Palomar Mountain has dodged a couple of bullets in recent years. Wildfires in 2003 and 2007 have threatened to seriously damage San Diego County’s foremost example of oak-coniferous woodland, but the forests of Palomar have escaped serious damage so far. Summer’s furnace breath has not yet arrived on the mountain (likely for a couple of weeks, anyway), so now’s the time for a quick visit to Palomar Mountain State Park and one of its best introductory hiking routes: a loop past secluded Scott’s Cabin ruins and up over the high point of Boucher Hill.
First, be sure to enjoy the drive up there, which can be spectacular if seen in the early morning. From Highway 76 at the foot of Palomar Mountain, take either South Grade Road or East Grade Road all the way to where the two meet at the mountaintop crossroads called Crestline. (On either route, you may look down on the flat top of the coastal stratus clouds — the “May gray” or “June gloom” that bedevils coastal residents this time of year.) Once you arrive at the Crestline intersection, follow East Grade Road west toward Palomar Mountain State Park. Just inside the park entrance, leave your car in the Silver Crest Picnic Area parking lot.
From the parking lot, walk back to the paved road and use it to go west about 0.2 mile to a junction of five roads. Now continue west up the ridgeline between the two roads to the left (these roads are a one-way loop around the summit of Boucher Hill), following the narrow Boucher Trail through the grass and bracken ferns. Black oaks crown the ridgeline, their gnarled limbs bearing a fresh crop of bright green leaves. A few white firs appear as you approach the fire tower and microwave structure on Boucher Hill. From the Boucher Hill summit the view west can be spectacular at times, reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Now find the continuation of the Boucher Trail, which descends on a stretch of old fire road to the north. Beyond more black oaks, bracken ferns, and a meadow dotted with baby-blue-eyes, the trail swings right to traverse a north slope, entering a nice stand of white fir trees. Upon reaching Nate Harrison Road, cross and pick up the Adams Trail on the other side. You’re in mixed forest now, with a few bigcone Douglas fir trees whose wandlike limbs tower head and shoulders above all else. Winding around a sunlight-flooded ravine, you’ll see beautiful specimens of dogwood and ceanothus, in bloom in May and early June. Yellow Humboldt lilies brighten up the scene in early summer.
When you arrive at Cedar Grove Group Campground, walk out to the entrance, where you can pick up the trail to Scott’s Cabin. A steep climb through mostly white fir forest takes you to the modest remains of the cabin, built by an early homesteader. Complete the loop by bearing right at the next junction, taking the trail that ends up opposite the Silver Crest Picnic Area.
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.
Scott’s Cabin to Boucher Hill
Explore Palomar Mountain State Park during the peak of its vernal splendor.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 60 miles
Hiking Length: 3.0 miles