*Note: It has come to my attention since doing this hike that the fireroad to the peak — the only accessible route to the top — is in fact closed to the public. There is some misleading information on the internet and even the park rangers don’t seem to know (or care?). Please keep this in mind if planning to hike Cuyamaca.
If I step outside my front door in coastal San Diego and gaze inland while crossing one of the east/west oriented streets, there’s always one peak that can be seen rising above the mesas, foothills, and buildings: Cuyamaca. Located nearly smack dab in the middle of the county, the peak can be viewed from pretty much all corners of San Diego — from the beaches to the desert.
At a mere 6,512 feet tall, Cuyamaca isn’t much to boast about, but it’s pretty much the best we got down here in San Diego. It’s San Diego’s second-highest peak, just a few dozen feet lower than Hot Springs Mountain in the northern end of the county. However, of the two, Cuyamaca is the more pronounced and prominent, with steep sloping canyons and ridges that dive down into the San Diego river gorge.
I’ve bagged many-a-peaks in San Diego County, but I had been avoiding this one for a while. While the views are unmatched, the journey is what really makes a hike, isn’t it? The journey to Cuyamaca is rather… lackluster, in my opinion. With multiple cell towers installed on the peak and a fireroad that must be used no matter how you link up the dirt trails on its slopes, it’s just not my cup of tea.
Despite the relative blandness of Cuyamaca, the peak does have its advantages. During the scorching summer months in San Diego, Cuyamaca can offer relief from the blazing heat. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is high enough in elevation to shed 10-15 degrees compared to the inland, low-lying areas. The word ‘Cuyamaca’ roughly translates to ‘behind the clouds’ or ‘place where it rains’ in Kumeyaay, attesting to the relatively cooler environment when compared to the rest of the county. In mid-August, I definitely wouldn’t call the temperatures ‘cool’, but they are moderate enough to safely recreate outdoors.
I don’t like to mess with the heat, so I hadn’t done much local hiking in San Diego since June. (I’ve been escaping to the Sierra Nevada.) However, when the inevitable hiking bug started to itch, I decided that the time had arrived to give Cuyamaca a shot. I hit the road at around 5am and did the hour-long drive up to the top of San Diego County for my first summit of Cuyamaca.