El Cajon Mt.
Distance - 11.2
- 4100 ft.
Max Elevation Reached
- 3657 ft.
Trailhead - Link
Download Google Earth KML - Link
Download GPX - Link
This is probably the toughest hike in San Diego! It is
ideal training grounds for any major day hikes that you might be
planning. In retrospect, you might even rate this "training hike"
harder than the hike you were training for!
This hike leads to three possible destinations - the El Cajon
Mt. summit, the El Capitan drop off and another lesser known summit.
Almost the entire stretch of the trail is contained within the El
Capitan Open Space Preserve. The El Cajon summit is technically within
the boundary of the Cleveland National Forest.
The trail starts of fairly steeply along the Blue Sky Ranch
Rd. from the trailhead on Wildcat Canyon Rd. After negotiating some
quick switchbacks, you find yourself on a wide abandoned fire road that
seems to be flattening out. The rest of the hike is on this fire road
which by no means if flat. As the elevation profile indicates, this
hike is an excellent cardio workout with continuous ups and downs.
Some 5.5 miles into the hike, the trail forks in three. Turn
left and you can climb 0.4 miles to the summit of El Cajon Mt. Continue
straight for another 1.4 miles to reach the edge of the El Capitan
drop off. Turn right to get to the unnamed summit that is lower than
El Cajon peak.
The last bit of the trail up to the El Cajon peak is quite
obscure, even non existent! Follow these carefully arranged stones to find your
bearing and head in a direction that is generally correct. When you get
to what seems to be the highest point on the peak, look for two
separate summit markers. Also, find the trail register in a Danish
Cookies can hidden away between huge boulders.
At this point, unlike many other hikes, you are not done yet.
You still have to get back to your car. All those comfortable downhill
stretches on your way in must be negotiated in reverse order ... all
uphill in other words. While you lose altitude on the whole, the
return trip does involve some serious uphill segments. And these
monsters can seriously slow you down. Consider the
fact that on your way back, you are already tired from
having walked anywhere from six to ten miles. Consider also the
fact that the sun is much higher in the sky now and the heat is really
turned up. All of this can pose a formidable challenge all the way up
to the last mile out of this hike.
So plan carefully. Pick a cool day and still start early.
Pack a decent lunch. Carry more water that you think you might
Started from Trailhead - 6:30 am
Reached El Cajon Mt./El Capitan Trail Jct. - 10:30 am
Reached El Cajon Mt. Summit - 11:00 am
Lunch and Photos - 1 hour
Started back - 12:00 noon
Reached El Cajon Mt./El Capitan Trail
Jct. - 12:30 pm
Reached Trailhead - 3:30 pm
Tech Analysis - Link
Photos - Link, courtesy
This was my second time on
this trail. The last time I did this hike was on 31st Dec, 2008 in much
cooler weather. We covered El Cajon Mt. and El Capitan that day.
Three of us set out on this hike. Our destination - El Cajon
Mt. The weather was not exactly suitable. The daytime highs were
predicted to be 80 F. That, in my opinion is the maximum temp that one
can tolerate on this hike. Since there is not shade, the effective
temperature in direct sunlight is probably much higher.
It was because of this weather report that we started way
early. The parking lot at the trailhead opens only at 7am. We were
there by 6:15 and parked outside the gates of the parking lot. Of
course, we made sure that we weren't blocking anything/anyone. There
were no issues/complaints/comments with parking outside the designated
parking lot. So I guess this works!
Despite the non-ideal weather, we spotted several other
groups hiking. Mostly singles and duos, totalling about 15. A very
large crew from California Conservation Corps was working on building a
new dirt road. They had camped at the park's gate and at a location
along the trail some four miles in.
An additional interesting aspect of this hike was witnessing
a friend fly an airplane right over El Capitan Lake. We had planned on
spot each other during our hike. We used our cellphones to coordinate
the timing. We were
able to spot the plane, but our friend wasn't able to spot us at the