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Exercise both your body and spirit in Monserate Mountain Preserve

Climb to vistas in northern San Diego County

An insect pauses before entering into the center of a bushmallow
An insect pauses before entering into the center of a bushmallow

Monserate Mountain Preserve, located in San Diego’s North County, is the second largest of 11 preserves within the 2700-acre Fallbrook Land Conservancy. The preserve began with an acquisition of 225 acres in 2000; more acreage was added a few years later to bring the current total to 340. The mountain is within what was once the 3323-acre Monserrate Land Grant claimed by Isidro Alvarado in 1846, which was located on both sides of I-15. Rancho Monserrate (Spanish for “jagged mountain”) was named for a famous mountain and monastery located in Catalonia, Spain. The name of the mountain today is a variant of the original spelling.

One of the rewards for climbing the steep trail to the 1567-foot mountain summit is the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Agua Tibia Mountains to the east. Along the way is the additional visual treat of displays of native wildflowers such as wild hyacinth, Parry’s phacelia, chaparral mallow, and monkey flowers. Spring is the best time for catching the most native color.

There are additional rewards for the other senses as one climbs the mountain. The aroma of white sage and California sagebrush will fill the air on a warm afternoon while the songs of birds such as a California thrasher can be heard from the chaparral-covered hillsides. However, do not venture off the trail since the Southern Pacific rattlesnake is known to inhabit the area. The area has grown back nicely since it was burned in the 2007 Rice Fire that destroyed over 9000 acres in this area.

Map of Monserate Mountain Preserve

The most direct way to conquer Monserate is a 3.5 mile out-and-back hike from the trailhead off of Pankey Road on the west side of the mountain. There is a well-marked trail leading to the summit with 1180 feet of elevation to be gained. The climb starts immediately and leads quickly to a gate that is the entrance into the preserve. At 0.5 mile beyond the gate, there is an intersection with a paved road; go left and the pavement soon gives way to a dirt trail. The sounds of the freeway begin to fade as one continues to ascend over the next mile. Both Red Diamond and the Canonita trails will intersect the main trail. Leave exploring them for another day and continue straight ahead and uphill.

Eventually, there will be another intersection with the trail diverging in three directions. On the left is a false summit, while the right leads to a water tower. A short climb up the middle path leads to the summit where there is a large pile of rocks, a USGS marker, and an old metal registry box. After taking a rest and enjoying the views, retrace your path down the mountain to your vehicle.

In 2010, the Fallbrook Firefighters Association began an annual 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb to honor the memory of the 343 firefighters who were killed when the Twin Towers collapsed. The event, held in September of each year, is a 5K hike up Monserate Mountain, which has an elevation gain similar to the height of the Twin Towers.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 50 miles. Allow 55 minutes driving time (Fallbrook). From I-15 N, take exit 46/SR-76 and turn left (west) onto SR-76 then right (north) just past the gas station onto Old Hwy 395 for 3 miles. Turn right (east) onto Stewart Canyon Rd., passing under I-15 and then at the T-junction turn right (south) onto Pankey Rd. and immediately park on the right. The trailhead is across the road.

Hiking length: 3.5 miles out-and-back.

Difficulty: Intermediate to difficult with about 1200 feet of elevation gain/loss. Hikers, bicycles, and dogs (on leashes) are allowed. No facilities. Hours dawn to dusk. For information, call 760-728-0889.

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An insect pauses before entering into the center of a bushmallow
An insect pauses before entering into the center of a bushmallow

Monserate Mountain Preserve, located in San Diego’s North County, is the second largest of 11 preserves within the 2700-acre Fallbrook Land Conservancy. The preserve began with an acquisition of 225 acres in 2000; more acreage was added a few years later to bring the current total to 340. The mountain is within what was once the 3323-acre Monserrate Land Grant claimed by Isidro Alvarado in 1846, which was located on both sides of I-15. Rancho Monserrate (Spanish for “jagged mountain”) was named for a famous mountain and monastery located in Catalonia, Spain. The name of the mountain today is a variant of the original spelling.

One of the rewards for climbing the steep trail to the 1567-foot mountain summit is the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Agua Tibia Mountains to the east. Along the way is the additional visual treat of displays of native wildflowers such as wild hyacinth, Parry’s phacelia, chaparral mallow, and monkey flowers. Spring is the best time for catching the most native color.

There are additional rewards for the other senses as one climbs the mountain. The aroma of white sage and California sagebrush will fill the air on a warm afternoon while the songs of birds such as a California thrasher can be heard from the chaparral-covered hillsides. However, do not venture off the trail since the Southern Pacific rattlesnake is known to inhabit the area. The area has grown back nicely since it was burned in the 2007 Rice Fire that destroyed over 9000 acres in this area.

Map of Monserate Mountain Preserve

The most direct way to conquer Monserate is a 3.5 mile out-and-back hike from the trailhead off of Pankey Road on the west side of the mountain. There is a well-marked trail leading to the summit with 1180 feet of elevation to be gained. The climb starts immediately and leads quickly to a gate that is the entrance into the preserve. At 0.5 mile beyond the gate, there is an intersection with a paved road; go left and the pavement soon gives way to a dirt trail. The sounds of the freeway begin to fade as one continues to ascend over the next mile. Both Red Diamond and the Canonita trails will intersect the main trail. Leave exploring them for another day and continue straight ahead and uphill.

Eventually, there will be another intersection with the trail diverging in three directions. On the left is a false summit, while the right leads to a water tower. A short climb up the middle path leads to the summit where there is a large pile of rocks, a USGS marker, and an old metal registry box. After taking a rest and enjoying the views, retrace your path down the mountain to your vehicle.

In 2010, the Fallbrook Firefighters Association began an annual 9/11 Memorial Hill Climb to honor the memory of the 343 firefighters who were killed when the Twin Towers collapsed. The event, held in September of each year, is a 5K hike up Monserate Mountain, which has an elevation gain similar to the height of the Twin Towers.


Distance from downtown San Diego: 50 miles. Allow 55 minutes driving time (Fallbrook). From I-15 N, take exit 46/SR-76 and turn left (west) onto SR-76 then right (north) just past the gas station onto Old Hwy 395 for 3 miles. Turn right (east) onto Stewart Canyon Rd., passing under I-15 and then at the T-junction turn right (south) onto Pankey Rd. and immediately park on the right. The trailhead is across the road.

Hiking length: 3.5 miles out-and-back.

Difficulty: Intermediate to difficult with about 1200 feet of elevation gain/loss. Hikers, bicycles, and dogs (on leashes) are allowed. No facilities. Hours dawn to dusk. For information, call 760-728-0889.

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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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