STAY IN TOUCH
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Guide San Diego

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Guide (San Diego)

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions to Hike Hot Springs Mountain Trail
  • Getting to the Los Coyotes Reservation
  • Tips and Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance10.5 miles (16.9 km)
Hike Time4-6 (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,500 feet (762m)
Highest Elevation6,535 feet (1992m)
Fees & PermitsEntry Fee
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Los Coyotes Reservation
Park Phone760-782-0712

Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County at 6,535 feet, would be worth hiking just for that fact, but there’s so much more to enjoy. After a tough initial climb, the trail is peaceful and scenic as it winds through conifers, giving the feel of a higher alpine area. And at the summit, you get to visit the oldest standing fire tower serving Cleveland National Forest, dating to 1942, and then enjoy a ladder climb up to the actual summit. It’s a fun and beautiful hike that’s tough but not too tough.

Where is the Hot Springs Mountain Trail?

This hike is on the Los Coyotes Reservation, a remote and peaceful part of eastern San Diego County. The reservation allows hikers, but the hours can vary. And there is a $10 per person, cash only, charge to enter. Please check the Los Coyotes Reservation website before leaving to confirm the current details. And please be respectful when visiting. Use this trailhead address:
Los Coyotes Reservation Campground, Camino San Ignacio Road, Warner Springs, CA, 92086

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 2
When you enter the main area of the Reservation, stop at the sign, the ranger booth is on your right.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 3
The attendant will be here during opening hours. They’ll need an ID and will record details about your vehicle.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 4
From there, it’s about a 2-mile drive to the trailhead. Toward the end, the road turns to dirt but is okay for low-clearance vehicles. Just take it slow.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 5
When you get in, there’s a sign for hiker parking. The rest of the area is a campground.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 6
There are bathrooms in the middle of the camping area.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 7
It’s not a parking lot in the traditional sense. Just park along the side without blocking the road.

Gear For the Hike

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 1
Like much of the San Diego high country, the conditions can range from snow to extreme heat. It’s essential to check the weather before you leave. You can check for snow like this.

Moab 2 Mall

The Best All-Around Hiking Footwear
For most hikers, a hiking shoe is the great choice, and the Moab 2 is a winner. The ventilation is great, they last forever, offer good protection, and have a solid grip. There are sizing options for everyone’s foot in this really comfortable and reliable shoe. This shoe is also a favorite of thru-hikers. The only downside is that they are a little heavy. If you are looking for something more aggressive or lighter, check out the bottom of my gear page.
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.

Gaiagps

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 April 2021.

My April 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 offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Maps

The hike to the summit is on old fire roads, but don’t let that put you off; the hike is beautiful. Overall it’s easy to follow and pleasurable.

Some trip reports follow other routes to the top. The course described here is the official one that the ranger office requested that all visitors take. Please be respectful.

Click Here To View Map

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

Hot Springs Mountain Elevation
The first two miles are the toughest. You’ll climb about 1300 feet in two miles. After that, it’s a series of ups and downs that are relatively easy until you reach the summit.

3D Map

Hot Springs Mountain 3d Map
As you climb from the start, you never see the summit, as it’s across the plateau. Otherwise it’s pretty much a straight shot from the trail to the top.

Hike Brief

Los Coyotes Sign
On the way in you’ll pass the tribal office. The reservation was officially established in 1899. There are about 80 people who live on the 25,000 acres of this reservation full-time. It has its own police force and administration. It’s the largest reservation in San Diego County.

Hot Springs Mountain Hike Directions

It’s easy to say thank you for this guide!

Support these free hiking guides by buying anything at Amazon or REI using the links below. I get a small commission and there is no extra cost to you. I depend on your clicks to run the website without annoying ads or sponsorships.

Buy Anything on Amazon   Buy Anything on REI.com 

Video Directions

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

Turn by Turn Directions

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 8
Look for the gate and the trail sign marked “Trail Entrance.”
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 9
The trail is a wide fire road, named Sukat Road.

Sukat is the Cahuilla word for deer.

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 10
In the beginning the trail goes gently uphill through some oaks.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 11
And then goes full-on uphill. It’s exposed, steep, and lacking switchbacks. Just take your time.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 12
There are some flat sections where you can take a breather.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 13
After a mile or so the trail comes to a viewpoint and you start to get the payoffs for the steep climb.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 14
Look back from the viewpoint to see Cuyamaca Peak, the second-highest point in San Diego County, only 21 feet lower than Hot Springs Mountain.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 15
When you start to see pines, you’re close to the top.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 17
And after around 2 miles you’re done with the bulk of the climbing and are on the peaceful middle section, which crosses the plateau. From here there are lush conifer forests and rolling terrain.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 18
You’ll see some side trails and primitive roads as you hike. Go straight on the very well-worn road.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 19
Here’s the only junction on the hike. Make the right toward the lookout tower.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 20
A sign at the junction helps point the way.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 21
Enjoy the rolling terrain as it makes its way through the greens. The area is peaceful, full of wildlife, and an easy hike.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 22
Again, avoid the side tracks and stay on the main road.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 24
There are a few short climbs along the way.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 23
Views to the south open up nicely.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 25
Keep on the main trail.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 26
And then enjoy one last downhill section. Remember to save some energy to tackle these uphills on the way back. In the distance you can finally see the bump of the summit area, which has been otherwise hidden for the whole hike.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 27
As you start the final push to the top, you’ll get a peek of the fire tower through the trees.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 28
Hike up the short steeper section to the summit area.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 29
And here you are! Bear right when you see the tower.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 30
And then you have two choices, left to the tower, or right to the summit. Let’s start at the tower.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 31
Climb the steep use-trail to the tower.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 32
And here you are, the crumbling tower. Look around but don’t climb on it; it’s in bad shape.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 33
The views are incredible from here, including this one east where you can see Palomar Observatory.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 34
To the north you can see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 35
When you’re done at the tower, head back down and cross the clearing to bag the summit. The trail is a small one.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 36
Follow the small trail as it winds around boulders and through dense vegetation.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 38
The tail is small but if you look around you can always find it.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 37
In the tougher sections to follow, there are small flags.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 39
When you get to the summit boulder, make the hard left.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 40
And here’s your final challenge of the day, a ladder and rope climb to the summit.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 41
It can look intimidating, but it’s not so bad. There are steel rods in the granite that you can grab onto as well.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 42
Here’s what the ropes look like from the top.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 44
And here you are, Hot Springs Mountain Summit at 6535 feet!
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 45
You’ll see the fire tower from here.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 46
And also get views east to Anza-Borrego.
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 47
That’s it, when you’re done up here, just head back down the way you came. Thanks for using this guide!
Hot Springs Mountain Trail Directions 43
And FYI, going down isn’t too bad if you butt-scoot and hold the iron bars until you reach the ladder.

This guide last updated on April 2, 2021. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

Please help me make these guides better by answering a few short questions. Thank you!

Related Guides

Popular Articles