Hot Springs Mountain
Camino San Ignacio Rd.
Ranchita, CA 92066
Where to park: 33.272589, -116.543376
Trailhead: 33.272979, -116.544008
Dog-Friendly: Yes Kid-Friendly: Yes
Hike: 9.9 miles out and back Level: Moderately Strenuous
Hot Springs Mountain is the highest peak in San Diego with an elevation of 6,535 feet, which makes it 23 feet higher than Cuyamaca Peak. Hot Springs Mtn. is located in the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, band of the Cahuilla Indians, which is one of the more remote reservations in San Diego County.
The trail to this peak was only recently opened to the public, largely as an incentive to help gain revenue for the tribe. The fee was $10/per person the day we went. The fee helps maintain conservation of the land and adequate living for the tribes people. Camping is also available here, which happens to be where the trailhead for the hike is.
There have been several unfortunate deaths here over the past few years, both involved people attempting to drive up the trail and through the mountain and getting stuck with no one knowing where they were for weeks.
It is always advisable to let someone know where you are hiking at any given time just to be safe. In this case the people were driving, but in both situations they were in an area they had never been and were attempting a steep drive not suitable for regular cars.
The Hike: Although this would be considered a long hike to most, the incline is pretty gradual as you slowly wind up the mountain. I always recommend going in cooler weather so you aren’t fighting heat exhaustion during your climb.
The peak offers views of San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Imperial counties on a clear day. To the north, Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio can be seen, and on a very clear day, Mount Baldy can be seen too.
Personal Experience: Although we did this hike in late May, 2019 has been a much cooler year so far (thankfully) which also meant that the mountains were cooler than usual–much cooler. We started the hike off inside a cloud and it only got colder the higher we went. Personally, I love this type of weather and would pick the mysterious fog over the hot, blazing sun any day. Where I went wrong was with my shoes.
Investing in high quality shoes is an absolute must and I definitely regret the boots I wore this day. I must have stepped in a puddle at some point because my shoes and socks were soaked, which ended up freezing my feet. It got to the point where my toes were stiff and turning white. It was really scary. Other than that, I thought the hike was not too bad at all. Of course we took many breaks along the way, but how could you not being surrounded by so much beauty!
As you make your way to the trailhead, you will pass their old-fashioned cemetery. I find it so beautiful:
As well as two of these cylindrical structures. I am not sure what they are used for but I was very intrigued!
We spotted a wild turkey!
In some areas the trail was pretty rugged, but overall is was a smooth hike:
During a small rest we came upon an area that I sensed had some history attached to it. I examined the rocks nearby and sure enough came across several metates and some old scrawling on a boulder! It has an interesting symbol and someone’s initials below it. I wish I knew what it meant and how old it is!
The initals J.N. could be faintly seen below:
And a metate:
I couldn’t get enough of the foggy beauty. I was snapping away at every new corner we turned:
A little fort of sorts we walked by:
Pretty sure there was black tourmaline scattered everywhere:
It was lovely seeing the manzanita blooming:
Eventually you will come upon a fork in the road. Let me tell you, I was so freezing that I wanted to see if there was an actual hot spring up here and dunk myself in it. Instead we opted to continue heading towards what we came up here for. To the lookout tower we went!
I was so close to giving up at this point and then we came upon this shelter. I didn’t even go up to the tower. I didn’t care at this point. My primary concern was thawing my feet out which I was unsuccessful at doing. At least this structure offered some protection from the elements:
A shot of the tower in the distance:
And my view while I waited inside the shelter fort for my friend to return: