El Cajon Mountain


El Cajon Mountain

Trail Distance: 11.8 Miles
Best time to hike: Spring and Fall
Directions: Wildcat Canyon Rd and Blue Sky Ranch Rd
Review 0
Hiking Trail
8 10 29 Overall
Users 6.7 (29 votes)
Difficulty8
Scenery8
Map Info8

El Cajon Mountain

This is one of the most difficult hikes I’ve been on in San Diego. The scenery is amazing and there are so few people on the trail it makes you feel like your 100’s of miles from anything. About half way along the trail there is a 600+ ft scramble up step rockwalls and huge boulders. After that the climb starts to get difficult. From the top you can see the ocean and the Cuyamaca Mountains.
Maria G.

“I had something to do later in the day, so I started at 6 am. I decided that i needed to get the move on, so I decided to run the downhills and walk the uphills. With all of the up and downs I finished in 4 hours, but my quads felt like I ran a marathon without proper hydration. I hurt for about 4 days, but I would do it again in a heartbeat. ”

Ryan C.San Diego ,Ca

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What other hikers say... 29 Help fellow hikers by leaving a review of this trail
Difficult but rewarding!
This hike was just amazing.

My first time climbing, I was with my 8 year old Rottweiler. We started at 11:30am. 2 gallons of water and plenty of peanut butter sandwiches. We made it to the broken down truck before we had to turn back due to daylight. I was slightly sad since I heard the peak was only another hour away. Our water ran out on the way back. yikes..

Our second time trying we started at 9am. Again with my Timber, 3 gallons of water and lot's of peanut butter sandwiches. The climb right before the halfway mark is always challenging but we continued. It had rained the day before so about the 6th mile there was pockets of cool water to refresh. Good on time we passed the broken truck and started the infamous last 30 mins to the summit which is very confusing. The trail kinda disappears so its like a scramble to the top. Nevertheless we did it and it was just .... peaceful.

Just be careful as the heat makes the ground hot and can potentially burn your dogs feet:(. I used lots of our water to cool Timber's feet.

Overall it took me 6 hours to complete. But very much worth it!
May 11, 2017, 6:37 am
Difficulty8.5
Scenery10
Map Info10
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Not for a beginner but fun just be prepared
I did this first in October 2015 and then in November and tomorrow December 27 2015 for the third time in three months. The first time I lucked out and it was rainy and cool. The second time it was cool and a nice day. I've done this twice and it still worries me not one to be taken lightly. The scenery is nice and it is challenging and not crowded. I am in my mid 50's 60 % lung capacity and a pacemaker and I can make it. I am trying to do this once a month .Takes me roughly 2hr:40 min up and maybe the 3 hours down . Here is the kicker this one is far harder when you are going down and even when you are a mile away from your car there is some mystery as to whether you'll make it to your car. Water electrolytes and PB & J and some walking training miles put in....... unless you are young!!!
December 27, 2015, 6:22 am
Difficulty8.5
Scenery7.5
Map Info9
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Absolutely Brutal hike !!!
I suppose it might be an 8.5 if it was winter or early spring. But my wife and I almost died on this trail. That is not an exaggeration. We ran out of water and the temperature sored into the 90s. I had to stop and take my shoes off and huddle under a shady bush just to keep cool. I was very close to calling 911. I will never hike this trail in any season again. Don't even think of bringing children under 13 years old if you plan on going to the summit. The hike is nothing short of brutal in both directions. Burned almost 2000 calories in 5 hours. If you plan on doing this hike,
Take a least 1 gallon of water per person and only go between October and April. You must bring a HAT.
It's six grueling miles to the top and six grueling miles back. Understand the symptoms of heat stroke and know this, the veiw from the top is not worth your life. Don't be afraid to just turn around. You life means more than a silly summit.
I have climbed mt Rainer to the summit and I would rank this hike only a few steps behind.
September 8, 2015, 3:42 pm
Difficulty9
Scenery7
Map Info7.5
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the map on this page for the starting point is waaaaay wrong.
I haven't done this hike yet, but I noticed on this page the google maps lists the starting point as in torrey pines?.... Which is definitely not correct.
May 25, 2015, 5:43 pm
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4
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Holy Tough Trail
I had something to do later in the day, so I started at 6 am. I decided that i needed to get the move on, so I decided to run the downhills and walk the uphills. With all of the up and downs I finished in 4 hours, but my quads felt like I ran a marathon without proper hydration. I hurt for about 4 days, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
May 20, 2014, 9:57 am
Difficulty7
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Hard hike, but well worth it!
My boyfriend took me on this hike last year for my birthday. It was pretty difficult considering there really is not any let up in the trail (i.e. no flat walking points). It basically goes up and down and up and down for the whole 11.8 miles(unlike most trails that bring you straight up in a zig zag pattern to the top and then its downhill from there to the bottom). Plus we went in the beginning of summer when it is just starting to heat up a bit out there.

I was a little hesitant with all the reviews saying that it was a 6-8 hour strenuous hike. We however finished it in 4 hours. Granted we felt like our legs were going to fall off, we were dehydrated and pretty sun burnt!! All in all though it was definitely worth it and the view was INCREDIBLE. I'd recommend bringing LOTS of water, sunscreen and snacks with you.
November 12, 2013, 1:48 pm
Difficulty9
Scenery8
Map Info5
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Tough Hike
This was one of the toughest hikes Ive done (and I am in pretty good shape). There are some really steep downhills (which I struggle with), a lot of "power through it" steep ascents and some technical parts on the portion from the split in the trail to the cliffs at the end (if you chose that over the peak). It was worth the view, but I found those technical parts a little scary. I felt very proud after finishing it, but it isnt a hike I want to do again super quickly anyway. Ill rethink in a few months maybe!
October 13, 2013, 12:43 pm
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Most difficult in San Diego!
Did this hike with my g/f yesterday, took us 8 hours...

We were beyond the point of exhaustion by the time we made it out.

Be aware that you need to start this early in the day.

It takes you just as long to get back as it does to go in.

The area is closed my rangers at 6:30PM

If you're in amazing shape you might be able to do this in 6 hours round trip.

Decent shape = 8 hours round trip.
April 18, 2013, 8:34 am
Difficulty9
Scenery9
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Three years later
Three years ago I wrote:

This is the hardest hike in San Diego county. My wife did Mt. Whitney hike a few years ago, and she says she found the El Cajon hike harder. We are fifty-something, but in rather good shape. The complete hike took us 6 hours, including two sit-down rests and visits to both peaks at the end. There are some pretty steep fragments (I had to get down on my fours in one place), and the constant gaining and losing altitude is tiring. Our feet hurt a lot at the end of the hike, but we were happy that we made it. It is absolutely worth the effort! Take lots of water, unless you hike in cold weather. The parking lot gets closed at 5 p.m., so start early.

We did the hike again today (I am now in my sixties 🙁 I am re-reviewing because today we visited the main peak (three years ago the main peak part of the trail was closed for re-vegetation). The last 0.6 of a mile is bouldering, which was hard for me. With the bouldering I rate the difficulty as pretty high. The whole hike took us 6 hours and 4 minutes. A young person, not afraid of boulders, can make it in not much more than 4.5 hours, I think. Great hike!!!
February 24, 2013, 8:51 pm
Difficulty9
Scenery9
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done and done
Great trail! Because of the sheer distance of the trail, trending in the same direction, you can really feel a sense of accomplishment when you're done, because you really do cover a lot of ground.

The trail was extremely straight forward. Even the places where the trail splits are irrelevant, because they always meet up again down the line.. That is, until mile marker 5. The trail splits into three. However, the marker says which way to go to get to the top. Admittedly, the trail really tapers down to near nothing very quickly. But all you need to do is keep your aim on the top and you'll make it. Find a route that works for you. And on the way back down, you can see where the trail opens back up. The view was amazing from up there. We actually started at 1:30pm, quite a bit late in the day (being November it was actually cold). There was a leg of time where we needed our headlamps toward the end, but the view was all the better coming down while the sun was in its last hour or so of being in the sky. Really beautiful.
November 5, 2011, 11:24 pm
Difficulty7
Scenery9
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not bad
the day wasn't too hot but it was bit hot for my dog. it had fair amount of incline which was challenging. however, like all the other reviews, there is no shades so better to start really early or avoid summer time. over all it was good hike though. def. good hike for fit people. 🙂 ps: ran into mtn. lion/ or wild cat some sort. got me spooked.
September 12, 2011, 12:57 pm
Difficulty8
Scenery8
Map Info6
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El Cajon Mountain
This is a great hike. A challenging one for San Diego. We completed this hike in under four hours. I highly recommend starting the hike early in the morning because even though the forecast may be cool it is hot out there with little shade. I highly recommend this trail for anyone but a novice hiker might want a few hikes under their feet.

Enjoy!
June 26, 2011, 12:11 pm
Difficulty8
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Map Info7
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Great hike!
Instead of parking in the parking lot I park on the street. Not too sure about parking lot hours. Bring plenty of water and wear sunblock, snacks are a must and maybe even bring a lunch. This is an "approach" to me since I am a rock climber, I hike in, THEN my fun begins. Trad climbing only here. Great views, especially with the Santa anas blowing! I like to stop every once in awhile to look around and you can really notice your elevation gain! Not for the unseasoned hiker I would say, I still rate the difficulty a 6 because it doesnt tire me out even with all of my climbing gear on my back in addition to normal hiking gear.
June 13, 2011, 1:00 am
Difficulty6
Scenery8
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Great hike
This is definitely one of the harder hikes in the San Diego area. There's only one or two sections where you're not going uphill or downhill, so it's a workout. About 5 or 6 miles in, the trail takes a long downhill, and you'll think you missed a turn. Keep going. It'll turn back uphill after awhile. The hardest part of this hike is mental, because of all the uphill on the way back. Once you hit the peak on most hikes it's an easy return trip... not true for this hike. The scenery is great, there is lots of wildlife at the top, but there's not much shade anywhere along the trail.
April 26, 2011, 3:59 pm
Difficulty8
Scenery9
Map Info7
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Hikers Wanted!
This is a must do hike in San Diego. I've been wanting to do the hike for a while but finally did it (Apr 2). It was very foggy on the way in but cleared at the top and with an amazing view of the clouds. It is up and down both ways which makes it very difficult. Bring lots of water. Watch out for rattlesnakes, I almost stepped on one. Make sure you hike to the top, there are two peaks. Most of all have fun and respect nature.
April 2, 2011, 9:18 pm
Difficulty7
Scenery9
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Great Hike
This one is best in Spring especially now after the rains. I met few people on the way up and passed one guy near the top. Up and back in 4 hours dead with a 15 min break at the top. It helped that I took my dog who is a great pacemaker.
Steep and a great workout with fantastic views from the top. Not for the faint hearted.
March 20, 2011, 9:19 am
Difficulty7
Scenery10
Map Info10
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Must do Hike!
This is a great must do hike if you live in the San Diego area. I did it for the first time (solo) first thing in the morning on Jan 2. The weather was cloudy and perfect for this sort of hike.

The 12 mile round trip to the peak and back took me exactly 4 hours and 30 minutes. That was with a break at the top to get a bite to eat and stopping to chat with other hikers on my way down (or should I say on my way back up since it all feels like up hill!).

If this is you first time, I recommend that you read Jerry Shad's description of the hike before you go. There is one part of the hike at about the 4 mile mark that you feel you are going way too down hill and away from the mountain. Keep going, you'll get the.

The optional trail from the saddle near the top that goes to the face of the mountain is closed due to restoration.

The views along the trail and from the summit are beautiful with the exception of Barona Casino. Definitely do this hike but only if you are in shape! Happy Hiking!
January 12, 2011, 7:08 pm
Difficulty7
Scenery6
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Bear of a hike
Be in shape or you will not make this hike. I am 57 and it took 5.50 hours up and back. This is not like most hikes where you go up and then go down, nope, nada, no way. It is up and down for miles, and did I mention steep? Do not do this hike in the Summer, no shade at all. The hardest hike in San Diego hands down.
January 8, 2011, 4:21 pm
Difficulty9
Scenery10
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Good workout
I did it last Friday(Mar. 26). It took me exactly 5 hours in and out and I think that the uphills on my way back made me pretty tired. The weather is not a very hot, so it is a hard one for me but not so bad as I expected. Even on Friday, I met a total of ~10 people on the way. One guy is really amazing. I think that he jogged all the way to the peak.
March 29, 2010, 3:12 pm
Difficulty7
Scenery5
Map Info7
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Great hike!
This is the hardest hike in San Diego county. My wife did Mt. Whitney hike a few years ago, and she says she found the El Cajon hike harder. We are fifty-something, but in rather good shape. The complete hike took us 6 hours, including two sit-down rests and visits to both peaks at the end. There are some pretty steep fragments (I had to get down on my fours in one place), and the constant gaining and losing altitude is tiring. Our feet hurt a lot at the end of the hike, but we were happy that we made it. It is absolutely worth the effort! Take lots of water, unless you hike in cold weather. The parking lot gets closed at 5 p.m., so start early.
March 27, 2010, 12:52 pm
Difficulty8
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experienced hiker
Went with my Dad on Friday, March 19, 2010. Beginning the hike was a bit confusing. Parked in the designated parking lot but no signs indicating which direction to start the hike. Eventually found our way (go up Blue Sky Ranch road to the top - same side of street as parking lot) where we started our climb up. Perfect time of year for this hike since colorful flowers were everywhere. Beautiful. Lots of up and down, both of which were fairly steep making the hike a good work out. Lots of interesting rocks on the trail. Quartz possibly, and many more specimens. Slippery going though. Loose gravel on the trail making it difficult to navigate. Glad we brought our trekking poles. Make sure you wear sunscreen and a hat since there is little shade on the trail. Expansive views once you start gaining elevation. Don't forget the camera. We had Camelbaks which made for easy hydration. Have to mention we crossed paths with a hiker who actually jogged up and then down the trail (the whole way!!- amazing). The trip took between 5 and 6 hours round trip with a 1/2 hour for lunch and relaxation.
March 20, 2010, 1:09 am
Difficulty6
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Not as hard as I thought
It was ok.. I had a 40+ pound backpack with me and my girlfriend had a 20+ pound backpack because we were trying to make it harder but still it wasnt as bad as we thought it would be.. It took us a little less than 5 hours to completed the whole hike. It got us tired but not exhausted.
February 15, 2010, 3:57 pm
Difficulty5
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never again
i've done this hike twice (once in summer) and it is the hardest one i've done in s d cnty. there's no place to rest or recover. coming back is every bit as tough as going in. take lots of water and don't wimp out at the saddle on the top-go to the peak to your left. that's why i had to do the hike twice, the first time (in summer) we made it to the saddle and said "good enuf!!' the first time up, i chanced upon a fellow who walked up from el monte park and if anyone has any info on that trail, i'd be very interested. CASH AND PRIZES-PEOPLE!
January 17, 2010, 12:23 pm
Difficulty10
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Map Info5
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El Cajon Mountain in January
So I planned to wake up early and be on the trail by sun up...(good thing I slept in...the parking area for hikers doesnt open up til 7am!)...so after making my way thru traffic near the Willow Exit off of the 67, I continued on til I reached Wildcat Canyon Rd and bust a left. I wasnt quite sure exactly where the trailhead was so I ended up pulling off into the Louis A. Stelzer County Park...no one there, Park Ranger pulled out as soon as I pulled in...decided to head north on Wildcat Canyon Rd and sure enough, marked on the right was the trailhead...calling it a preservation or something to that affect...right off the road was the parking lot for hikers...sign says 7am-5pm parking. I gotta pick up kids from school today at 3:30pm so I waste no time getting on the trail. Head out at 8:20am. Sure enough just like its been mentioned in other reviews, the trail heads straight up...nice gradual climb. About a quarter mile up past private driveways and the entrance to the Big Sky Ranch is a restroom with posted signs warning of Mountain Lion and the extreme conditions of the trail. I pass this and continue on. The weather is nice...real nice. In the shade it chilly. After about a mile Im ready to shed some clothing. Throughout the trail Im running down some declines and taking short rests on the inclines. Trail condition is a recipe for a twisted ankle, especially in some parts...very rocky and bad with erosion. About mile three and its 10am...scenery is beginning to get really good...especially the panoramic view...like mentioned in early reviews that have been made...Barona Casino and Lake Jennings I believe...really cool...Mt. Miguel is seen across the way with all its radio towers ontop. Id say after Mile 3, the climb gets good in some spots...pretty good inclines. A few things here and there to read...pertaining to fires that have passed thru the area. not sure what mile marker, and old truck/jeep looking thing on the side of the trail...pretty cool. If I wasnt solo I would of had someone take a picture of me inside it. Made it to the top, or as far as I was gonna go around 10:50am. Perched myself on a rock next to a rusted metal shed that had Concertina wire around it...lots of trash inside???...dont understand that? Ate some lunch, took a short rest. VIEWS ARE AWESOME ALL THE WAY 360 AROUND! Now I start to head back down (11:40am)...here's my first encounter with anyone...two ladies coming up the trail...short conversation and Im on my way...about 4 and half miles I run into a guy with his Dad...his Dad was easily 60+...even late 60's I would say...I was very impressed...I was think'n the way down is gonna be rough on him....up was easier I think...down was hard on the footing...everything dry which made gravel very slippery...sandy on hard surface. I made much better time coming down the hill of course...even though some places I was forced to slow to a creep because of the steepness and degree of decline. I made it to my car at 1:50. Overall I thought the hike was great! Next time I will go with no time restraints that way I can stop and smell the roses persay. It got pretty warm on the trail and its only January...I cant imagine doing this anytime after April..definitely would go thru more than 3 liters of water.
January 15, 2010, 8:38 pm
Difficulty8
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One of the hardest hikes in San Diego
We wanted to go out for a hike on Sunday after reading the reviews for different trails we choose this one. Two of us left at 11am with 1 gallon of water, it was sunny and around 85. Right away we start walking up a step dirt trail. We get to the top of the first mountain, the hike looks like it is easy. The trail continues to wind around mountains over looking Barona casino. It gets stepper and about mile 3 I start wishing the trail will flatten out. No such luck, more weaving between mountains and small steep trails. Everyone else we ran into (about 10 people total) had walking sticks. I have never used them before but it looks like it would make the hike a lot easier. We get to the top of the mountain, we used almost all of our water and were beat. The view from the top made the pain worth it. You can see huge cliffs and mountain 360 degrees around. After we ate lunch at the top we started the trek back. Going down is almost as hard as getting up. The trail was dusty, slipper and difficult to navigate. The hike took us 7 hours and was the most difficult I've been on in San Diego.
November 14, 2009, 9:50 pm
Difficulty10
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Oh Yeah
I've always wanted to hike to the edge of this cliff face I always see and this spring my brother and I did it. Two words: Trekking poles. He convinced me to let him use one so we both had walking sticks up these never ending up and down pitches. I read it was steep and that was no lie. One of the more difficult hikes in the area, but only because a trailed hike shouldn't be that hard. Started at 7, saw a few people, and took a nap on the rocks at the end for lunch. Good day.
October 18, 2009, 1:26 am
Difficulty8
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Tough
I'm a trail runner and I did february 10th 2009. It was tough. 2hrs going up, 1.5hrs going down but it's worth it. Nobody else on the trail, so I was a bit concerned of getting lost (even with my GPS) but the trail is clearly identifiable. I recommend it for runners/hikers ready to experience a hard workout.
October 2, 2009, 6:22 pm
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damn
This trail is hard as hell. It was overcast when we went around mid day at the end of May. We saw one other hiker at the beginning of the trail and that was about it. We saw two pretty big snakes tho. One rattlesnake and the other one i'm not sure what it was. It was trying to eat a massive lizard on the trail itself. The snakes deterred my partner from going any further. Regardless, the trail was freakin hard- 45 and 50 degree angles a majority of the way. It does flatten out for a bit just after mile one.
May 31, 2009, 5:15 pm
Difficulty9
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sdge towers
hello my name is austin im 15 and sdge are putting towers on our land we own 200 acres and they are putting towers right on the trail and the wildlife will be gone my house got burned down in the 2003 fires and it suckt there is a meeting wednesday 25 febuary please if you can come its in lakeside ca 92040 commute center thanks and me email is adigenan@gmail.com if you have any questions thanks and god bless
austin
February 22, 2009, 10:43 pm
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David Hay

by David Hay

An Aussie transplant living in San Diego. I've chosen to live in this fair city for the past seven years because I truly believe it's one of the best in the world; there's no better city to enjoy sunshine and the outdoors.