About 30 minutes South of the charming town of Julian, California is the expansive Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Within this beautiful park lies Lake Cuyamaca, open meadows and several mountain peaks waiting to be summited. Stonewall Peak has become one of the most popular hikes in the area, known for its breathtaking views and exposed ridge in the last section of the trail.
We hiked to the summit by taking the Cold Stream Trail to Stonewall Creek loop. This route ends up measuring about 5.1 miles and 1,030 feet of elevation gain. The trail is rated as moderate on AllTrails, however its more of an easy-moderate hike. The elevation gain is gradual, and the hike can be easily completed in under two hours. However, due to the exposed ridge and steep drop-offs towards the peak, this trail may not be the best for those afraid of heights. Furthermore, the trail does get snow and ice during the winter, adding an extra layer of danger to the final ascent.
Parking is available at the Paso Picacho Campground, directly across the street from the trail head. The campground is managed by the California State Park System and is equipped with picnic benches, waterspouts, and restrooms with flushing toilets. The campground is well maintained and the Rangers there are very friendly and helpful.
The fee for Vehicle Day Use was $10.00. We arrived at the campground before the Rangers staffed the ticket booth, however, self-registration was available, and we were able to pay for and receive our permits ourselves. If you will be relying on self-registration, be sure to bring cash to pay the fee.
After parking at the campground, walk directly across the street from the Ranger booth to get to the trailhead. To start on the Cold Stream Trail, you will head left at the fork. If you want to do the Stonewall Peak Trail, turn right to get onto the trail.
On the Cold Stream Trail, you will travel downhill into the valley at the base of the mountain. There are a ton of trees and bit of overgrowth, but the scenery is beautiful. Follow the Cold Stream Trail until you reach California Hiking and Riding Trail, where the climbing will begin. You will then take this trail up to Stonewall Peak Trail, and then follow this trail up to the summit!
As you approach the top of the mountain, the dirt trail gives way to the exposed rock. You will have to hike across the granite top to find the stone staircase that will lead up to the final push to the summit!
The summit has breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, lake and desert! You can see the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the Salton Sea, and even as far away as Mexico! There are signs at the summit to tell you exactly what you are looking at.
After reaching the summit, return to the trail head by following the Stonewall Peak Trail to complete the loop. Be sure to follow the loop to avoid tacking on extra miles by re-tracing your footsteps from coming up the mountain. The trail will lead you down about 1.7 miles of switchbacks back to the trailhead.
Overall, Stonewall Peak was one of our favorite little hikes to do in Southern California! It’s a fun hike with beautiful views. The trail would also be great for trail running; we are hoping to return soon to run it. We also highly recommend visiting the town of Julian for food and homemade pie for a delicious post-hike treat.
Jonathyn and Marissa