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Hot Springs Mountain Trail Guide San Diego
Hiking San Diego

Hot Springs Mountain Trail Guide (San Diego)

  • 10.5 miles - Hard Effort
  • 4-6 (Total)
  • 2,500 Total Feet of Climbing
  • Max Elevation of 6,535 feet
  • Leashed Dogs Allowed

what does this mean?

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.

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

When planning, always check the park website and social media to make sure the trails are open. Similarly, check the weather and road conditions.

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

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When you enter the main area of the Reservation, stop at the sign, the ranger booth is on your right.
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The attendant will be here during opening hours. They'll need an ID and will record details about your vehicle.
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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.
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When you get in, there's a sign for hiker parking. The rest of the area is a campground.
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There are bathrooms in the middle of the camping area.
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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.

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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.

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Guides to Help You Navigate

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

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Look for the gate and the trail sign marked "Trail Entrance."
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The trail is a wide fire road, named Sukat Road.

Sukat is the Cahuilla word for deer.

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In the beginning the trail goes gently uphill through some oaks.
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And then goes full-on uphill. It's exposed, steep, and lacking switchbacks. Just take your time.
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There are some flat sections where you can take a breather.
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After a mile or so the trail comes to a viewpoint and you start to get the payoffs for the steep climb.
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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.
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When you start to see pines, you're close to the top.
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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.
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You'll see some side trails and primitive roads as you hike. Go straight on the very well-worn road.
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Here's the only junction on the hike. Make the right toward the lookout tower.
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A sign at the junction helps point the way.
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Enjoy the rolling terrain as it makes its way through the greens. The area is peaceful, full of wildlife, and an easy hike.
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Again, avoid the side tracks and stay on the main road.
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There are a few short climbs along the way.
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Views to the south open up nicely.
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Keep on the main trail.
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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.
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As you start the final push to the top, you'll get a peek of the fire tower through the trees.
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Hike up the short steeper section to the summit area.
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And here you are! Bear right when you see the tower.
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And then you have two choices, left to the tower, or right to the summit. Let's start at the tower.
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Climb the steep use-trail to the tower.
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And here you are, the crumbling tower. Look around but don't climb on it; it's in bad shape.
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The views are incredible from here, including this one east where you can see Palomar Observatory.
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To the north you can see San Jacinto and San Gorgonio.
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When you're done at the tower, head back down and cross the clearing to bag the summit. The trail is a small one.
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Follow the small trail as it winds around boulders and through dense vegetation.
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The tail is small but if you look around you can always find it.
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In the tougher sections to follow, there are small flags.
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When you get to the summit boulder, make the hard left.
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And here's your final challenge of the day, a ladder and rope climb to the summit.
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It can look intimidating, but it's not so bad. There are steel rods in the granite that you can grab onto as well.
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Here's what the ropes look like from the top.
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And here you are, Hot Springs Mountain Summit at 6535 feet!
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You'll see the fire tower from here.
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And also get views east to Anza-Borrego.
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That's it, when you're done up here, just head back down the way you came. Thanks for using this guide!
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And FYI, going down isn't too bad if you butt-scoot and hold the iron bars until you reach the ladder.

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!).

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