For the purposes of camping, picnicking, and day-hiking in a superb mountain setting, William Heise County Park near Julian is surely the crown jewel of the San Diego County Parks system. About one-tenth of the park is devoted to meticulously maintained camping and picnic areas. These lie along the thickly wooded bottomlands of Cedar Creek and its upper tributaries. The surrounding area is a virtual wilderness laced with about seven miles of meandering loop trails.
The Cedar Trail and the self-guiding Nature Trail, each a mile in length, stay beneath a shady canopy of oaks, pines, and cedars. The Manzanita and Canyon Oak Trails, on the other hand, climb up along steep slopes clothed with dense chaparral; in some places, the manzanita grows to ten feet or more in height, enclosing you in a tangled net of limbs and leaves.
Glenn's View lies on a windswept ridgeline in the northeast corner of the park. The view here is similar to, but more inclusive than, that enjoyed by motorists at Inspiration Point, a half mile below on Highway 79. To the south you can look over a rolling expanse of timbered hills toward the summits of the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains. Eastward, the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Salton Sea shimmer in the distance. On some late-September afternoons, when moisture flows in from Mexico or Arizona and piles up against the mountain barrier, you can watch massive thunderheads roil overhead.
By mid-October (probably a little earlier than usual this season because of our two-year drought) you can admire the bright yellow, autumnal colors of the black oak tree -- our county's only native deciduous oak -- in the lower portions of the park.
The well-marked turnoff to Heise Park is one mile west of Julian on Highway 78/79. Signs direct you south on Pine Hills Road to Frisius Drive, then east on Frisius to the park entrance. Camping reservations are usually required for Heise Park; certainly so for the weekends. Call San Diego County Parks for more information: 858-694-3049.