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Big Laguna for little legs

Casual hike to Monument Peak accessible for all ages, but watch out for... lasers?

The desert view from Monument Peak looks down on Mason Valley and Whale Peak.
The desert view from Monument Peak looks down on Mason Valley and Whale Peak.
Monument Peak-Big Laguna & Monument Peak trailhead

This is a short, easy stroll through an open Jeffrey pine and black-oak woodland with stands of old-growth chaparral to a peaklet with outstanding views of the desert and Laguna and Cuyamaca mountains. Although Monument Peak is not very prominent when viewed from the Sunrise Highway, at 6270 feet, it is the fourth highest point in San Diego County. It is especially impressive when viewed from Mason Valley in the Anza-Borrego desert, only a few miles east but nearly 5000 feet lower.

The panorama taken from Monument Peak shows the escarpment drop into the desert from the forested Laguna Mountains.

Begin hiking on the signed Big Laguna Trail heading north, northeast, away from the Sunrise Highway as it goes through stands of tall Jeffrey pines and large black oaks with an occasional ponderosa or Coulter pine. It is an open forest, or woodland, with patches of annual grasses and abundant wildflowers. In season, these include phacelia, San Bernardino aster, yarrow, slender sunflower, and rockrose. The Big Laguna Trail ends in half a mile when it reaches the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Go left or north on the PCT for another 0.38 mile. Although there has been only a minor change in altitude, this short distance leads into dense chaparral with some quite large manzanita, scrub oaks, and mountain mahogany that have grown into small trees.

Hike from Big Laguna Trailhead to Monument Peak

At 0.9 mile from your vehicle, the PCT takes a sharp left turn. At this point, a use trail continues straight ahead where Monument Peak, crowned with microwave antennae, can easily be seen. Follow the use trail up the shallow ravine to a firebreak bulldozed along the desert divide ridge. Continue up the firebreak toward the microwave towers to a paved road, which you can follow to the peak.

This appears to be a busy communications area. In addition to four clusters of antennae, there also is a laser facility and a helicopter pad. The road is not open to motorized vehicles other than those for the workers. While hikers can explore the peak, they must keep off the antennae and away from the laser targets. The views are the main reason to visit this peak, and they can be spectacular. Once you have finished exploring the peak, return the way you came.


Distance from downtown San Diego: About 57 miles. Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes driving time. Drive I-8 east about 50 miles to the junction with the Sunrise Highway, SR-1. Exit and go north about 7 miles on SR-1 to mile post 25.2. There is ample free parking off the road. A Forest Service Adventure Pass must be displayed in your vehicle. The hike begins at the Big Laguna Trailhead on the east side of the highway.

Hiking length: 2 miles out-and-back. Allow 1.5 hours.

Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss 500 feet. Accessible all year. Part of the hike is on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is not open to mountain-bikers or dogs. No facilities or water. Carry water. Good hike for families with children.

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The desert view from Monument Peak looks down on Mason Valley and Whale Peak.
The desert view from Monument Peak looks down on Mason Valley and Whale Peak.
Monument Peak-Big Laguna & Monument Peak trailhead

This is a short, easy stroll through an open Jeffrey pine and black-oak woodland with stands of old-growth chaparral to a peaklet with outstanding views of the desert and Laguna and Cuyamaca mountains. Although Monument Peak is not very prominent when viewed from the Sunrise Highway, at 6270 feet, it is the fourth highest point in San Diego County. It is especially impressive when viewed from Mason Valley in the Anza-Borrego desert, only a few miles east but nearly 5000 feet lower.

The panorama taken from Monument Peak shows the escarpment drop into the desert from the forested Laguna Mountains.

Begin hiking on the signed Big Laguna Trail heading north, northeast, away from the Sunrise Highway as it goes through stands of tall Jeffrey pines and large black oaks with an occasional ponderosa or Coulter pine. It is an open forest, or woodland, with patches of annual grasses and abundant wildflowers. In season, these include phacelia, San Bernardino aster, yarrow, slender sunflower, and rockrose. The Big Laguna Trail ends in half a mile when it reaches the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Go left or north on the PCT for another 0.38 mile. Although there has been only a minor change in altitude, this short distance leads into dense chaparral with some quite large manzanita, scrub oaks, and mountain mahogany that have grown into small trees.

Hike from Big Laguna Trailhead to Monument Peak

At 0.9 mile from your vehicle, the PCT takes a sharp left turn. At this point, a use trail continues straight ahead where Monument Peak, crowned with microwave antennae, can easily be seen. Follow the use trail up the shallow ravine to a firebreak bulldozed along the desert divide ridge. Continue up the firebreak toward the microwave towers to a paved road, which you can follow to the peak.

This appears to be a busy communications area. In addition to four clusters of antennae, there also is a laser facility and a helicopter pad. The road is not open to motorized vehicles other than those for the workers. While hikers can explore the peak, they must keep off the antennae and away from the laser targets. The views are the main reason to visit this peak, and they can be spectacular. Once you have finished exploring the peak, return the way you came.


Distance from downtown San Diego: About 57 miles. Allow 1 hour and 15 minutes driving time. Drive I-8 east about 50 miles to the junction with the Sunrise Highway, SR-1. Exit and go north about 7 miles on SR-1 to mile post 25.2. There is ample free parking off the road. A Forest Service Adventure Pass must be displayed in your vehicle. The hike begins at the Big Laguna Trailhead on the east side of the highway.

Hiking length: 2 miles out-and-back. Allow 1.5 hours.

Difficulty: Easy. Elevation gain/loss 500 feet. Accessible all year. Part of the hike is on the Pacific Crest Trail, which is not open to mountain-bikers or dogs. No facilities or water. Carry water. Good hike for families with children.

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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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