Black Canyon to Pamo Valley

The easy-going, mostly descending (450 feet of elevation gain/1200 feet of elevation loss), east-to-west, one-way walk or mountain-bike ride on the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail near Ramona is fine for a cool day in February, but a potentially hot and sweaty affair later in the spring season. You’ll be following or paralleling a segment of the uncompleted Coast to Crest Trail, the long-distance, multi-use trail slated to link together the disparate natural habitats of the emerging San Dieguito River Park. The park itself stretches from the San Dieguito Lagoon at Del Mar to the crest of Volcan Mountain near Julian.

You’ll meander mostly downhill and sometimes uphill on shadeless south- and west-facing slopes blanketed in chamise and other drought-resistant forms of chaparral. The truck trail might be open to four-wheel-drive traffic, but if it is, you’ll likely see very few vehicles.

A one-way hike on the route would necessitate some kind of drop-off/pick-up arrangement, so here are the driving directions for each end:

EAST END: Drive east from Ramona on Highway 78 and turn north on Magnolia Avenue. Magnolia soon becomes Black Canyon Road and later becomes a narrow, twisting, graded dirt road. At 7.3 miles, you meet the road coming down from Sutherland Dam. Stay left, pass over the bridge spanning Santa Ysabel Creek, and continue 200 yards on Black Canyon Road to a junction with a gated, descending road — the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail. Start hiking at the top of this road.

WEST END: Drive north from Ramona’s town center on Seventh Street; it quickly becomes Elm Street. Continue on Elm to Haverford Road and turn right. A forced leftward bend in just 0.1 mile puts you northbound on Pamo Road. Continue down into the scenic and spacious Pamo Valley, where you cross Santa Ysabel Creek on a narrow concrete ford. Go an additional 1.3 miles north to the foot of the Santa Ysabel Truck Trail, on the right.

From the starting place, descend on Santa Ysabel Truck Trail to a spot where the road crosses Santa Ysabel Creek. Step over or wade across the Black Canyon stream by way of the concrete ford (but not if the water is too deep and dangerously swift, as after a recent downpour!). Gradual ups and downs and many twists and turns on the truck trail take you generally westward and farther and farther away from the bottom of the Santa Ysabel Creek gorge. At 3.3 miles, a live-oak-shaded ravine spreads a dense pool of shade across the trail. Shortly thereafter, on a ridgeline at 3.5 miles, a road comes down-ridge from the right. It leads upward toward Black Mountain, a former fire-lookout site nearly six miles away. Your course, though, continues downhill to Pamo Road, a crooked 1.5 miles away.

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.

Black Canyon to Pamo Valley
Enjoy a cool-weather hike-or-bike along the curling Santa Ysabel Truck Trail near Ramona.
Distance from downtown San Diego: about 40 miles
Hiking/biking length: 5.0 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

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