Bring friends, as this is a trail less traveled. The route averages a 7 percent steady climb with short sections of 60 percent (stairs) at the 4588 peak before reaching the plateau to Corte Madera Mountain. Return is by the same route, so check your back trail for points of reference. It will look different with the downhill return much faster on this five-hour hike!
The trail starts directly across from the off-pavement parking and goes up to a Birds of Prey sign. Watching for traffic, cross to the unsigned gated Kernan Road. The first 20 feet of the trail ends with a drop-off to the road and is slippery because of loose soil. Squeezing around the gate may be a better option. Enjoy the oak-shaded dirt road for 0.5 mile and then continue in the northwest direction behind the signed garbage can onto the Espinosa Trail.
At 1.5 miles, look back over the view of the valley at the hiker’s gate before crossing the intersection of fire roads. This is the first view of the 300-foot-high precipice of Corte Madera Mountain just right and beyond the sign. Clearly marked are Espinosa Trail, Los Pinos Peak (closed vertical access road) and the Corral Canyon OHV Area. An added wooden sign labeled Corte Madera Mt. points to the right, where you continue on a fire road until coming to a T junction. Directly across and to the right of a slab of granodiorite rocks, another Birds of Prey sign marks the Corte Madera Mountain Trail. The trail narrows with manzanita, sage, rocks, Coulter pines, and oaks making it easy to follow but sometimes a challenge to see at a distance.
What has been a steady uphill becomes steep to near a 60 percent grade up and over the 4588-foot peak. This is where trekking poles and/or hands help scramble up and over rocks and loose soil. Take a break and bring your cameras out for spectacular views of Los Pinos Mt., Long Valley Peak, Corte Madera Valley, and the Pine Valley Bridge over Secret Canyon. Continue past the split rock and start down. Once descending past a huge boulder at your left shoulder, the last mile seems effortless. The trail is easy to follow with one Y junction where you veer left. The right leads up to private property in Corte Madera Valley. There are a couple of granodiorite slabs where cairns help your confidence in continuing on the trail to Corte Madera Mountain peak.
The current peak guestbook, made by Anna (age 9), is in a coffee can surrounded by and weighted down by rocks on the highest point. The 360-degree view of mountain ranges and valleys is remarkable on a clear day. To the south in Baja California is the Sierra Juarez plateau with the Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands to the west; east has a view of Los Pinos Mountain and the Espinosa Trail.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 64 miles. Allow 90 minutes driving time.
Directions: (Corral Canyon OHV area) From CA-163 N, exit onto I-8 E. Take the Buckman Springs Rd. exit and turn south for approximately 3 miles. Turn west into the Corral Canyon OHV area, onto Corral Canyon Rd./Morena Stokes Valley Rd. Drive 4.8 miles, just past a green gate (Kernan Rd.) and hairpin curve to park off pavement on the east side (room for 3–4 cars). No facilities. An Adventure Pass is required.
Hiking length: Approximately 7 miles.
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous with 1800-foot elevation loss/gain. Trekking poles recommended for steep sections. The trail is mostly narrow and rocky once leaving the fire road.