Snowy trail, with lake in background
We are into prime hiking season in San Diego County. Even the desert temps are pleasant through spring. Not to mention there is the chance for a beautiful snow hike in the local mountains. I want to share some of my favorite places to hike when the weather turns chilly. Obviously, if it is cold, there is snow on the ground, or the potential for extreme conditions is eminent, you want to dress appropriately. And if you don't think there is a potential for extreme conditions in San Diego County, you are mistaken.
Hikes I like in the cooler months include those that would be unbearable in summer, or provide an extra beautiful view, due to snow or fall foliage.
Cuyamaca's East Mesa: The East Mesa of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has always been one of my favorite hiking spots in the county. In fact, it used to be about the only place I was willing to drive to for a hike. Part of the reason is, the trail system on the East Mesa is laid out in a way that makes it possible to put together a hike of 3 to 11-mile loop from either the Sweetwater Parking area or the Visitor Center Parking (which has full facilities). I've seen more deer, wild turkeys, and raptors there, than anywhere else in the county. While the East Mesa doesn't hold snow as long as the other areas in Cuyamaca, because of its exposure, it's also less crowded than many other areas in the park.
Oakzanita Peak: This is a great hike, with the payoff of any amazing view on a clear day. It's also one of the few hike that affords a nice view to the East. It can be a trudge on a hot day, but winter is an excellent time to tick this peak of your list. This is another hike with multiple possibilities for varied mileage, depending on where you want to start. It can attract plenty of hikers, but nothing near what Stonewall does.
Stonewall Peak Loop: Yes, Stonewall Peak is probably the most popular hike in the local mountains. You are likely to see dozens and dozens of people depending on weather and holidays. But, after most of these folks have crowded onto the small, square peak, they file back down the way they came. But, there is a trail that descends the North face of the peak and travels around its base back to the trailhead across the street from Paso Picacho Campground. It's a much wilder trail, with great views of Cuyamaca Lake, Middle Peak, and North Peak. The potential for seeing deer is high, though much of the last portion of the trail is affected by the reforestation efforts. But this is worth seeing too, as then you will be able to watch the progress.
Laguna Meadow Loop: Laguna Meadow is an interesting spot in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. A huge, beautiful meadow with a seasonal (man-made) lake in the middle, sun-baked in the summer, flower-covered in the spring, autumn foliage in the fall, and cold and windy in the winter. It's one of the counties highest hiking areas in the county, and one of the more likely places for a nice snow hike. In a wetter year, snowshoes are a possibility. I had my coldest, windiest, and probably most foolish, hike there a couple of years ago. Get yourself the trail map from the visitor center, and put together a good good loop. Be sure to include the northern section of the Sunset Trail whatever the season
Hollenbeck Canyon: I've probably beaten this to death, but after some good rain, Hollenbeck Canyon becomes a green canyon with a sometimes substantial creek running through it. For a hike so close to the city, and some major suburbs, it's a great getaway spot for a quick hike.
Have a favorite cool-weather hike? Leave it in the comments.