Desert View Trail, William Heise County Park

Wild turkeys roam William Heise County Park
  • Wild turkeys roam William Heise County Park

Looking toward North Peak from Glen’s View on the Desert View Trail

Looking toward North Peak from Glen’s View on the Desert View Trail

The next time you visit Julian and find you need to work off that extra serving of apple pie you could not resist, consider taking a hike in William Heise County Park, located just a few miles south of the town. It is a well-maintained public campground located in a beautiful forested setting. Over ten miles of hiking trails, ranging from short and easy to moderately challenging, lie within or originate from this approximately 1000-acre park. There are picnic tables for day use and separate camping areas for RVs and tents. It even has a few wilderness cabins for rent. Facilities include electricity, water, picnic tables, fire rings, and hot showers. There are charges for the use of the facilities, including day use. This county park also has equestrian trails, and mountain bikers are allowed on the trails as well as dogs on a leash. Lands for this park were donated to the county in 1968 by successful businessman William Heise, who wanted to preserve an area where families could gather, picnic, and hike as a retreat from city life.

The Desert View Trail leads to Glen’s View, at the northeastern corner of the park. It is well worth the time and effort required to reach it for the dramatic views from here out to the Anza-Borrego desert area, as well as a view down into the town of Julian and west out to the ocean. The Desert View Trail leaves the forested slopes and valleys of the campground to take you through chaparral rapidly recovering from the 2003 Cedar Fire. Much of the park burned in the Cedar Fire, and there is little evidence of a recent fire in the developed part of the park. Once you get into the chaparral covered hillsides, the bleached white skeletons of black oaks and manzanitas are stark reminders of that fire. In the case of the manzanitas, white dead branches protrude from a base of healthy green shoots that are sprouting from the burl that was not killed by the fire. The oaks and pines are making a much slower recovery, largely from seedlings that germinated since the fire. It will be many years before anyone will find shade under these trees. On the plus side, spectacular displays of wildflowers can occur in seasons following a fire, if the rains cooperate.

The Desert View Trail is one of three loop trails that intersect at the upper end of the park, so the distance covered depends on how much of these other trails one may want to incorporate into a hike. If Glen’s View is your only goal, you will hike a minimum of 2.25 miles with 900 ft. of elevation gain, but this could be extended to about a 4-mile hike by approaching the Desert View Trail from the Canyon Oak Trail.

The higher elevation allows a variety of seasonal changes, including spring wildflowers, fall colors, and winter snow. Frequently seen in the area are mule deer and large flocks of Rio Grande wild turkey; bobcats and mountain lions are rarely sighted. There is always something to enjoy with every season.

Distance from downtown San Diego: Approximately 65 miles. Julian is approximately 60 miles from downtown San Diego. From Julian, go one mile west, toward Santa Isabel, on SR-78 to Pine Hill Road, where you make a left. Follow Pine Hill Road for 2 miles to its intersection with Frisius Road. Go right on Frisius Road and continue for another two miles to reach the park entrance. Facilities and water. Parking fee subject to change.

Hiking length: 2–4 miles, plus distance from car.

Difficulty: Moderate with 900 feet gain/loss of elevation. Check for snow in the winter.

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