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Don't disturb the horses — Granite Springs Trail Camp

Pastoral grasslands with Cuyamaca and Laguna views

Indian paintbrush with bracts
Indian paintbrush with bracts

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. 

Deer Park Road

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.

Summer has flattop buckwheat in bloom.

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.

The best time to visit this area is from October through May.

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.

No facilities.

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.

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Indian paintbrush with bracts
Indian paintbrush with bracts

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. 

Deer Park Road

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.

Summer has flattop buckwheat in bloom.

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.

The best time to visit this area is from October through May.

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.

No facilities.

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.

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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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