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The Pacific Crest Trail follows the currently lively Agua Caliente Creek near Warner Springs

Until about 30 years ago, the canyon of Agua Caliente Creek, in the Cleveland National Forest above Warner Springs, seldom saw the intrusion of humans. After the 2600-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail was routed through, it became recognized as a pleasant camping spot for backpackers heading north toward Canada or south toward Mexico. This is one of only four places in San Diego County where the PCT dips to cross a fairly dependable stream, and the only place in the county where that trail closely follows running water for a fair distance. You can walk a total of eight miles round trip (out and back) to enjoy the most interesting stretch of the canyon.

Begin at the Agua Caliente Creek bridge at mile 36.6 on Highway 79, 1.3 miles west of Warner Springs. There's a turnout for parking just west (mile 36.7) and a dirt road slanting over to where the PCT crosses under the highway. Proceed upstream along the cottonwood-shaded creek, first on the left (north) bank, then on the right. In this first mile, the trail goes through Warner Ranch resort property on an easement. Near the Cleveland National Forest boundary, the canyon narrows, and water trickes or gushes (depending on recent rainfall) out of a narrow declivity.

The trail detours a rough section of canyon ahead by swinging to the east and climbing moderately onto gentle slopes smothered with soft-looking ribbonwood chaparral, and sparsely dotted with cholla and prickly pear cactus. Horseback riders have worn in trails that intersect the PCT here and there, so staying on the correct route may prove a little challenging. After about 1.5 miles of somewhat tedious twisting and turning in the chaparral, you end up down along the bank of the creek again.

Ahead, for a mile or more, lies an appealing stretch of twisting canyon bottom, lined with live oaks, sycamores, and willows, all festooned this month with fresh green leaves. The PCT crosses the creek several times (these may be foot-wetting fords during the next month or two) and strikes up-slope to avoid the rockier, rougher stretches of the canyon bottom. Eventually, the trail veers sharply left and begins a switchbacking ascent northwest up dry slopes toward Lost Valley Road. You've come four miles and reached a good spot to turn around and return the same way.


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 detrimental experience.

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Until about 30 years ago, the canyon of Agua Caliente Creek, in the Cleveland National Forest above Warner Springs, seldom saw the intrusion of humans. After the 2600-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail was routed through, it became recognized as a pleasant camping spot for backpackers heading north toward Canada or south toward Mexico. This is one of only four places in San Diego County where the PCT dips to cross a fairly dependable stream, and the only place in the county where that trail closely follows running water for a fair distance. You can walk a total of eight miles round trip (out and back) to enjoy the most interesting stretch of the canyon.

Begin at the Agua Caliente Creek bridge at mile 36.6 on Highway 79, 1.3 miles west of Warner Springs. There's a turnout for parking just west (mile 36.7) and a dirt road slanting over to where the PCT crosses under the highway. Proceed upstream along the cottonwood-shaded creek, first on the left (north) bank, then on the right. In this first mile, the trail goes through Warner Ranch resort property on an easement. Near the Cleveland National Forest boundary, the canyon narrows, and water trickes or gushes (depending on recent rainfall) out of a narrow declivity.

The trail detours a rough section of canyon ahead by swinging to the east and climbing moderately onto gentle slopes smothered with soft-looking ribbonwood chaparral, and sparsely dotted with cholla and prickly pear cactus. Horseback riders have worn in trails that intersect the PCT here and there, so staying on the correct route may prove a little challenging. After about 1.5 miles of somewhat tedious twisting and turning in the chaparral, you end up down along the bank of the creek again.

Ahead, for a mile or more, lies an appealing stretch of twisting canyon bottom, lined with live oaks, sycamores, and willows, all festooned this month with fresh green leaves. The PCT crosses the creek several times (these may be foot-wetting fords during the next month or two) and strikes up-slope to avoid the rockier, rougher stretches of the canyon bottom. Eventually, the trail veers sharply left and begins a switchbacking ascent northwest up dry slopes toward Lost Valley Road. You've come four miles and reached a good spot to turn around and return the same way.


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 detrimental experience.

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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
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