This trek is along a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail, beginning at the junction with Kitchen Creek Road. It starts on a ridgeline with expansive views of backcountry and south toward Mexico and Cameron Valley as one ascends up the gentle-to-moderate slope composed of interesting rock formations that will delight geology enthusiasts. Foliated red-stained gneiss makes a nice contrast to seasonal blooming forget-me-nots. The trail levels out and then drops into Fred Canyon with mixed chaparral lined with chamise, mountain blue curls, big berry manzanita, and an occasional desert four o’clock.
Big berry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) is well suited for Southern California habitats that range from just under zero degrees fahrenheit to hot Santa Ana conditions. This dense evergreen shrub is easily identified by its bright red bark and large berries. Big berry manzanitas need little water, tolerate salty soil, and grow well in direct sun. Manzanitas are browsed extensively by deer, while birds and small mammals are attracted to the berries.
The creek in Fred Canyon is usually dry, but there is a glade of oaks. The trail then ascends to a clearing where the Fred Canyon road crosses. Follow the road to the west 0.8 mile to Cibbets Flat Campground.
The reward on the trip comes at Cibbets Flat where Kitchen Creek tumbles over granitic rock and ponds among the cottonwoods and willows. This is a great, shady place to stop and have a bite to eat and relax and maybe soak your feet in a cool pond. There are also vault toilets, tables, and water at the campground. After Cibbets Flat, reverse direction to return to your car.
Although this hike is best in the spring when the mountain blue curls, foothill penstemon, and wild peony are in bloom, it is also beautiful on clear days with mid-high temperatures when butterflies, such as pale swallowtail, marine blues, and sulfurs, are out.
Canyoneers are San Diego Natural History Museum volunteers trained to lead interpretive nature walks that teach appreciation for the great outdoors. For a schedule of free public hikes, refer to the San Diego Natural History Museum website.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 56 miles. Allow 1.5 hours driving time. Take SR-163 north to I-8 and drive east 49.2 miles, exiting at Kitchen Creek Rd. and turning left (north). Drive north on Kitchen Creek Rd. about 2 miles, looking for the signs of the Pacific Crest Trail on both sides of the road. Park here and take the trail on the right. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park. No facilities until Cibbets Flat at the turn-around area.
Hiking length: 6 miles — 3 miles out and back. Difficulty: Moderate with approximately 1350 feet elevation gain/loss. Open spots on the trail can get very warm. Brings lots of water.