If water is an element essential to your hiking pleasure, then this hike in the Cuyamacas may be for you. Along Juaquapin Creek, you can sit in the shade and listen to the most peaceful of sounds — the gentle flow of water over stones.
To get to the trailhead, drive south from Julian on Highway 79 for 15.2 miles, or drive north on Highway 79 from Interstate 8 at Descanso for 7.6 miles. What you’re looking for is a large trailhead/equestrian staging area just south of the Sweetwater River bridge. This trailhead is located at mile 4.9 according to the Highway 79 mile markers.
From the trailhead take the Harvey Moore Trail south and east across a hillside, passing first through a belt of burned oaks and pines, and later through low-growing chaparral. The entire landscape hereabouts was either singed or totally incinerated during the 2003 Cedar Fire, and the recovery of the trees is progressing slowly.
After 2.4 miles, turn left (north) on the Dyar Spring Trail and enter the domain of East Mesa, a beautiful, grassy expanse studded with oaks. Several shallow ravines, tributaries of Juaquapin Creek, indent the surface of the mesa. Wild rose, Indian-basket bush, and stinging nettles can be found on soggy ground down along the ravines. At a point about 0.8 mile north of the Harvey Moore Trail, the trail bends left (northwest) and passes Dyar Spring, hidden on the edge of a meadow and near fledgling elderberry, willow, live oak, and black oak trees.
The East Mesa area is excellent for spotting mule deer and coyotes, which are gradually returning to this area as the vegetation recovers from the fire. If it’s early or late in the day, when animals are more likely to be out and about, station yourself on one of the knolls above Dyar Spring, enjoy a snack, and watch the parade of wildlife below.
Back on the trail again, go northwest over a small rise and drop steeply down a sunny slope. Arriving at the next junction, on a saddle, turn left (south) on the Juaquapin Trail. Continue downhill along a grassy draw that leads toward the west bank of Juaquapin Creek. Good displays of wildflowers can seen here in the spring, but June is probably too late for that in this somewhat dry year.
The Juaquapin Trail stays on a terrace above the creek and eventually bends sharply right (northwest) around the brow of a ridge. Look for several bedrock morteros, or Indian grinding holes, in a clump of oak trees near the next junction, where a short-cut trail to Harvey Moore Trail departs south and crosses Juaquapin Creek. This “Juaquapin Crossing” spot is a good place to stop and listen to the music of the trickling stream.
Back up from Juaquapin Crossing, and keep going on the Juaquapin Trail (northwest). Stay left at all further junctions. You end up following Juaquapin Creek and the Sweetwater River all the way back to your 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.
Dyar Spring/Juaquapin Loop
Hike the East Mesa of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 45 miles
Hiking length: 5.8 miles