A mini-climb of Rock Mountain near Fallbrook reveals a hidden, rural landscape.

After 18 years of effort by the Fallbrook Land Conservancy, nearly a dozen small- to medium-sized parcels of property around Fallbrook have been set aside as public open space and wildlife habitat. Just north of the Santa Margarita River, in a landscape of meandering creeks, steep-sided ridges, and secluded rural homes and "ranchettes," lies the 78-acre Rock Mountain Preserve. You can engage in a climb of the preserve's landmark peak, Rock Mountain, and enjoy a wide view of the surroundings from atop the heap of granitic boulders at the top.

To get there from "downtown" Fallbrook, find Pico Avenue, which intersects Mission Road near the west edge of the town. After you turn north, Pico quickly turns into De Luz Road and descends sharply toward the Santa Margarita River. At the bottom of the grade, turn right on Sandia Creek Road. Proceed 1.3 miles to a T-intersection, with Rock Mountain Drive on the right and the continuation of Sandia Creek Road on the left. Turn left, proceed 1.7 miles, and find a small turnout on the right -- the obscure Rock Mountain trailhead.

The rough, steep trail (the remains of a bulldozed track) wastes no time on its ascent up the west and south sides of the mountain. You pass through an agreeably scented mix of coastal sage-scrub vegetation, serenaded at times by birds singing and flitting through the undergrowth. After about 0.7 mile, the graded track starts to descend, heading east. You'll want to stay left, heading north toward the boulder-frosted ridgeline of Rock Mountain. The increasingly sketchy, steeply inclined path eventually peters out among the rocks of the mountain's west shoulder, where a short boulder-hopping traverse eastward gets you to the highest point, 1108 feet above sea level. There, the views of the surrounding landscape are unobstructed and panoramic.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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