Oakzanita Peak is one of only a handful of named peaks in the Cuyamaca Mountains, yet its humble appearance -- at least on approach -- wouldn't inspire most hikers to climb it. Actually, the view from its rocky summit is quite impressive on a clear day, and well worth the hike (2.3 miles one way, with a 1200-foot elevation gain), especially now that temperatures have cooled.
To get to the starting point from San Diego, take Interstate 8 east to the Descanso exit (Highway 79), and turn left. After three miles turn left again to stay on Highway 79. Now continue another 3.1 miles to the small trailhead parking area on the right (east) side of the road. This trailhead is located at mile 3.1 according to the mile marker signs posted along the highway, and it is also just north of the Thousand Trails resort.
From the trailhead, follow the Lower Descanso Creek Trail to the right (south). It quickly bends northeast, following oak-shaded Descanso Creek, and joins East Mesa Fire Road after 0.5 mile. Turn right, continue east up the fire road for just 0.1 mile, and then veer right on the Upper Descanso Creek Trail.
What follows in the next 1.1 miles is an almost perfectly constant and moderate uphill grade through post-Cedar-Fire recovering vegetation. Likely within the next few years, maturing mountain mahogany shrubs will again send forth curly seed tufts, resembling silvery pipe-cleaners. Here and there you pass near a surviving live-oak or black-oak tree. In time, manzanita shrubs will again show off their smooth, reddish bark. The name "Oakzanita" was derived from the oaks and manzanita growths of the mountain slope.
At the top of the grade, in a saddle, you meet the Oakzanita Trail. Head right (west) and climb a crooked 0.6 mile to the summit. A peak register lies at the top. The view includes most of the Cuyamacas' southern reaches: Pine, Airplane, and Arrowmakers ridges to the northwest, and the meadows of East Mesa to the northeast. In the distance lie the dark, wave-shaped form of Cuyamaca Peak and the pointed, alabaster summit of Stonewall Peak.
Return the same way. Or, you can choose a longer, more gradual descent by following the Oakzanita Trail all the way east to West Mesa Fire Road, and use it to reach Lower Descanso Creek Trail.
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.