Fresh mountain air, shrub-covered backcountry, jagged peaks, and a killer climbing workout aren’t this route’s only perks. An hour’s drive from San Diego proper, this solitude-inducing dayhike tours pine and oak stands, recovering burn zones, wildflower meadows, and far-stretching canyons in the Laguna Mountains.
Call it a life-list loop for the SoCal workingman. As you head north along the Pine Mountain Trail, look west to see San Diego’s second highest mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, jutting 6,512 feet skyward.
At mile 5, step onto the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Watch in awe as the Lagunas begin to take up the entire eastern horizon. For an optional side trip, the short but strenuous 2.4-mile climb to the summit of Garnet Peak (5,800 feet) lets you eat your lunch guilt-free while savoring the best Anza Borrego Desert views in San Diego County.
More views wait ahead as you continue southbound on the PCT. Walking across a 5600-foot-high ridgeline, look left to see the mountainside drop thousands of feet into the valley. Storm Canyon lies 3,000 feet below you to the east; Monument Peak (6,200 feet) becomes more and more visible to the south as you get closer to Oasis Springs and the finish.
-Mapped by Rajeev Jain