, but lacks pristine nature. There are radio towers and small buildings. Don’t let that stop you from doing this hike. The views make it worth it.

Click To View Map

Hike Cuyamaca Peak Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy and does a lot of the same things.

cuyamaca peak hike 3d map
The hike is a straightforward out and back. This is also the easiest approach to the peak. The other side has a bigger elevation gain.
cuyamaca peak hike elevation
It’s a steady uphill hike to Cuyamca Peak. Don’t forget to take breaks. You can turn around and soak up the views while you catch your breath.

Cuyamaca Peak Hike Directions

Video Directions

Cuyamaca is pronounced kwee-a-mack-a. I went ahead and mispronounced it in my video.

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Turn by Turn Directions

cuyamaca peak hike campsite map
The Lookout Fire Road is the trail you want to take. It goes around the south side of the campground. This map makes it easier to understand the layout – the campground all looks the same. You can either cut through the park office and maintenance yard to get to the trailhead, or go just past campsite 69 to find another entrance to the trail.
start of lookout fire road
If you go through the park office and maintenance yard, this is the gate at the start of the trail. It’ll be on your right as you go through the lots. The Lookout Fire Road is marked on the post.
start of cuyamaca peak hike
If you start by campsite 69, there’s a bathroom and a hiking board close by. Make the right when you get on the paved road.
trees on cuyamaca peak hike
Either way that you enter, follow the paved trail up the side of the mountain. You’ll see evidence of the forest fire on the lower slopes.
trail junctions on the cuyamaca peak hike
You’ll see some smaller trails spitting off to the sides. Stay on the paved Lookout Fire Road for the entire hike.
view of stonewall peak
It’s a steep hike, but if you stop to catch your breath, turn around to take in the views of Stonewall Peak, directly behind you.
trail split on cuyamaca peak hike
At about 1.5 miles there’s a bigger trail split. Again, stay on the paved trail the whole way up.
flowers on cuyamaca peak hike
The flowers and fauna are great here, especially in the spring.
pine trees on cuyamaca peak hike
When you’re almost at the top, you’ll notice more pine trees and sections that survived the fire. It gives you an idea of what the mountain looked like before the 2003 wildfire.
cris hazzard on cuyamaca peak hike
After that wooded stretch, the road ends at the peak. Get your selfie!
buildings on cuyamaca peak hike
After you check out the views at the end of the road, go back down a little bit to these two buildings, and then go through the gap between them and head to the other side of the peak.
path on cuyamaca peak hike
The path is a little funky, but you’ll come out on a pile of rocks with incredible views to the west.
view from cuyamaca peak hike
The views from the peak are awesome. Get your shots, be careful, and go back down the way you came up.

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

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