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Standing tall amid lesser bumps on the west slope of the Cuyamaca Mountains, Eagle Peak has a view of the island-dimpled ocean, scattered parts of urban and suburban San Diego, and the higher mountains -- dominated by Cuyamaca Peak -- in the east. Hawks and golden eagles can sometimes be seen soaring on updrafts overhead. A recent proposal, advanced by Cleveland National Forest, aims to close the summit of Eagle Peak (plus two or three other county summits) to all visitation during the cooler months to encourage the nesting of birds of prey. This controversial proposal has not yet been implemented, but if it is, a visit to Eagle Peak during the prime hiking season -- winter and spring -- this year or maybe next, may be your last chance to do so.

Navigating by car to the starting point, southwest of Julian, is invariably complicated, no matter which route (of several) you choose. I'll describe a relatively straightforward way for most San Diego city residents: Drive east on Interstate 8 and take the Highway 79 exit near Descanso. Go 1.3 miles north on 79, and turn left on Riverside Drive. Continue 0.6 mile to the main crossroads (post office, etc.) of the hamlet of Descanso. From there take Oak Grove Drive 1.6 miles to the intersection of Boulder Creek Road on the right. Follow Boulder Creek Road north for 13.0 miles (first half paved, then dirt) to a hairpin turn where unpaved Cedar Creek Road joins from the west. Park there, taking care not to block traffic, and be sure to post a National Forest Adventure Pass on your car.

From your parking spot at the hairpin turn, follow the remains of an old ranch road (not Cedar Creek Road) due west for 0.7 mile to a saddle and trail junction, where a side trail to Three Sisters Waterfalls descends to the left. If there's been any recent rain, you'll plainly hear the whispering sound of the falls, which lie beyond the next ridge to the south and down in the gorge of Boulder Creek.

Ignoring the possible side trip to the falls, press on by climbing west along a brushy hillside for another 0.5 mile. You then start descending into a vale shaded by live oaks. After 0.4 mile of descent on an increasingly poor old road/trail, you'll notice a shallow draw to the left (on ahead lies an old stock pond, and possible sites for trail camping). Leave the trail at this point, or near here, and work your way southwest, through brush and over boulders, to the ridge some 300 vertical feet above. Once atop the boulder-strewn ridgeline, take note of the heart-stopping dropoff to the south. Peering over the edge, you look down upon a silvery thread of water making its way amid the tree-lined gorge of Boulder Creek.

Eagle Peak's true summit, with a hiker's register on it, lies about 0.2 mile farther up the ridge, beyond a couple of false summits. After you've had your fill of the view, head back the way you came -- or by any other route down the hillside that might look promising.

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.

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