Hike from the Laguna Mountain crest to Cuyamaca's Sweetwater River, and learn how the local mountains are recovering from the Cedar Fire.

The 12-mile, one-way hiking traverse from the Laguna Mountains to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park isn't what it used to be, on account of the October 2003 Cedar Fire. Still, it's nice to see the recovery effort staged by Mother Nature, particularly the effects of the most recent wet season, which saw 60 inches or more of precipitation falling on a landscape that usually gets only about 30 inches. Many of the black oaks and coast live oaks that were seemingly completely charred in the immediate aftermath of the fire are now showing plenty of new green foliage sprouting exuberantly from their remaining limbs.

With a little help with transportation from your friends, you can enjoy a leisurely, mostly downhill day trip from Laguna to Cuyamaca. Arrange to be dropped off at the Penny Pines trailhead at mile 27.3 on Sunrise Highway in the Laguna Mountains (north of the village of Mount Laguna). Plan to get picked up, perhaps six or seven hours later, at the Sweetwater River bridge parking area (mile 4.9 on Highway 79, north of Interstate 8) in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Start walking west on a scenic stretch of the Noble Canyon Trail. After 2.4 miles, turn right on the Indian Creek Trail and descend 0.8 mile to a crossing of the possibly still trickling Indian Creek. The trail turns northwest and you climb in earnest along a chaparral-clothed hillside toward a summit called Champagne Pass (elevation 5440 feet). There, your gaze takes in the western foothills and perhaps a slice of Pacific Ocean freckled with the Coronado Islands.

The descent that follows takes you to Deer Park Road (the half-way point of the hike). Cross the road and continue west 100 yards to join an old remnant of East Mesa Fire Road at the east boundary of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Now you face the second major climb, uphill along a sunny, scrub-covered slope. Widely scattered black oaks provide some small patches of shade on the way up.

East Mesa Fire Road finally levels out at about 5000 feet, then begins a long and gradual descent across an open meadow. On the clearest days, you look across wind-rippled grass to spy Point Loma and the ocean horizon.

Harvey Moore Trail soon comes in from the right (north). Keep left and follow the route of the well-trod Harvey Moore Trail, downhill nearly all the way, to Highway 79 and the large parking lot at the Sweetwater River bridge.

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