Anchor ads are not supported on this page.

4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Navigate through boulders and pinyon pines to the mile-high summit of Whale Peak in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

If you've put off a visit to the local desert this season due to poor wildflower prospects, it's not too late, or too hot, for a rewarding visit to Whale Peak. This gently swelling summit, frosted with giant boulders and dotted with pinyon pines, stands in the middle of the sprawling Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a park known for its extremes of high temperature. During the next few weeks, however, you can visit the mile-plus-high peak without too much risk of encountering a midday temperature higher than about 85 degrees.

The trip described here, which involves the least amount of hiking, is not without its complications. First, you will need a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the trailhead (compact SUVs are insufficient). Second, you will need some well-honed spatial skills to successfully navigate on foot to the peak and back again. The summit of Whale Peak lies within a complex of similar-looking ridges and gentle valleys and remains hidden from view until you are almost upon it. On the return, it is easy to get turned around while descending a promising gully, only to realize later that you are moving in the wrong direction.

Sponsored
Sponsored

At mile 21.4 on Highway S-2 (4 miles south of Highway 78 at Scissors Crossing), turn east on Pinyon Mountain Road. Stay right at the fork at 0.1 mile, and continue up a gentle incline. Watch out for patches of soft sand. A short stretch of protruding rocks is encountered about 4 miles up the road. At 5.7 miles, the road tops a watershed divide at 3980 feet elevation in the middle of a saddle called Pinyon Mountain Valley. Find a place to park along a spur road going south, or somewhere else nearby. Stash in your pack plenty of food and more water than you think you'll need for the four-mile round-trip hike ahead.

Start by heading directly up a steep narrow ravine to the south, beyond the spur road. The north-facing, partially shaded slopes hereabouts sport an agreeable collection of gnarled pinyon pines, bushy junipers, Mojave yuccas, and large, yucca-like "nolinas," a.k.a. "beargrass." A little hand-and-foot climbing may be required to get past some of the larger granitic boulders in the bottom of the ravine. As you climb, look north across Pinyon Mountain Valley to a drier ridge called the Pinyon Mountains, beyond where your car is parked. Memorize its appearance. If you lose your way on the return, this ridge, spotted from some higher elevation, can be your guiding light.

After 400 feet of ascent in the gully, you will find yourself amid level terrain. Now head generally southeast on an undulating, generally uphill track, boulder-hopping occasionally and dodging wiry pinyon pines, junipers, scrub oaks, manzanitas, yuccas, and nolinas along the way. "Ducks" (small piles of stones set out by hikers as trail markers) may help guide the way if you manage to hook up with one of the many informal pathways worn by the footsteps of hikers. Choosing a reasonably straight route to the summit will get you there in two miles or less, with an elevation gain of nearly 1500 feet.

A climbers' register can be found tucked below Whale Peak's summit boulders. On a clear day, the panorama is superb: the Salton Sea in the east, Baja's mesalike Sierra Juárez in the south, and the impressive wall of the Laguna Mountains to the west.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Otay Ranch mom muses on silly North County dads

People in general don’t hate Priuses

If you've put off a visit to the local desert this season due to poor wildflower prospects, it's not too late, or too hot, for a rewarding visit to Whale Peak. This gently swelling summit, frosted with giant boulders and dotted with pinyon pines, stands in the middle of the sprawling Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a park known for its extremes of high temperature. During the next few weeks, however, you can visit the mile-plus-high peak without too much risk of encountering a midday temperature higher than about 85 degrees.

The trip described here, which involves the least amount of hiking, is not without its complications. First, you will need a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the trailhead (compact SUVs are insufficient). Second, you will need some well-honed spatial skills to successfully navigate on foot to the peak and back again. The summit of Whale Peak lies within a complex of similar-looking ridges and gentle valleys and remains hidden from view until you are almost upon it. On the return, it is easy to get turned around while descending a promising gully, only to realize later that you are moving in the wrong direction.

Sponsored
Sponsored

At mile 21.4 on Highway S-2 (4 miles south of Highway 78 at Scissors Crossing), turn east on Pinyon Mountain Road. Stay right at the fork at 0.1 mile, and continue up a gentle incline. Watch out for patches of soft sand. A short stretch of protruding rocks is encountered about 4 miles up the road. At 5.7 miles, the road tops a watershed divide at 3980 feet elevation in the middle of a saddle called Pinyon Mountain Valley. Find a place to park along a spur road going south, or somewhere else nearby. Stash in your pack plenty of food and more water than you think you'll need for the four-mile round-trip hike ahead.

Start by heading directly up a steep narrow ravine to the south, beyond the spur road. The north-facing, partially shaded slopes hereabouts sport an agreeable collection of gnarled pinyon pines, bushy junipers, Mojave yuccas, and large, yucca-like "nolinas," a.k.a. "beargrass." A little hand-and-foot climbing may be required to get past some of the larger granitic boulders in the bottom of the ravine. As you climb, look north across Pinyon Mountain Valley to a drier ridge called the Pinyon Mountains, beyond where your car is parked. Memorize its appearance. If you lose your way on the return, this ridge, spotted from some higher elevation, can be your guiding light.

After 400 feet of ascent in the gully, you will find yourself amid level terrain. Now head generally southeast on an undulating, generally uphill track, boulder-hopping occasionally and dodging wiry pinyon pines, junipers, scrub oaks, manzanitas, yuccas, and nolinas along the way. "Ducks" (small piles of stones set out by hikers as trail markers) may help guide the way if you manage to hook up with one of the many informal pathways worn by the footsteps of hikers. Choosing a reasonably straight route to the summit will get you there in two miles or less, with an elevation gain of nearly 1500 feet.

A climbers' register can be found tucked below Whale Peak's summit boulders. On a clear day, the panorama is superb: the Salton Sea in the east, Baja's mesalike Sierra Juárez in the south, and the impressive wall of the Laguna Mountains to the west.

Comments
Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Why parrots are so good for San Diego

They like palm nuts, eucalyptus gumnuts, not native plants
Next Article

Wing Wars: Chicken Wing Crawl Competition, Thrift Store Treasure Bazaar

Events March 9-March 13, 2024
Comments
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox Movies@Home — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close

Anchor ads are not supported on this page.