Palomar Mountain has long been a top-favorite hiking destination for those who want massive exposure to the earth, air, and water. With the panoramic views of nature, this mountain offers many amenities to make a hiking trip much more enjoyable.
However, unlike a hedonistic trip, a hiking trip, which more focuses on experiencing and adventuring, requires proper preparation before the go. Put that in mind; this guide will now equip you with the essentials to facilitate your Palomar mountain hiking trip.
What you should know about Palomar Mountain
Palomar Mountain is a mountain ridge in northern San Diego, in the Peninsular Ranges. This mountain is famous for numerous hiking loops, Hale Telescope, and Palomar Observatory in the Palomar Mountain State Park. Whether it is a long or a short loop, it is achievable for most hikers.
Palomar Mountain offers more than 11 miles of trails. Along the way is the spectacular view of oak forests, grassy meadows, chaparral, majestic cedar and fir woodlands. Palomar mountain hiking trips can range from leisurely walks to vigorous hikes.
With the S-N orientation and medium elevation, Palomar is safe from the Pacific Winter storms. Thus, it stalls out and dumps great amounts of precipitation in the wet years. Also, Palomar mountain’s rainfall is about as twice as the average rainfall of San Diego County. The figure is about 25-30” of rain per year.
The facilities at Palomar Mountain State Park is abundant:
- Overnight facilities: campsite and RV access
- Day-use activities and facilities: cultural/historical site, picnic site, visitor center, visa point, geo catching, fishing and interpretive exhibits
Palomar mountain hiking guide
1. Location and Direction
From Highway 76, you can follow both roads to get to the Palomar Mountain State Park. One road is County Road S6 starting from Rincon Springs. This road offers many scenic views, but it is quite steep and winding. The other one is County Road S7 starting from Lake Henshaw. This road is much gentler, which is ideal for pulling trailers and heavily loaded vehicles.
2. 5 best trails for Palomar Mountain hiking
#1 Boucher Trail & Palomar Mountain Loop
This loop is 8.9 miles long, which has the elevation gain of about 1800 feet. Boucher Trail and Palomar Mountain Loop are ideal for those want to see wildlife and prefer a medium level of hiking difficulty. Also, you have many activities possible in this trail, which are year-round accessible.
When you reach the Boucher Lookout Tower, you will find the trail uphill. There is an observation deck, picnic site, restroom, and water. For any information and help needed, you can ask the volunteer Ranger here. It’s a ten out of ten for their friendliness, helpfulness, and responsiveness.
This trail also picks up again on the other side of the tower and then heads downhill. It ends at Nate Harrison Grade Road, across which you will encounter the Adams Trail. Continuing on the trail, you will end up with a huge uphill trek to return to the parking lot. For those who want some vigorous trekking, this route is a good choice.
Otherwise, you can take the Boucher Road from the tower. This route will reduce quite a lot the length of your hiking. However, it also means that you will experience less uphill walking on your way back.
How To Get There
Follow the County Road S6 from Highway 76, then turn left twice to the S7. At its end, you will pay $8 to park at the ranger station of the Palomar Mountain State Park. To start your trip, walk down the road heading to West. Once you pass through the employee residence, you will see the split in the route. And the trail is marked clearly to follow.
#2 Palomar Observatory Trail
This trail is a 4.8-mile out-and-back route, which is a pleasant hike with great views. Many people have come to the observatory for years yet still find themselves coming back to the site. And if you want the hiking distance to be longer, you can connect it with the Doane Valley loop trail.
With the elevation gain of more than 900 feet, it is not an easy trail. However, you won’t find the steep slopes. Instead, the steepness increases stably. The terrain is quite enjoyable to hike on. Still, you need to keep your eyes on the signs. In the winter, there is snow on the ground, and it can be slippery in some spots.
This trail, however, is not really a challenging hike, it offers a great half-way getaway. From the Observatory, you will see a very scenic and nice changeup from the chapparal. However, this trail can be buggy at the beginning, and there is quite a lot poison oak in its areas.
How To Get There
From the LA Basin, head to the East on Highway 76 to Road S6. Then, drive north toward the Palomar Mountain and follow S6 to the Observatory Campground. The parking site is next to the amphitheater in the campground. And you must display the Forest Adventure Pass for your vehicle. From here, you can follow the signs to keep your trail on track.
#3 Doane Valley Loop Trail
Much shorter than the Boucher Trail, this loop is a great choice for those who want a relaxing hiking trip. Stretching over only 2.7 miles, the Doane Valley Loop Trail has the elevation gain of more than 400 feet. Thus, trail is kid-friendly, offering the activities of light hiking, walking, and trail running. It’s also an excellent destination to relax near the lake, river and see the wildflowers.
Along the trail, there is a good chance to enjoy the nature, which is one of the finest outdoor areas in California. You will see the vivid life of plants growing in the region and then rest near the relaxing vibe of the Doane Valley Natural Preserve.
This trail overall is an easy walk. It is thus more suitable for families, couples, and those yearning for some chill along the way. However, please note that there are a few steep areas and two stream crossing. Be safe, take it slow, and leave the plants and animals for the next people to enjoy.
How To Get There
On the State Park Road, take a right turn to the Chimney Flat Trail and heading to the right hand to reach the Doane Valley. On the map, you will see this trail is a little on the upright of Boucher Trail, and the Chimney Flat Trail is a little bit down between them.
#4 Scotts Cabin Trail
This trail is not a loop; instead, it’s an out-and-back trail that is 3.1 miles long. It is appropriate for hiking, walking, nature exploring, birding all year round. Looking from the birds’ eye view, this trail looks like a V shape turning to the right. And each line of the V is 1.2 miles long.
The Scotts Cabin Trail has up and down slopes each way, exposing the hikers to the wildlife, tree cover and bird life. This trail has so many things to enjoy, but there are also a few things that may put you off. The bugs are quite plentiful in the woods, the trail is narrow, and there is poison oak along the way.
This trail, however, can be customized. It’s an easy to moderate trail. There are some ways to customize the route. For example, you can start on the Cedar Trail to Scotts Cabin and then take this down to Done Pond. Finally, you can go back up the Thunder Spring Trail and make it a loop.
How To Get There
The Scotts Cabin Trail is, in fact, the route from Chimney Flats Trail to the Doane Valley Trail. You will see it right on the S7 Road along the State Park Road. In comparison with the previous trails, this one is much more accessible. Thus, you can also combine this trail with the Boucher Trail to make it a loop.
#5 Thunder Spring Trail
It is a 3.7-mile loop trail that features exquisite wildflowers along the way. Like most of other Palomar Mountain hiking trails, this one is suitable for hiking, walking, birding, and nature trips. It is also accessible all year round. The elevation gain is more than 800 feet, making it a moderate trail that fits all skills of hiking.
The loop is either uphill or downhill, making it feel like a cardio workout. For families with children, this trail is not recommendable. The spring runs beautifully, and the trail is in the nice shape. Also, it is quite easy to navigate all along the way, and the best views are near the Scott Cabin trail.
You are likely to walk through a fairytale forest with giant redwoods, hollow oaks, birds, and babbling creeks. Again, bringing bug spray is a must in this area. This trail is ideal for exploring and enjoy the nature; it is also adjacent to many other trails like the Doane Valley, Boucher trail, and Chimney Flat Trail.
How To Get There
Follow the Highway 76 to the East and watch the signs to get to the Palomar Mountain. When you get to the top, keep your eyes on the signs to get to the State Park. The trail starts at the parking lot near the Doane’s Pond.
3. Notes For Your Hiking Trips
Palomar Mountain is a perfect choice for hiking. It offers a wide range of trail with a variety of difficulty levels. It is thus a great destination for all kinds of hikers. Before your trip, make sure you read about the trail options and go for the one that fits you the most.
This piece of writing hopefully provides useful information and guidance that well prepare you for your upcoming Palomar Mountain hiking trip. Enjoy your trail.