Hike the gently rising Pine Mountain Trail in the Laguna Mountains.

The Pine Mountain Trail, the newest designated trail in the Laguna Mountains, invites your attention this verdant and merry month of May. Spring rainfall in our local mountains, abnormally extending to as recently as last weekend, has kept the area greener than usual. This week or next marks the peak in the blossoming cycle of several chaparral species, especially ceanothus, alias "wild lilac," which grows abundantly along this trail. By June, the days are likely to turn too warm and dry, so try to go now.

The five-mile looping route outlined here traces the nearly three miles of the Pine Mountain Trail -- crooked in direction but never steep -- and returns in a more direct fashion by way of a segment of the older Indian Creek Trail. The entire route is suitable for hikers, horses, and mountain bikers, with perhaps bikes being more popular than the rest.

Begin hiking or riding at the entrance to Pioneer Mail Trailhead/Picnic Area, mile 29.3 on Sunrise Highway, approximately 16 miles north of Interstate 8. On foot, cross Sunrise Highway and pick up an unsigned path on the right. The highway is immediately to your right in the beginning, then the trail veers left up a slope and begins climbing via zigs and zags along the rounded flank of Pine Mountain -- so named for the fringe of Jeffrey pines along its flattish summit.

You'll approach those pines but never quite reach them as you begin a steady descent south to a junction with Indian Creek Trail, a popular connecting trail for those traveling between the Lagunas and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. A 0.2-mile-long spur trail goes south from the junction to a patch of higher ground offering a view of rolling chaparral and pine-covered slopes as far as the eye can see.

Next, go east on Indian Creek Trail, negotiating a steady downhill grade (challenging for bikes at any rate) to a glade of tall green grass along upper Indian Creek. Perhaps a trickle of water remains in the creek itself, but probably not for long this season. To return to the starting point most expeditiously, back up a couple hundred feet on the Indian Creek Trail and follow old wheel tracks north across a slope, staying well to the left of the course of the creek. The wheel tracks soon become an eroded former jeep road climbing steeply. The grade eases after a few minutes and you enter a delightful meadow, fringed with stately pines. Simply maintain the same direction, right up the axis of the meadow, during the remaining mile of travel.

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