When you reach the peak, you’ll find memorials of earlier ascents left by other hikers.
The goal of this hike is to climb to the top of the unnamed mountain that rises steeply to the northwest, where the view will be your reward. Carlsbad’s highest mountain offers a 360-degree view of the North Coast, nearby Batiquitos Lagoon, and beyond, to the Pacific and its islands. On a clear day, the view to the south extends to Mt. Soledad and the tall buildings of downtown San Diego. Other clearly visible landmarks from the mountaintop include Iron Mountain, Mt. Woodson, Bernardo Peak, and Palomar Mountain. An added bonus is taking the hike from late January through May, when massive numbers of colorful blooming shrubs and annuals greet visitors to this area, including fields of California poppies, Phacelia, baby blue-eyes, black sage, deer weed, California lilac, wild hyacinth, and blue-eyed grass.
There are eight trails that lead to the top of the mountain. However, the best route is going up the Horned Lizard Trail and returning via Denning Road and the Whiptail Loop Trail. These trails go through some interesting terrain, mostly cloaked with coastal sage scrub vegetation, but occasionally Ceanothus chaparral. There are also several large patches of cryptogamic soil where lichens are the dominant cryptogam.
Begin by hiking east on the dirt road that parallels the power line that crosses Camino Junipero Rd. Follow the power line for about 0.4 mile and look for the start of the signed Horned Lizard Trail that leads off to the left. The trail goes all the way to the top through a series of switchbacks that make this an easy climb. At 1.6 miles into the hike, the trail crosses a fire break, and at 1.68 miles the trail forks. Go straight ahead to the “Viewpoint,” the term used to designate the top of the mountain. When you reach the broad, almost-flat high point you will have hiked 2 miles.
After taking in the view, go east on the dirt trail designated “Denning Road,” which crosses the northeast shoulder of the peak. Continue east on Denning Road for 0.33 mile until you reach a sign where the Whiptail Loop Trail crosses the road. Go right on the Whiptail Loop Trail and follow it for approximately 2 miles down to power-line access road that is designated the La Costa Junipero Trail on the map. Go right and follow it west back to Camino Junipero Road and your car.
Distance from downtown San Diego: About 35 miles. Travel north on I-5 and exit at La Costa Ave. Go east 4 miles and then turn left on Rancho Santa Fe Rd. Proceed 0.8 mile to Camino Junípero and turn right. The trailhead is on the north side of Camino Junípero where the power lines cross the road. Park on a nearby cross-street or at the end of Camino Junípero. Hiking length: 4.5 miles round trip.
Difficulty: Easy hike with about a 500-foot change in elevation from beginning to end. The trails are well maintained and marked but the trail maps provided by the City of Carlsbad are inaccurate, misleading, and confusing. The map provided by the Rancho La Costa Habitat Conservation Area is better and may be available at the trailhead. Watch for mountain bikers who regularly use the designated trails and have created several of their own trails. No facilities, drinking water, or shade on this hike, but there is a cooling breeze from the Pacific. Hazards on this hike include rattlesnakes, mountain lions (not very common) and dehydration.