view from cuyamaca peak hike

Hike Cuyamaca Peak

In This Guide
  • How to Get to Cuyamaca Peak
  • Cuyamaca Peak Trail Maps
  • Turn by Turn Hike Directions
  • What You Need To Do the Hike
Distance6 miles (9.7 km)
Time2:30 hours
DifficultyModerate
Total Climbing1,670 feet (509m)
Highest Elevation6,512 feet (1985m)
Dog FriendlyLeashed
ParkCuyamaca Rancho State Park
Park Phone760-765-0755

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.

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 also 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. Here’s what I would bring:

Also not that Cuyamaca Peak is the only trail in the park that you can bring leashed dogs on.

Garmin inreach review

If you want hiking gear recommendations, check out my full gear list. I only recommend and review gear that I actually use. No company pays me to push their product. Everything on my gear list is battle tested on the trails, and should work well for you too.

See The Gear I Use

Cuyamaca Peak Trail Maps

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.

Fenix 5x Hiking Review

I highly recommend bringing some form of paper map with you, and then using it in conjunction with a GPS device. You can see the navigation gear that I use here (I’m currently using the Fenix 5x and love it). Just download the GPX file below and load it onto your GPS.

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

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

Note that 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.

You can help other hikers. If you do this hike and something has changed, snap a few photos and email me the details. I’ll update the guide so that others can do the hike safely.

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