The standard route to Granite Springs is from the Sweetwater Trailhead located in Cuyamaca Rancho State Parks south-central region, but if you prefer a quieter approach, the Deer Park Trail offers plenty of solitude, wildflowers, and expansive views to the surrounding hills of the Cuyamacas and Lagunas. The best time to visit this area is from October through May, as the summer months can be quite warm and buggy.
Start the walk by heading north through the gate on Deer Park Road, a dirt track too rough for most passenger vehicles. Follow this road as it descends about 200 feet through patches of shade and crosses Indian Creek. The road then ascends gradually through Deer Park before dropping once again to meet Pine Valley Creek in 1.3 miles. Look to your left, pick up the signed Deer Park Trail (labeled East Mesa Fire Road on some maps), and climb out of the Pine Valley Creek drainage as the route curves around low hills for 1.5 miles. There is a variety of wildflowers in spring, as well as scattered patches of pine trees that provide welcome shade on warmer days. Summer has flattop buckwheat in bloom with mountain mahogany interspersed with oak and pine trees.
After about 300 feet of climbing, the terrain opens up into a pastoral scene of grasslands dotted with oaks and pines. Turn left/south at the Harvey Moore Trail and follow this mostly flat trail for about a mile until, shortly before reaching Granite Springs, the path descends a couple of switchbacks for the final push to the trail camp. You will pass by a hand pump for water (which must be filtered/treated before drinking) and a couple of informational kiosks before reaching a very large oak tree with a wooden bench underneath, a perfect spot to rest in the shade and take your lunch as you gaze upward at the massive canopy of this grand old oak. After enjoying your time at this backcountry stop, return the way you came, making sure not to miss the view of Stonewall Peak when walking back north through the grasslands.
Do not disturb those camping at the nearby tent campsites or if there are horses in the three corrals. To plan an overnight stay at Granite Springs Trail Camp, reservations are required at reserveamerica.com or by calling 1-800-444-7275.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 50 miles (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park). Allow one hour and 15 minutes driving time. From I-8E, take exit 45 and drive north on Pine Valley Road for 0.4 mile. Turn left onto Old Highway 80 for 1.2 miles and just after the bridge make a sharp right onto Pine Creek Road for 5.1 miles. After the Nobel Canyon parking area the road is no longer maintained by the county and is wide enough for one vehicle with pull-outs along the way. Be careful of blind turns and traffic in both directions while driving or riding to the Y-intersection of Deer Park Road. To the left there is a dirt parking lot with room for 5 or 6 cars.
Hiking length: 9.3 miles out-and-back.
Difficulty: Moderate. Elevation gain/loss 900 feet. Trail segments are well signed and generally easy to follow; however, they may be a little overgrown in places.