San Diego, CA: Noble Canyon-Indian Creek-Pine Mountain Loop

No time for Pacific Crest thru-hiking? This 12-miler samples a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, passing mile-high peaks and desert vistas.
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No time for Pacific Crest thru-hiking? This 12-miler samples a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, passing mile-high peaks and desert vistas.

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 19.2

Waypoints

LML001

Location: 32.9059105, -116.4579391

Noble Canyon Trailhead. Used by hikers, cyclists, and horseback riders, the trail is mostly dirt with an occasional rock patch and low shrubs on both sides. The hillside is lightly covered with oak and pine trees. In the occasional break between the trees, views to the northeast reveal Garnett Peak.

LML002

Location: 32.9054222, -116.4591522

Bear right @ Y-junction and head west on the northern part of the hillside. As you continue to climb past this point, views open across the north. Garnett Peak becomes prominent on the horizon.

LML003

Location: 32.9048386, -116.4736633

Cross Filaree Flat Road N and head west. Sparse pines, oaks, and lots of waist high shrubs cover the hillsides.

LML004

Location: 32.9046681, -116.4744759

Cross Laguna Meadow Road and head southwest.

LML005

Location: 32.9041786, -116.4764175

Cross Laguna Meadow Road again and, this time, head west on Noble Canyon Trail.

LML006

Location: 32.9002762, -116.4848251

Bear right @ Y-junction and head northeast on Indian Creek Trail. After about a mile, cross Indian Creek and begin a steep climb up Pine Mountain.

LML007

Location: 32.9091263, -116.4971542

Turn right @ 4-way junction and merge onto Pine Mountain Trail. Heading north, you'll see San Diego's second highest mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, to the west.

LML008

Location: 32.9193382, -116.4911194

Cross the jeep road that runs perpendicular to Pine Mountain Trail and head northeast.

LML009

Location: 32.9244881, -116.48069

Cross Sunrise Highway to enter Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. After refilling water bottles and eating lunch, bear right onto the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and head east.

LML010

Location: 32.9197464, -116.4607162

Continue straight through the 4-way junction, staying on the PCT. Optional side trip: Turn left onto Garnet Peak Trail. Walk 1.2 miles, gaining 500 feet of elevation. Rest at the Garnet Peak summit (5,800 feet) and enjoy unmatched desert views of San Diego County.

LML011

Location: 32.9058914, -116.4564667

Exit the PCT and retrace your steps back to the parking lot.

Noble Canyon Trailhead

Location: 32.9060745, -116.4582443

©Rajeev Jain

Well-Worn Singletrack

Location: 32.9057007, -116.459465

Noble Canyon Trail is well-worn and defined from heavy hiking, biking, and horseback riding use. ©Rajeev Jain

Recovering from forest fire

Location: 32.9054184, -116.462326

Looking northeast towards S1, you can see the remains and growth from a forest fire that burned the hillside 5 years ago. ©Rajeev Jain

The road to Garnett Peak

Location: 32.9060287, -116.4661255

On the other side of S1, the dirt road that leads to Garnett Peak can be seen along the hillside. ©Rajeev Jain

Remains after the forest fire

Location: 32.906311, -116.4683838

With the Garnett Peak ridge line in the background, you get a clearer view of the forest fire remains and the area's regrowth. ©Rajeev Jain

Flora

Location: 32.9062614, -116.4698868

Purple wildflowers dot the hillsides. ©Rajeev Jain

Second road crossing

Location: 32.9048691, -116.4734039

©Rajeev Jain

Lizard

Location: 32.9048347, -116.4737396

©Rajeev Jain

Pine Valley-Indian Creek Trail Junction

Location: 32.900074, -116.4849319

©Rajeev Jain

Indian Creek Trail

Location: 32.9003754, -116.4850311

©Rajeev Jain

Hiking toward Indian Creek

Location: 32.903389, -116.4866104

©Rajeev Jain

Rollers before Indian Creek

Location: 32.9081306, -116.4892731

©Rajeev Jain

Near the creek

Location: 32.9080162, -116.4896088

©Rajeev Jain

After you cross Indian Creek, head uphill toward Pine Mountain

Location: 32.9075012, -116.4934692

©Rajeev Jain

Keep climbing

Location: 32.9107819, -116.494957

©Rajeev Jain

The singletrack to Pine Mountain

Location: 32.9105797, -116.4950562

©Rajeev Jain

Pine Mountain Trail meets Sunrise Highway

Location: 32.9088974, -116.4970856

©Rajeev Jain

Junction

Location: 32.9093132, -116.4972

Indian Creek Trail junction with Cuyamaca State Park and Sunrise Highway. ©Rajeev Jain

Walking across Pine Mountain

Location: 32.9194603, -116.4906616

©Rajeev Jain

Pioneer Mail

Location: 32.9240799, -116.4808578

Pioneer Mail trailhead and entrance to Cleveland National Forest. ©Rajeev Jain

More post-fire regrowth

Location: 32.9228745, -116.4747467

©Rajeev Jain

Garnett Peak Trail

Location: 32.9202614, -116.4606781

©Rajeev Jain

Mile-high mountains border the PCT to the east

Location: 32.9176102, -116.4562149

©Rajeev Jain

More mountain views to the east

Location: 32.9120636, -116.4527969

©Rajeev Jain

Nearing Oasis Spring

Location: 32.9117813, -116.452919

©Rajeev Jain