Hike Cuyamaca Peak
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance (?)||7.7 miles (12.4 km)|
|Hike Time||3-4 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,850 feet (564m)|
|Highest Elevation||6,512 feet (1985m)|
|Fees & Permits||Park Entrance Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Cuyamaca Rancho State Park|
|Weather & Forecast||Latest Conditions|
|Stay Safe||Copy 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.
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
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
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 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 & 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: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated May 2022.
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
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.
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.
- 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 San Diego’s largest recorded wildfire, the Cedar Fire, started by a lost hunter who made a signal fire to get rescued. The area is recovering 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.
- From the late 1980s to early 1990s there were an unusually high number of mountain lion encounters here. It’s been a long time since anything like that happened here, but it’s best to be aware of the possibility (as you should anywhere in California). As the park says, “most lions avoid confrontation and people, but should you see one stay calm and do not run. Mountain Lions instinctively chase prey, running may trigger this instinct. Try to appear larger, raising your hands and facing the animal loudly. Do not be afraid to fight back need be.”
- Human habitation here dates back 7000 years; the Kumeyaay peoples included this land as their home. In 1869 the discovery of gold in nearby Julian meant the end of their traditional way of life.
- Many of the structures and trails on this hike were built by the CCC in the 1930s.
Cuyamaca Peak Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
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.
The road back down is steep and paved, and can be tough on the knees if you have problems in that department.
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.