Hike Cuyamaca Peak
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||6 miles (9.7 km)|
|Hike Time||2:30 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||1,610 feet (491m)|
|Highest Elevation||6,512 feet (1985m)|
|Fees & Permits||Park Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Cuyamaca Rancho State Park|
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.
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.
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
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.
My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move. It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
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Best Budget Day Pack: REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack
Bang for the buck, you can’t go wrong with this pack. It’s super-lightweight and big enough to carry everything for a day hike, including a water bladder. Every year REI improves this pack and after a few years, it’s really solid in every way. I pack mine in a carry-on when I travel to do hikes on trips. And if you’re into ultralight backpacking, this is also a solid choice.
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Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2021.
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 offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.
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.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.
Cuyamaca Peak Hike Directions
Cuyamaca is pronounced kwee-a-mack-a. I went ahead and mispronounced it in my video.
Turn by Turn Directions
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.