The California Riding and Hiking Trail, a designated, regional multi-use (hiking/biking/equestrian) trail that strikes a southwest-to-northeast course through the middle of San Diego County, is still a work in progress. Most of the trail is open for public use, but some sections have access problems where the trail crosses private property. The southern half of the trail wends its way through the Jamul, Alpine, and Descanso areas, and eventually passes into Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
The particularly pleasant stretch of the California Riding and Hiking Trail described here is open to the public. It will take you two miles downhill, with a loss of 900 feet of elevation, into beautiful Sloan Canyon, where a riparian strip of vegetation accompanies the winding Sweetwater River. Try this hike (or ride) early on a chilly winter morning, when beams of light from the rising sun scatter amid dew droplets or ice crystals clinging to the tips of the chaparral vegetation.
To reach the starting point, exit Interstate 8 at Tavern Road in Alpine, and follow Tavern Road 2.7 miles south to Dehesa Road on the right and Japatul Road straight ahead. Continue 0.3 mile east on Japatul Road, and turn right on Sequan Truck Trail (a paved road). After 2.8 miles, the pavement ends. Continue 0.2 mile to a sharp right bend in the road and park where you can find the space to do so.
Walk south on Sequan Truck Trail for 0.25 mile past some houses, then follow the signed California Riding and Hiking Trail as it diverges to the left and descends sharply along a south-facing slope. Sloan Canyon lies below, and beyond it you'll see the broad, north slope of Sycuan Peak (pronounced "Sequan") rearing into the sky above. Uncut by roads, the north flank of the mountain wears its thick chaparral naturally, like a shaggy variegated carpet. Other high points in the field of view are the rocky summits of Lyons, Lawson, and Gaskill peaks to the southeast.
After 1.3 miles, the trail joins a spur road. A messy collection of rural houses lies to the left, down below in Sloan Canyon. You go right and pass above an intriguing (but privately owned) little gorge where the Sweetwater River has cut its way through exfoliated granite slabs. At 2.0 miles you reach the river itself, and beyond that there's a vehicle gate alongside Sloan Canyon Road. The oak- and willow-shaded riverbank area is great for watching birds and other wildlife. Rest up before you reverse your steps back up the slope to the starting point.
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.