A field of rust-brown California buckwheat greets Laguna Mountain visitors.
Wildflower photo opps await.
Forget the hustle and bustle of the town. Grab a tent, pack the cooler, and head out east to Mt. Laguna.
Only an hour away from San Diego proper, once you turn onto Sunrise Highway and ascend the scenic road, you'll feel like the city is hundreds of miles behind. Located in the Cleveland National Forest, Mt. Laguna's wilderness will ease the mind and satisfy your inner explorer.
Beer: good. Beer and camping: even better.
But first: a pit stop
Driving east on Interstate 8, I can't help but make a pit stop when I see the Alpine exit. We all know San Diego's home to some of the finest craft beer, and no trip is complete without a brewery stop. Tucked away off the beaten path, Alpine Brewery offers some fine brews and BBQ you can't get in the heart of San Diego. I always opt for a Nelson Rye IPA and a mouth-watering smoked gouda grilled cheese.
Where to hike and camp
Upon reaching the mountain, I recommend pitching a tent at Burnt Rancheria campground. Located right off the Sunrise Scenic Byway, it's adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail. For those of us that don't have the time, nor the ability, to hike the PCT, this campground offers easy access to the trail with the ability to hike at your own leisure.
View from the trail.
Hiking along this section of the PCT you will stumble across a vast view of the Anza-Borrego desert. Nowhere else around will you get the solitude of the woods with a breathtaking view of the desert 6,000 feet below.
Along with the PCT, there are countless trails on Mt. Laguna that will have you engulfed in wilderness (if parking along the side of the road, be sure to get your Adventure Parking Pass). Lakes, meadows, and various species of wildlife are just the start of what you will find. After a long day of trailblazing, head back to the campsite to warm by the fire and gaze at the stars.
Across the way from the general store is Blue Jay Lodge, a dining/bar option.
Cabins, supplies, and more activities
If roughing it isn't your thing or the campgrounds are closed for the season, there's always the option of booking a cabin. The Laguna Mountain Lodge and Store offers affordable accommodations. And the best part: if you forget something, there's no need to drive back into town. Just pop into the general store, where you'll find everything from firewood to hot chocolate. If hiking equipment or snow gear is your need, a few yards down the road is the Mt. Laguna Outfitter. While the store might be small, owner Super Dave has it stocked floor-to-ceiling with anything you could possibly need. As a native to the mountain, he can also answer any of your trail questions.
Whether you're a hiker, mountain biker, bird watcher, or taking the family for a getaway, there's a little bit of something for everyone. After a day or two of being one with nature, Mt. Laguna will have you thinking about trading in your desk job for an outdoors one.
And if you find yourself not wanting to end your getaway, but needing to return to polite society, make a quick stop at Viejas to get the most out of your hour journey – only a few miles from Alpine you can play the slots or treat the family to happy-hour bowling. Or if feeling the need to be pampered, treat yourself to sushi while perusing deals at the outlets. You haven't returned to normal life yet.
Burnt Rancheria campground
Burnt Rancheria campground