Straddle the Sunrise

Hike Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in summer for spectacular desert views.

The single-track PCT parallels highway S-1 as it heads north.
  • The single-track PCT parallels highway S-1 as it heads north.

The Anza-Borrego Foundation (ABF) played a crucial role in creating a wildlife corridor from the desert floor to the Laguna Mountains when they purchased 2675 acres (or 63%) of the Lucky 5 Ranch in 2001 and transferred it to the state, thereby connecting Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the Cleveland National Forest. With the additional purchase of almost 2100 acres of the adjacent Rancho Cuyamaca/Tulloch Ranch in 2005 by the Nature Conservancy and the State Water Resources Control Board, a sizable portion of the desert park is now in the Laguna Mountains, straddling both sides of the Sunrise Highway. Further expansion is on the horizon as the foundation is now fundraising to purchase an additional 1170 acres of the Lucky 5 Ranch from the Daley family trust, which will retain the remaining 400 acres for private use. Conservation of all these ranch lands also means an expansion of outdoor recreation for county residents and visitors.

Trailhead starts from the Sunrise parking area.

Trailhead starts from the Sunrise parking area.

The Lucky 5 Ranch was originally homesteaded in the 1860s by the Harper family, who built a home and some ranch buildings in Rattlesnake Valley. Charles Luckman purchased the ranch in 1940 as a summer home. Luckman, his wife, and three sons made 5, so he changed the name of the ranch to the “Lucky 5.” The ranch supports mature oaks and sycamores and abundant wildlife, such as golden eagle, mountain lion, bobcat, gray fox, mule deer, and numerous species of reptiles and birds. The locale is an important transition between chaparral and cismontane habitats. The ranch, at elevations from 4600 to 5400 feet above sea level, includes rolling grasslands and mountainous areas. The views to the desert below from the top of the escarpment are spectacular. It is also an important cultural area where the Kwaaymii Laguna Band of Mission Indians lived for generations.

The trailhead is behind the vault toilets and is signed. Follow the trail 1.18 miles south to the highway crossing and the entrance to the Lucky 5 Ranch, which is currently gated and closed to the public. Cross the highway to continue following the trail on the other side of the road. Note the exposed rock on the trail. It is Julian schist, a metamorphosed sedimentary rock layer that is one of the oldest in the county, well over 200 million years old. The best exposures of this rock are found along the Sunrise Highway. At mile 1.82 from the Sunrise parking area is the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Turn left on the trail to head north, paralleling the Sunrise Highway. Vegetation along the trail includes sugarbush, chamise, flattop buckwheat, purple thistle, ceanothus, and red-barked manzanita. When wildflowers are in season, there will be purple penstemon, scarlet bugler, lupine, and a variety of annuals. The desert view below includes Mason, Vallecito, and Blair valleys backed up by Ghost Mountain and the Pinyon, Vallecito, and the distant Santa Rosa mountains. At mile 3.77 there is a signed junction to the west with the PCT continuing north to the right. Turn left to return to Sunrise Highway and the parking area.

  • Distance from downtown San Diego: 60 miles. Allow 1 hour and 10 minutes driving time (Laguna Mountains). Drive east on I-8 and then north on Hwy 79 to the junction with the Sunrise Hwy (SR-1). Drive southeast on SR-1, 3.2 miles to the turnoff on the right (west) for the Sunrise Trailhead (signed), which is just past milepost 34.5 at “Call Box” 34.3.
  • Hiking length: 4-mile loop. Allow 2.5 hours.
  • Difficulty: Moderate difficulty on single-track trail. Elevation gain/loss 400 feet. Vault toilets but no water available. No bicycles or dogs allowed on the trai, but the PCT portion of the trail does allow equestrians. Must cross highway twice — watch for traffic.

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