Scrub oaks on the trail may have acorns
This is a moderate hike that offers little shade on its way to the top of Champagne Pass (~5500’) where the views are magnificent. This trail can be taken year-round, with blooming wildflowers in the spring. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow.
The trail starts across Sunrise Highway from Pioneer Mail Picnic Area. After crossing at the crosswalk, go past the metal gate, and turn right on to the Pine Mountain Trail; a sign points the way. You will pass through dense chaparral — oaks, ceanothus, chamise, and manzanita — on the way to the pass. At about 1.25 miles, there is a small dirt road to cross as you continue on Pine Mountain Trail to Champagne Pass and its peak, also referred to as Champagne Peak. You are now on the southeastern slope of Pine Mountain. The pine grove on top that gives the mountain its name is visible, but this trail does not go to the pine grove.
At mile 2.5, there is a 4-way junction with Indian Creek Trail at Champagne Pass. The pass was named “champagne” to celebrate the completion of the Indian Creek Trail. Go straight across, onto the smaller trail leading to the peak. It’s about 0.25 mile to the peak from the pass, and the 360-degree views from the peak are worth the short hike up from the pass. Be sure to sign the summit register that can be found on the rocky peak. This is a great place to take in the views and have a short break.
When you are ready, follow the trail back down to the pass. Turn southeast on to Indian Creek Trail. Follow the arrow on the sign toward Sunrise Highway. You will have views of Indian Creek as you continue through the chaparral. This portion of the trail is steep as you quickly descend to Indian Creek. At about mile 3.8, just before reaching the creek, take the jeep trail to the left. This is unmarked and easy to miss if you are focused on the creek in front of you.
But before heading up the trail, you may want to take in the beauty of the creek and the riparian area at the bottom of the ravine. If you decide to go down to the creek, turn around and follow your steps back to the overgrown jeep track, which is steep and overgrown and covered with seasonal flowers. When you reach the top of the short hill, turn right and then left onto the dirt road. On this return route to your vehicle, you will travel through a pleasant mountain meadow, passing near a few Jeffrey pines and a variety of seasonal flowers. Also keep an eye out for various animal tracks as you make your way back to Sunset Highway and your starting point.
Driving directions: (Mount Laguna) From I-8 E, take exit 47 toward the Sunrise Hwy., County Route S-1 N/Old Hwy 80. Drive 15.6 miles to the Pioneer Mail Trailhead (GPS N32.924079, W116.480444), just past Mile Marker 29 and park in the picnic area on the right/east. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park. Facilities. Leashed dogs allowed. Hiking length: 5.25 mile-loop. Allow 3 hours hiking time. Difficulty: Moderate, with about 500 feet of elevation gain/loss.