East of San Diego, the 25,000 acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has over 100 miles of trails through pine and oak forests open to hikers, bikers and horses.
The park is located in the Peninsular Range of mountains; from Cuyamaca Peak, at 6512 ft the second highest point in San Diego County, you can see Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the Colorado Desert to the east and the Pacific coast west.
To reach the state park from San Diego, head east on US8 for 40 miles to SR79. Turn north on SR79 for 8 miles to park entrance.
Green Valley Campground Loop
DISTANCE: Approximately 4 miles
TIME: Approximately 2 hours
A wide fire road through chaparral terrain. You will see the reforestation from a fire on the Arroyo Seco Primitive Camp trail. The loop offers great views from the California Riding and Hiking Trail (CR&H). Note that the spring at Arroyo Seco is typically dry. The only water available is at Green Valley. Directions: From Green Valley Camp/Picnic area, take the Arroyo Seco Fire Road. At the California Riding and Hiking Trail junction, a right turn (north) will lead you to the Arroyo Seco Primitive Camp (0.6 mile). A left turn (south) will continue the loop on the CR&H to the fir road that leads back to the campground. The loop can be extended by turning right (south) at the junction and continuing to Hwy 79, and riding back to Green Valley Campground along the highway.
Granite Springs Primitive Camp (round trip)
DISTANCE: Approximately 11.5 miles
TIME: Approximately 3 hours
Directions: Start at Highway 79 and East Mesa Fire Road. The first 2.8 miles is a sunny, steady climb. From Oakzanita Junction the trail gets easier and is mostly through shaded pine forest. For an additional 3-4 mile ride, from Granite Springs camp, a single track trail leads you north. About .3 mile from camp, bikes must be walked while negotiating switchbacks up a small hill. The trail continues on for approximately 2 miles to the boundary of state park property. When returning, use caution and monitor your speed down East Mesa Fire Road.
DISTANCE: Approximately 8 miles
TIME: Approximately 3 hours
This is one of the easier rides at the park, except for a steep 0.6 mile push up Soapstone Grade. The ride follows a fire road trough a variety of terrain. Directions: From the Park Headquarters, ride south past the museum, along the Authorized Vehicles Only road to circumvent the county school grounds. This will take you to the Upper Green valley Fire Road, turn left (north). About a mile from headquarters, you reach a fork for Stonewall Creek Fire Road. Stay right which keeps you on Upper Green valley Fire Road. At Soapstone Grade Junction, turn left (west) and make the strenuous ascent. About .5 miles after cresting Soapstone Grade, a left turn at the Stonewall Creek Fire Road takes you downhill back to the upper Green valley Fire Road and Headquarters. To extend the ride, do not turn at Stonewall Creek Fire Road and instead, continue on to the north. This will take you into the meadow areas around Stonewall mine and Cuyamaca lake.
Middle Peak Loop
Distance: Approximately 7.5 miles
Time: Approximately 2 hours
A steady climb leads to the beautiful, forested vistas and the interesting switchback downhill section on the east side of the peak.
Directions: From Highway 79 take Milk Ranch Road west. At Azalea Springs Fire Road Junction, continue west, take the right fork (north) through the gate about 1/2 mile from the junction. Continue on Middle Peak Fire Road to Milk Ranch Road Junction, a left turn (east) brings you back to the trail head. Be careful not to get off on the Black Oak Trail, which is closed to bicycles. There is no water on this trail.
West Mesa Fire Road
Distance: Approximately 6.5 miles
Time: Approximately 3 hours
This trail is the most tree covered in the park. It is uphill until the Cuyamaca Peak Junction, then downhill most of the way.
Directions: From Highway 79, take Milk Ranch Road west, turn left (south) at the Azalea Springs Fire Road Junction and continue past the Cuyamaca Peak Fire Road (paved) on Fern Flat Fire Road. Take a left (east) at the Japacha Fire Road to Highway 79. You can extend the trip by taking a right (south) on Japacha Fire Road. This will take you out to Highway 79 farther south. Water is available at Azalea Springs.
Cuyamaca Grand Loop
Distance: Approximately 15 miles
Time: Approximately 6 hours
The West Mesa Fire Road ride (above) can be lengthened into a long loop that will take you through most of the varied types of terrain in the park. This loop makes a very enjoyable day trip: pack a lunch.
Directions: Follow the School Camp trail to the Stonewall Creek Junction. Turn right (north) at the Stonewall Creek Fire Road Junction and right (north) again at Los Vaqueros road (paved). Take a left (south) on the Stonewall Mine Road (paved) and follow it to Highway 79. Turn right on 79 and follow it to Milk Ranch Road. Follow the instructions for the West Mesa Fire Road to its end at Highway 79. Finish the loop by continuing down 79 to the School Camp. Water is available at the School Camp/Park HQ, and Azalea Springs.
NOTE: Contact park before going -- a 2003 forest fire has closed sections.
Overall, Cuyamaca State Park is the 12th most popular horse trail of all 81 horseback rides in California.