Julian’s Old Banner Road, now a hiking trail, starts in a suburban-like setting among Coulter pines and black oaks and descends through lush chaparral, providing a chance to explore a fascinating bit of San Diego’s history on this old wagon road.
Horace Wilcox built the first road connecting Julian with Banner in 1871 and operated it as a toll road for several years for both livestock and vehicles. San Diego County purchased the road in 1874 and eliminated the toll. For the next 51 years the Wilcox Road was the way to get from Julian to Banner, only to be replaced with the present Banner Grade Road in 1925. Today the Wilcox Road is a well-maintained hiking trail as far as the Warlock Mine site, a distance of about 1.5 miles. This portion of the historic road has been closed to motorized vehicles since 1980 but is open to hikers, mountain-bikers, and equestrians. Although it continues on to Banner as a gravel road after the Warlock Mine site, it is signed “No Trespassing” beyond the end of the hiking trail.
Start hiking down the signed “Private Road” extending east from the cul-de-sac. You have permission to travel on this and other private roads in this area, but there is no place to park further on. The pavement ends in 0.17 mile, as you reach a dry creek bed. Three roads branch off near this point, all with signs reading “Private Road.” However, the road on the left with the yellow sign is the road to take. Immediately below the yellow sign is a crude, easy-to-miss sign reading only “Trail” and pointing to the left. The road loops around to someone’s house while the trail continues down the canyon. The hike from here is on an excellent trail that takes you through a verdant canyon surrounded by Coulter pines, black oaks, and tall manzanitas. In about a quarter of a mile Banner Canyon begins. There is a faded sign on the left that provides a brief history of the Wilcox Road. As you proceed down the trail, look for the Elsinore Fault trace on the west-facing slope of Banner Canyon across from you. The more distant, dramatic views also include Granite Mountain, Earthquake Valley, and other features of the Anza-Borrego Desert area, as well as SR-78 far below, snaking its way down the canyon.
The town of Julian got its start as a result of the discovery of gold by a former slave, Fred Coleman, in 1869. The Warlock Mine site is just one of several former mines in the vicinity of the Wilcox Road, but it is the only one that can be easily reached by the trail. The mine was first worked in 1870. Mining operations were suspended in 1957. Not much remains except rusting mining machinery. The mine itself recently collapsed. The trail to the mine site adds another half-mile to the hike. Turn around here at the mine. The old road continuing down toward Banner is private property.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 63 miles. Allow 1 hour and 20 minutes (Julian). From CA-163 N take I-8 east to CA-79 N. Turn east on SR-78/Banner Rd. to turn right on Whispering Pines Road. Turn right on Gold Dust Lane, then turn left onto Woodland Road and park in the cul-de-sac at the end of the public road. There are no facilities or drinking water.
Hiking length: 3.25 miles out and back. Allow 1.5 hours.
Difficulty: Moderate because of elevation loss/gain of 800 feet.