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Caliente Wilderness

North of Warner Springs, a several-miles-long segment of the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses Cleveland National Forest land that may one day be designated the “Caliente Wilderness Area.” Certainly the area is remote enough for official wilderness status. Through here, the PCT winds along boulder-strewn ridges and across small ravines shaded by mini-groves of live oak. There’s little noise other than the wind, and no signs of humankind other than the trail itself.

The six-mile stretch of trail profiled here (12 miles and 1700 feet of elevation gain and loss for the round trip) can be done in one long day or as an overnight backpacking excursion. Now or very soon is a great time to take this trip, since the copious rainfall of the past winter season is producing a bumper crop of fragrant blooms — both chaparral and seasonal wildflowers.

To get to the trailhead from Warner Springs, drive north (toward Aguanga and Temecula) on Highway 79 for about 1.5 miles to the thinly paved Lost Valley Road (aka Indian Flats Road) on the right. Continue up the winding Lost Valley Road for 4.6 miles until you reach a gated, abandoned dirt road on the right, a lateral trail linking to the PCT. Park in the limited space provided, and don’t forget to display your National Forest Adventure Pass on your car. Naturally, you are going to need food and water, and it’s a very good idea to have a map or GPS and basic navigational skills.

Walk up the abandoned road 0.5 mile to the place where the true PCT joins from the right. Continue uphill on the same old roadbed a mile farther to the point where newer and narrower PCT tread diverges right. Make the right turn (by staying left you would descend to a seasonal spring).

The view improves with every step now. You wind up through picturesque granitic outcrops with nice views of Lake Henshaw and the grasslands surrounding it. You lose that view as you pass north of a 5212-foot peak and contour around the head of a ravine.

The PCT continues to climb moderately and winds around another ravine, this just south of a knob also topping out at 5212 feet. It then descends slightly to cross a saddle and resumes climbing on the south side of a hill. From this hill there’s a wonderful vista into Agua Caliente Creek and across to the north slope of Hot Springs Mountain, the 6533-foot summit of which happens to be San Diego County’s high point. From nearly every vantage point but this, Hot Springs Mountain looks like an inconspicuous bump on a ridge, but from here it looks decidedly massive.

Next, the trail bends north and contours, with small ups and downs, along the east side of the ridge containing a 5412-foot peak. These slopes are tinted pink with the blossoms of manzanita and blue and white with blooming ceanothus. A dozen exotic fragrances scent the air. Recent wildfires have singed this area, so only some of the Coulter pines, live oaks, and black oaks scattered about the area are surviving.

At a point east of peak 5412, you’ll see below and to the east a grassy flat, dotted with the remains of Coulter pines and black oaks, along an upper tributary of Agua Caliente Creek. This is a perfect place for a midday picnic, and even better for an overnight stay. Leave the trail at any point where feasible and descend cross-country about 0.2 mile, losing 150 feet, to the seasonal creek. Water trickles through here until about June after a normal wet season. This relatively wet year, the supply should last longer.

You’ve gone six miles, so far, and this is a good place to turn around and retrace your steps on the return.

Caliente Wilderness
Ramble along a remote segment of the Pacific Crest Trail near Warner Springs.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 77 miles
Hiking length: 12 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

  • 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 adverse experience.
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North of Warner Springs, a several-miles-long segment of the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses Cleveland National Forest land that may one day be designated the “Caliente Wilderness Area.” Certainly the area is remote enough for official wilderness status. Through here, the PCT winds along boulder-strewn ridges and across small ravines shaded by mini-groves of live oak. There’s little noise other than the wind, and no signs of humankind other than the trail itself.

The six-mile stretch of trail profiled here (12 miles and 1700 feet of elevation gain and loss for the round trip) can be done in one long day or as an overnight backpacking excursion. Now or very soon is a great time to take this trip, since the copious rainfall of the past winter season is producing a bumper crop of fragrant blooms — both chaparral and seasonal wildflowers.

To get to the trailhead from Warner Springs, drive north (toward Aguanga and Temecula) on Highway 79 for about 1.5 miles to the thinly paved Lost Valley Road (aka Indian Flats Road) on the right. Continue up the winding Lost Valley Road for 4.6 miles until you reach a gated, abandoned dirt road on the right, a lateral trail linking to the PCT. Park in the limited space provided, and don’t forget to display your National Forest Adventure Pass on your car. Naturally, you are going to need food and water, and it’s a very good idea to have a map or GPS and basic navigational skills.

Walk up the abandoned road 0.5 mile to the place where the true PCT joins from the right. Continue uphill on the same old roadbed a mile farther to the point where newer and narrower PCT tread diverges right. Make the right turn (by staying left you would descend to a seasonal spring).

The view improves with every step now. You wind up through picturesque granitic outcrops with nice views of Lake Henshaw and the grasslands surrounding it. You lose that view as you pass north of a 5212-foot peak and contour around the head of a ravine.

The PCT continues to climb moderately and winds around another ravine, this just south of a knob also topping out at 5212 feet. It then descends slightly to cross a saddle and resumes climbing on the south side of a hill. From this hill there’s a wonderful vista into Agua Caliente Creek and across to the north slope of Hot Springs Mountain, the 6533-foot summit of which happens to be San Diego County’s high point. From nearly every vantage point but this, Hot Springs Mountain looks like an inconspicuous bump on a ridge, but from here it looks decidedly massive.

Next, the trail bends north and contours, with small ups and downs, along the east side of the ridge containing a 5412-foot peak. These slopes are tinted pink with the blossoms of manzanita and blue and white with blooming ceanothus. A dozen exotic fragrances scent the air. Recent wildfires have singed this area, so only some of the Coulter pines, live oaks, and black oaks scattered about the area are surviving.

At a point east of peak 5412, you’ll see below and to the east a grassy flat, dotted with the remains of Coulter pines and black oaks, along an upper tributary of Agua Caliente Creek. This is a perfect place for a midday picnic, and even better for an overnight stay. Leave the trail at any point where feasible and descend cross-country about 0.2 mile, losing 150 feet, to the seasonal creek. Water trickles through here until about June after a normal wet season. This relatively wet year, the supply should last longer.

You’ve gone six miles, so far, and this is a good place to turn around and retrace your steps on the return.

Caliente Wilderness
Ramble along a remote segment of the Pacific Crest Trail near Warner Springs.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 77 miles
Hiking length: 12 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

  • 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 adverse experience.
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Comments
1

Actually, if you look carefully you will find ducks leading from the PCT to the oak grove. Please follow the ducks and prevent new trails from being worn into the fire damaged soil. It is real eay to find them and follow them.

May 5, 2010

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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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