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The New Flume Trail Out of El Monte County Park

Flume Trail vista — down El Monte Valley
Flume Trail vista — down El Monte Valley

The County of San Diego’s brand-new Flume Trail linking El Monte Park to Blossom Valley is hardly flat, as the name “flume” might imply. On the contrary, it darts relentlessly upward on a zigzagging route, gaining some 1100 feet of elevation. Another strange thing about this trail is the name of the destination, Blossom Valley. At the top end of the trail, you end up at the northern border of the unincorporated community of Blossom Valley, which happens to be the top of a ridge.

What’s the flume connection? The trail crosses, but does not follow, the remains of the century-plus-old, redwood-planked flume, or aqueduct, that once brought the waters of the Cuyamaca Mountains to Grossmont Summit (La Mesa) and farther west. Much of the flume’s 36-mile-long grade is hard to identify today, since little fill-dirt was used to maintain the flume’s uniform fall of 4 feet, 8 inches to the mile. Instead, workers employed numerous cuts, several tunnels, and more than 300 trestles. The completion and filling of El Capitan Reservoir in the 1930s put an end to the flume’s usefulness. The nine million board-feet of lumber used for the flume itself and for the trestles was scavenged a long time ago.

To get to the trailhead from Lake Jennings Road in Lakeside, drive east on El Monte Road for about four miles. On the left is a just-opened, spacious trailhead parking lot/equestrian staging area. On the right lies El Monte County Park, a beautiful picnic and recreation park set among live oaks, all below the soaring south face of El Cajon Mountain (known as El Capitan). Take your pick: park in the staging area for free or enter El Monte Park and pay a $3 day-use fee.

The Flume Trail starts by wrapping around the west boundary of El Monte County Park. It slips through a break in a chain-link fence, and then begins its relentless ascent. The trail’s nearly uniform four feet width accommodates horses and hikers.

At about 0.6 mile into the hike, the trail levels out (the unrecognizable flume grade once crossed here), drops down a short series of switchbacks to avoid a parcel of private land, and then starts climbing again. You see the task ahead: put one foot after another on the clearly visible upward zigzags imprinted on the hillside to the south.

As you climb, there are jaw-dropping vistas of El Capitan rising in the east and a beautiful panorama of the agricultural El Monte Valley stretching west. On the distant hillside to the left of the valley, you’ll spot the unmistakable trace of the flume grade. Cut-and-fill construction was possible along that stretch, and the scar remains.

At nearly two miles, the trail levels, descends slightly, and you end up at the edge of Creek Hills Road in Blossom Valley, next to the common driveway serving addresses 15222 and 15234. There’s only one way back to El Monte Park: retracing your steps. On the other hand, consider having a friend drop you off at one end of the trail and later pick you up at the other end. Go up if you want intense exercise. Head down if you don’t, but at the possible expense of sore knees.

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.

East County’s Flume Trail

Earn your exercise points on the new Flume Trail out of El Monte Park.

Distance from downtown San Diego: 25 miles

Hiking length: 4 miles round trip • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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Flume Trail vista — down El Monte Valley
Flume Trail vista — down El Monte Valley

The County of San Diego’s brand-new Flume Trail linking El Monte Park to Blossom Valley is hardly flat, as the name “flume” might imply. On the contrary, it darts relentlessly upward on a zigzagging route, gaining some 1100 feet of elevation. Another strange thing about this trail is the name of the destination, Blossom Valley. At the top end of the trail, you end up at the northern border of the unincorporated community of Blossom Valley, which happens to be the top of a ridge.

What’s the flume connection? The trail crosses, but does not follow, the remains of the century-plus-old, redwood-planked flume, or aqueduct, that once brought the waters of the Cuyamaca Mountains to Grossmont Summit (La Mesa) and farther west. Much of the flume’s 36-mile-long grade is hard to identify today, since little fill-dirt was used to maintain the flume’s uniform fall of 4 feet, 8 inches to the mile. Instead, workers employed numerous cuts, several tunnels, and more than 300 trestles. The completion and filling of El Capitan Reservoir in the 1930s put an end to the flume’s usefulness. The nine million board-feet of lumber used for the flume itself and for the trestles was scavenged a long time ago.

To get to the trailhead from Lake Jennings Road in Lakeside, drive east on El Monte Road for about four miles. On the left is a just-opened, spacious trailhead parking lot/equestrian staging area. On the right lies El Monte County Park, a beautiful picnic and recreation park set among live oaks, all below the soaring south face of El Cajon Mountain (known as El Capitan). Take your pick: park in the staging area for free or enter El Monte Park and pay a $3 day-use fee.

The Flume Trail starts by wrapping around the west boundary of El Monte County Park. It slips through a break in a chain-link fence, and then begins its relentless ascent. The trail’s nearly uniform four feet width accommodates horses and hikers.

At about 0.6 mile into the hike, the trail levels out (the unrecognizable flume grade once crossed here), drops down a short series of switchbacks to avoid a parcel of private land, and then starts climbing again. You see the task ahead: put one foot after another on the clearly visible upward zigzags imprinted on the hillside to the south.

As you climb, there are jaw-dropping vistas of El Capitan rising in the east and a beautiful panorama of the agricultural El Monte Valley stretching west. On the distant hillside to the left of the valley, you’ll spot the unmistakable trace of the flume grade. Cut-and-fill construction was possible along that stretch, and the scar remains.

At nearly two miles, the trail levels, descends slightly, and you end up at the edge of Creek Hills Road in Blossom Valley, next to the common driveway serving addresses 15222 and 15234. There’s only one way back to El Monte Park: retracing your steps. On the other hand, consider having a friend drop you off at one end of the trail and later pick you up at the other end. Go up if you want intense exercise. Head down if you don’t, but at the possible expense of sore knees.

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.

East County’s Flume Trail

Earn your exercise points on the new Flume Trail out of El Monte Park.

Distance from downtown San Diego: 25 miles

Hiking length: 4 miles round trip • Difficulty: Moderately strenuous

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Comments
5

Jerry - What's the significance of 4 feet, 8 inches for every mile? I'm sure it probably has something to do with the weight and movement of the water - just wondering why it was so specific.

thanks

April 27, 2011

But get out there soon! It's a beautiful valley, with farmlands, horse and cattle ranches, and natural beauty, but if SDGE has its way, the view will be dominated by huge towers and high-voltage power transmission lines, known as Sunrise Powerlink. Although construction has already begun, it's not a done-deal, there are legitimate (and hopefully, successful!) lawsuits trying to stop this ill-conceived project. Consider this if you've never seen this valley: huge towers and multiple electric lines along Sunset Cliffs, through Balboa Park, or through La Jolla and Torrey Pines - you get my drift! It stands to make a lot of money as SDGE/Sempra brings power to LA from Imperial Valley and Mexico, so they're pulling out all the stops to desecrate this land and other areas of the backcountry - not to mention hazards for firefighters in this known high-risk region!

April 28, 2011

Googling the flume, I happened on this article 8 years later.

The power lines are indeed a blemish, but what amazes me is how small they seem nestled in the valley's grand walls, and ends up serving as a testimony to how our works are dwarfed by nature.

May 12, 2019

SDParrothead:

Not being a hydraulic engineer, and being lazy enough to not look this up ... I can still make an off-the-cuff educated guess. There's a certain amount of friction associated with gravity flow of a liquid through any conduit. Depends on the viscosity of the liquid, how rough or smooth the bottom of the channel is, and the slope, which determines the downward component of gravity, which of course keeps things moving. Plus there are myriad fine points such as slow (laminar) flow versus fast (turbulent) flow -- you don't want the latter. All of this is modeled by theoretical equations these days, but the practical knowledge has been around since antiquity based on experiment. Maybe some hydraulic engineer will jump in at this point and complete the story.

April 28, 2011

olderugger,

Yes, you can see at the mouth of the El Monte Valley the staging area for the construction of the Sunrise Powerlink.

For me, this is a tough one to be favor of or against. On the one hand we have new ways to tap into alternative energy. On the other, we have the marring of landscapes such as El Monte Valley.

I am at least happy that the route has been changed from the one that would have crossed the middle of the Anza-Borrego Desert and the Santa Ysabel area.

April 28, 2011

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