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)
DifficultyModerate
Total Ascent (?)1,610 feet (491m)
Highest Elevation6,512 feet (1985m)
Fees & PermitsPark Fee
Dog FriendlyLeashed
Park ContactCuyamaca 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.

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.

Here’s the gear that I personally use, have tested, and recommend for this hike*.

La Sportiva Spire

La Sportiva Spire GTX

Good for light and more hardcore hikes. Feels like a sneaker but protects like a hiking boot.

Women’s Reviews

Men’s Reviews

Rei Flash 22

REI Flash 22 Pack

This is a super-light and comfortable backpack that can hold everything you need on a hike, including a hydration bladder. It also works great as a general backpack or carry-on.

See Colors & Prices

Joby On Triee

Joby Smartphone Tripod

Make your photos stand out by using this lightweight, do-anything tripod. The Joby attaches your smartphone to trees, rocks, whatever you can find on the trail. Folds down compactly too.

See the Joby Options

Don’t waster your money on hiking gear that’s no good, I’ve done that for you already! Full HikingGuy Gear List

* 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 REI link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

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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.

Click To View Map

Hike Cuyamaca Peak Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Here’s what I use to navigate my hikes. I recommend a combination of paper and electronic options with backups.

Gaiagps

Gaia GPS

Gaia GPS is a planning and navigation tool that you can use on your phone, tablet, and the web. I use it on my phone when I need to interact with the map and know where my position is on it. I use it at home on the computer to plan routes. You can overlay maps such as public lands to find out free places to camp. It’s a powerful tool.

HikingGuy Discount on Gaia GPS

Fenix Nav

Garmin Fenix Watch

This thing does everything: maps, GPX tracks, compass, barometer, altitude, heart rate, blood oxygen, fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and the list goes on. I keep a GPX route on the watch so I can quickly glance down and make sure I’m in the right place.

Fenix Prices & Reviews

My In-Depth Review

Topo Map

Topo Maps & Guide Books

Don’t be caught out if your batteries die. Take a topo map with you on the trail. Some people also print my guides out for use on the hike.

I also highly recommend taking a map and compass navigation course. It’s a few hours, it’s fun, and it could save your life.

Map and Compass Navigation Basics Classes

Don’t just rely on a cell phone, especially if you are hiking in the backcountry.

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.