Hike Iron Mountain San Diego

Hike Iron Mountain (San Diego)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn by Turn Directions for Iron Mountain
  • How to Get to Iron Mountain Near San Diego
  • Insider Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)5.6 miles (9 km)
Hike Time3 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,220 feet (372m)
Highest Elevation2,696 feet (822m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)City of Poway
Park Phone858-668-4400

Iron Mountain, in San Diego County, is one of the most popular hikes in the area. Hiking to the summit is tough, but not extreme, and once there, you can soak in panoramic views from the high mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The summit even has a viewfinder and picnic benches where you can relax. In this guide, I’ll show you how to safely do the hike, avoid the crowds, and beat the heat.

Don’t confuse this Iron Mountain hike with the hike of the same name in Angeles National Forest. This Iron Mountain in San Diego is much easier and is doable by most folks. There are 50 peaks named “Iron Mountain” in the USA, so it’s easy to get confused.

How to Get to Iron Mountain in Poway

Since there are few “Iron Mountains” around, make sure you pay attention to the address you use, otherwise you could easily get routed to the Iron Mountain near LA.  And there a few trailheads and routes to hike Iron Mountain. This guide covers the most popular route that also has the largest parking area.

Use this trailhead address:
Iron Mountain Trailhead, 14847-14909 CA-67, Poway, CA 92064

Iron Mountain Parking Lot
The parking lot is located one one side of the intersection.
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There are two arms to the parking lot, here’s one.
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And here’s the other, which is the front parking lot, also listed as the “Iron Mountain Commuter” lot.

This lot is also used by trail runners, bikers, and people hitting the other trails in the area. It can get very busy; on the weekend there can be 100s of cars parked here and along highway 67. Your best bet is to do this hike at sunrise on a weekday or later in the afternoon. 10am on a Saturday is setting yourself up for a bad time.

If the lot is full, and you decide to park along Highway 67, use extreme caution, as the traffic moves fast and drivers don’t expect pedestrians.

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There are bathrooms at the trailhead.

Parking in the lot is free.

Gear For the Hike

Lone Peak 5

Altra Lone Peak 5
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. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.

Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

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.


Gaia GPS Mapping App
Smartphones are not backcountry instruments, but almost everyone has one today. And they all have GPS onboard. So I recommend getting a good GPS hiking app like Gaia GPS that supports offline maps. Just make sure to put your phone in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. GaiaGPS not only has smartphone and tablet apps, but also an online planning tool. You can drag the GPX hike tracks from my (or any) guides into the online map and they will sync to your phone. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get up to 40% off here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated July 2021.

My July 2021 Top Gear Picks

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.

Iron Mountain Trail Maps

Overall the trail to the summit of Iron Mountain is very well marked and very busy. There are a few intersections (that I show you in the directions below) but otherwise the hike is straightforward.

Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 5
These helpful trail signs along the route give you distance updates every half mile.
Click Here To View

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.

Fenix 6 Pro

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). The GPS smartwatch is nice because it’s rugged, works if your phone dies, and also has a billion other features like sleep tracking, workout recording, etc.

Elevation Profile

Hike Iron Mountain San Diego Elevation
The first 0.75 miles is mellow, and then you start heading uphill. The nice thing about this hike is that none of the steep sections are very long; there’s always a level section to catch your breath on. The last push to the summit is the steepest.

3D Map

Hike Iron Mountain San Diego E3d Map
The hike is unique in that the approach is a straight line. Once you start climbing there are zigs, zags, and switchbacks as the trail weaves its way to the summit.

Iron Mountain Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 6
From the parking lot, head under the iconic gate to start the hike. Get your selfies early before the crowds start photo-bombing you.
Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 1
After a gravel section you’ll come to a trail board with a big old sign telling you that you’re in the right place.
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Walk down the shaded path through the oaks. This section is exceptionally beautiful and could be the scene for wedding pictures.
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But the trees don’t last long, and soon you are hiking on a dirt trail straight up toward the hills. Go straight through at the intersections.
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The trail climbs gradually. You pass the trail marker for 0.5 miles.

The land around you was all destroyed in the 2003 Cedar Fire, one of the largest in California history. Everything you see now has grown back since then.

Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 10
At the end of the straight section the trail dog legs right and downhill into the gully.
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And from there you start climbing.
Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 12
When you reach a fork and a trail marker, make the left.
Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 13
The climb has some level sections to catch your breath. Here you pass the 1 mile marker.
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There are some steep rocky sections to climb.
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Don’t forget to look behind you for some nice views.
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When you get to the junction with the big sign, make the right.
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Here’s a closeup of that sign. 1.45 miles to go!
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At the 1.5 mile marker, keep right, avoiding the trail to the left.
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One you past the big sign, there are some ups and downs as you approach the final climb to the summit.
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Look backward on this stretch of trail for some nice views of Cuyamaca Peak, the second highest in San Diego County.
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2 miles down, almost there.
Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 21
When you come to the next trail split, stay left.
Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 22
Keep heading up the climb, which is rocky in spots.
Iron Mountain San Diego Directions 24
Soon you’ll reach the saddle and the 2.5 mile marker where views to the west open up.
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At this point you’re going to hike up a series of short switchbacks for the last short section to the summit.
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And before you know it, you’ve reached Iron Mountain summit!
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There’s a few picnic benches.
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And a magnifying viewer.
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And an analog viewfinder.
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Look at the base of the viewfinder to identify what you’re looking at.
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The peak with the antennas at the top is Woodson Mountain, home of Potato Chip Rock.
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And off to the east you’ll see Cuyamaca Peak and the other high peaks in the county. To the west, you’ll see San Diego and the ocean.

From here, you just turn around and go back down the way you came up. That’s the hike!

This guide last updated on March 21, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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