The linear, V-shaped gash of Hauser Canyon slices across one of the really remote, southern parts of San Diego County. Many years ago, travelers could descend into the canyon by car on a dirt road and reach a Cleveland National Forest campground. Nowadays, the canyon is visited only by hikers and probably more often by undocumented migrants trying to slip north undetected (but often with Border Patrol agents on their heels). You may feel safer on this particular trek if you're part of a larger group of hikers.
The pleasant stroll down oak- and sycamore-lined Hauser and Cottonwood creeks will be your reward for putting up with a long, somewhat uneventful approach and return on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). You start at the entrance to Lake Morena County Park, just west of the little village of Lake Morena, where the PCT crosses pavement on its way from the Laguna Mountains down toward the border near Campo. Note that this is not a trip for mountain bikers, since mechanical devices are prohibited on the PCT.
The PCT rises on the chaparral-smothered slope south of Lake Morena, offering a wide vista of the broad, shallow lake. Stay on the trail as best you can, taking care to follow the path marked by PCT posts and avoiding side paths. After many wide turns, various wiggles, and mostly gradual ups and downs, the trail makes a decided pitch downward, losing some 900 feet of elevation as it zigzags down Hauser Canyon's steep north slope.
At 4.3 miles from the start, the trail intersects the old Hauser Canyon dirt road. Leave the PCT at this point and follow that old road west, down-canyon. At 5.8 miles, the waters of Cottonwood Creek tumble in from the north. The flow depends largely upon water releases at Morena Dam, about two miles upstream. A small waterfall and pool, sculpted into the bedrock, are just above the confluence.
Below the confluence, the hiking gets seriously difficult as you pick your way through a tangle of riparian vegetation and possibly deal with an increased stream flow. You'll pass the oak-shaded site of the long-defunct Hauser Creek Campground at 6.3 miles. Nearby are the remains of a concrete dam. Finally, at 6.7 miles, you'll arrive at the Marine Memorial -- a monument dedicated to the nine Marine Corps firefighters who perished at this spot during a 1943 wildfire. If you've been able to survive the trek thus far, then expect the effort to be somewhat greater on the return, as you retrace your steps in the mostly uphill direction.
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.