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Volcan Mountain Trail Guide

Volcan Mountain Trail Guide

In This Guide
  • Video and Turn-by-Turn Directions for the Volcan Mountain Trail
  • Where to Park for the Volcan Mountain Trail
  • Insider Tips & Recommendations for the Hike
Total Distance (?)5.6 miles (9 km)
Hike Time3-4 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Moderate
Total Ascent (?)1,300 feet (396m)
Highest Elevation5,353 feet (1632m)
Fees & PermitsFree
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve
Park Phone760-765-4098
Weather & ForecastLatest Conditions
Stay SafeCopy this webpage link to the clipobard and share with a friend before you hike. Let them know when to expect you back.
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This hike visits the namesake of the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, and it’s a journey filled with natural beauty, history, and breathtaking views. To get to Volcan Mountain, we will take the popular Volcan Mountain Trail and then hop on the Five Oaks Trail, where the beauty is on another level. When we get to the summit, we’ll enjoy views from the Salton Sea to Catalina.

Where is the Volcan Mountain Trail?

There’s no parking lot for the Volcan Mountain Trail. Instead, you are allowed to park on the wide shoulder along the road by this address:
1209 Farmer Road, Julian, CA 92036

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There’s a wide shoulder to park along. Don’t block any driveways. Parking is free.
Volcan Mountain Trail Directions 1
Here are the opening hours. Check the website before you go; occasionally the park will close.
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Stay on the trails, don’t take anything, and be respectful.

Gear For the Hike

Although you can get away with fitness clothing, I recommend proper hiking gear for the hike. Bring at least 1L of water, and trekking poles can help on the steeper slopes of the Volcan Mountain Trail. The weather can be extreme. In the summer it can get very hot (and the trail is mainly exposed). In the winter, there can be snow.

When the winter winds howl on Volcan, there’s nothing between it and the North Pole except for a barbed wire fence, and that blew down. Old Julian Local’s Saying

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Garmin Inreach Mini 2

Garmin InReach Mini 2
I’m a firm believer in carrying a satellite communications device which works where cell phones don’t. I use a Garmin InReach which lets me send text messages back and forth to my family to let them know that I’m okay or if my plans change when I’m out in the backcountry. It also has an SOS subscription built-in so that you can reach first-responders in an emergency. The devices also offer weather reports, GPS, and navigation functionality (what’s the difference between a GPS and satellite communicator?). For a few hundred bucks they could save your life, so for me it’s a no brainer to have something like a Garmin InReach. If you use a smartphone to navigate and want a more affordable option that integrates with your phone easily, check out the ZOLEO.

Latest Prices: Amazon | REI

Lone Peak 6 Yellow

Altra Lone Peak 6
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 Terraventure 3 or 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. I have a video on the details of the Altra Lone Peak 6 here.

Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon 

Black Diamond Ergo Poles 2

Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.

Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon 
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon 

Gregory Zulu 30

Gregory Zulu 30 & Jade 28
After testing quite a few backpacks, the Gregory Zulu 30 (and Jade 28 for women) is, for most hikers, the best all-season day-pack. First off, it’s very comfortable, and the mesh “trampoline” back keeps your back dry. Its 30L capacity is enough for all the essentials and plenty of layers for winter hiking. External pockets make it easy to grab gear. It’s hard to find something wrong with the pack; if anything, it could be a bit lighter, but overall, it’s not heavy. And its price-point makes it not only affordable but generally a great value.

Women’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 
Men’s Latest Prices: REIAmazon 

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated June 2022.

My June 2022 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.

Volcan Mountain Trail Maps

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.

Gaiagps

How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
Here’s what I use. If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 7 or Epix. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.

To access this guide when out of cell phone range on the trail, simply save the webpage on your phone ( iPhoneAndroid ).

Elevation Profile

Volcan Mountain Trail Guide Elevation
Here’s the one-way elevation profile. It’s a mixed bag of uphill. Some sections are steep but short. Other flat sections give you a reprieve to catch your breath. And while certainly uphill, it’s not the effort that you’d put in for bigger peaks.

3D Map

Volcan Mountain Trail Guide 3d Map
We’ll be climbing up the west ridge to Volcan Mountain. You don’t actually see the summit area of Volcan Mountain until you reach the upper slopes.

Hike Brief

Volcan Mountain Trail Directions 2
Volcan Mountain comes alive with wildflowers in the spring. Keep your eyes open for the California poppy, which is an Instagram favorite.

Volcan Mountain Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Turn by Turn Directions

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Start hiking up the road from the parking area. There are private residences along this starting stretch of the hike.
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Go through the gate at the end of the road.
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And then pass the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve sign.
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And then continue through the James Hubbell Gateway sculpture.

The Elsinore Fault is directly underneath you here.

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Take time to appreciate the sculpture, created by Julian artist James Hubbell. The wood is cedar felled and milled at nearby Palomar Mountain. James’ son Brennan created the metalwork, and Mirko Mrakajic did the carvings you see here. The frog was originally a rendition called “Universal Man.” After hearing that it looked “too demonic,” Mrakajic changed it into a frog.
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To the right of the sculpture are toilets, the only ones on the hike.
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Just past the sculpture is a trail board and map.
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Start hiking up the Volcan Mountain Trail, which is an old road.
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When the trail winds around to the south, you can see Cuyamaca Peak in the distance.
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At about 0.6 miles in, make the right onto the Five Oaks Trail.
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We’re going to take the scenic Five Oaks Trail up toward the summit. This trail parallels the Volcan Mountain Trail and is much more scenic.

The Five Oaks Trail was built in 2003 by the California Conservation Corps, and is named after the five species of oaks found along the trail. Since the trail was built, they’ve found an additional three species of oaks growing here, bringing the total to eight. This area is at just the right elevation to allow lower and higher elevation oaks to live together.

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The Five Oaks Trail is a scenic singletrack with some shaded sections.
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The views into Julian and beyond to Cuyamaca Peak are nonstop.
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The Five Oaks winds and climbs around the southern slope.
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The trail is well-built with some sections of switchbacks and stone steps.
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And there’s a bench about halfway through.
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The view from the bench makes it worth stopping at.
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As you get toward the top of the Five Oaks Trail, the gradient eases.
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And at the top you are rewarded with a stone bench looking into Banner Canyon.
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You can also see to Monument Peak in the distance.
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Continue to the end of the Five Oaks Trail and rejoin the Volcan Mountain Trail.
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Just 1.2 miles to the summit from the junction.
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Continue hiking through the WIndows screensaver landscape. It’s easy to see how this was once ranch land.
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There’s a stretch of the trail here where you hike through a shaded oak grove.
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When you get up to the ridgeline and the junction with Volcan Road, stay right on the main trail.
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Look for a chimney on your right, just past the last junction.
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This is all that remains of the Volcan Mountain Astronomy Outpost. It was built in 1928 as an evaluation location for the Hale Telescope, which eventually ended up at Palomar Mountain.
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Keep climbing and keep your eyes open for the viewfinder on the right.
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Use the viewfinder and display to identify the peaks to the west.
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Continue uphill and look for a turnoff to the left with another viewpoint.
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From this viewpoint you get incredible views into Anza Borrego, including the large mountain directly south, Granite Mountain, and beyond that, Whale Peak.

The downdrafts coming off Volcan Mountain into the desert are notorious here. Several small planes have crashed into the side of the mountain when they didn’t account for these strong winds.

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Continue uphill and make the right at the split. When you return, you can come back on the other side of this loop.
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Look to your left for a small summit rest area with a trail board and bench.

The tower you see here is an Airway Light Beacon, used before modern aviation navigation systems to help guide pilots along airways. By 1972 the entire network was decommissioned.

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The summit area is worth a look around.
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To see the actual summit, climb the concrete by the bench. Yes, that’s an orb.
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And the benchmark is to the right once in the trees, not on the highest rock ahead.
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The benchmark is from 1939.
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One more thing to see at the summit. From the picnic bench, head back to the loop, then cross over onto the singletrack trail.
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Follow the trail a short way.
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And then enjoy the views from the Charles Powell Memorial Bench.
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That’s it, that’s the hike! From the summit, continue around the loop and head back downhill. You can skip the Five Oaks Trail and go straight if you’d like to cut a few minutes off the hike.

This guide last updated on May 18, 2022. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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