Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

This 2195-acre preserve offers an array of seasonal wildflowers in oak-pine woodland and spectacular views of the lower elevations.

The Julian artist James Hubbell designed the gateway to the preserve.
  • The Julian artist James Hubbell designed the gateway to the preserve.

The Elsinore Fault passes under the staging area to the trail where the valley follows the fault. Julian artist Jim Hubbell contributed the design for the gateway, building the rock wall using white pegmatite and black tourmaline in the raw stage with the shiny black being obsidian. The wall also includes Julian schist, a shale-like formation that is layered, plus “dirty limestone.”

Follow the fire road for a third of a mile. Then hikers turn right to continue on the Five Oaks Trail, climbing in mostly shaded areas until meeting the fire road. Depending on time of year, to the right is another 1.2 miles to the 5353-foot summit, where wind chill and the steep climb call for preparation. To the left, the fire road returns to the parking area.

Volcan Mountain is part of the Peninsular Ranges. These include the Palomar, Cuyamaca, and Laguna mountains. These ranges are generally westerly tilted fault blocks composed of granitic rock that was created by volcanic activity, erosion, and plate movement.

Map to Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

Map to Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve

The Volcan Mountain land mass extends in a northwest direction from Banner Grade to the Santa Ysabel Valley. The mountain is the fountainhead of two of the county’s primary waterways: the San Dieguito and the San Diego River basins. With a pumping rate of about 15 gallons per minute, Ironside Spring at 4600 feet is the fountainhead of San Dieguito. The headwaters of the San Diego River begin about 2 miles northwest of the Wynola Valley, on the mountain’s lower south slope, with most of the flow captured by El Capitan Dam.

The San Diego gold rush started in 1870 on the flank of Volcan Mountain. A cowboy named Fred Coleman noticed yellow flakes in a small creek while watering his horse. There are many mines in the area, but San Diego County was 25th in the state for gold production, with a total output of less than five million dollars. The county is better known for gems and minerals, especially tourmaline and garnet.

Along the trail can be heard the “whack-up, whack-up” call of a common resident of oak and mixed oak/conifer woodlands: the acorn woodpecker, or Melanerpes formicivorus. The genus name is from Greek “melanos,” meaning black and “herpes” translating to creeper. The species name derives from Latin “forma,” an ant, and “voro,” to devour, in reference to its ant-eating habits. The acorn woodpecker is known for storing acorns in granary trees where maintenance is time-consuming, with the woodpecker moving acorns to smaller holes as they shrink from drying. They are easily recognizable with their black chin and red cap from forehead to the back of the head, black back, white rump, and white wing patches seen in flight.

Distance from downtown San Diego: 62 miles. Allow 90 minutes of driving time. From Julian take Main St. north out of town for about 2.2 miles (Main St. becomes Farmer Rd.). Turn right on Wynola Rd. for about 100 yards and then take the first left, which is a continuation of Farmer Rd. The preserve entrance is on the right; park on the shoulder of the road. Mountain biking and equestrian use allowed on the fire road. No facilities; dogs not allowed.

Hiking Length: 3 miles on Five Oaks Trail when returning on the same trail; slightly shorter when walking back on the fire road trail to create a loop.

Difficulty: Strenuous. Elevation change up to 1000 feet.

Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes:


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