Desert View Trail: An Autumn Ramble on the Edge of Mount Laguna

The Desert View Trail in the Laguna Mountains delivers exactly what its name says, but there’s more to see than just the distant desert. From the nearly 6000-foot heights of the trail, you can enjoy (in the next few weeks) some of the better autumn color our region can dish up. This is a good introductory hike for kids, and leashed dogs are welcome as well.

To reach the Desert View Trail, first exit Interstate 8 at Sunrise Highway, just east of Pine Valley. Drive north, uphill, on Sunrise Highway for nine miles to Burnt Rancheria Campground, on the right, just as you are reaching the settlement of Mount Laguna. Park in the lot signed “Nature Trail,” just inside the campground entrance. Don’t forget to post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your parked car (passes can be purchased in the nearby Mount Laguna village).

The trail starts by winding south from the edge of the parking lot through a grove of vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines. It then hooks up with the Pacific Crest Trail on a chaparral-covered ridge. Make a left turn there, head generally north on the combined Desert View Trail/PCT, and enjoy the wide-open view of the La Posta Creek canyon yawning below. Here and there in the near and far distance, black oak trees dot the slopes. These are the only deciduous oak trees growing naturally in San Diego County, and their peak autumn color (predominantly yellow) is expected in late October or early November.

Farther north on the trail, a view opens to the north and west. Straight ahead are the remains of old radar domes (plus some current communications facilities associated with local public agencies) at a former Air Force facility on Stephenson Peak. Off to the right you look down upon a slice of the low-desert floor.

At a point 0.8 mile from the start, the signed Desert View Trail branches left and departs from the northbound PCT route. Use it to descend back into the campground and return to the parking lot near the campground entrance.

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.

Enjoy an autumn ramble on the edge of the Laguna Mountain escarpment.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 52 miles
Hiking length: 1.3 miles
Difficulty: Easy

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