Hidden Gems of Palomar Mountain
Palomar Mountain State Park
19952 State Park Rd.
Palomar, CA 92060
Dog-Friendly: At camp grounds but not on trails Kid-Friendly: Yes
**This is an ongoing page of unique hikes and places to explore in Palomar Mountain**
Directions: From Highway 76, either of two roads can be used to reach the park. The one from Rincon Springs (County Road S6) is scenic but rather steep and winding. County Road S7 from Lake Henshaw is longer, but its gentle grade makes it more suitable for heavily loaded vehicles and those pulling trailers. Please note that there are no gas stations on Palomar Mountain.
Over the years Palomar Mountain has become one of my favorite places to visit. It really feels as if you’re in Central CA with the large trees and super-fresh air. This is a great place to escape for the day. Large pine, fir and cedar trees make the park one of the few areas in southern California with a Sierra Nevada-like atmosphere.
The park features camping, picnicking, hiking, and fishing (trout) in Doane Pond. Coniferous forests cover much of the 1,862 acres, in contrast to the dry lowlands surrounding the mountain.
Elevation within the park averages 5,000 feet above sea level, making evenings cool even during the summer. A number of vista points offer spectacular panoramic views both westerly toward the ocean and inland toward the desert, particularly from Boucher Hill Summit, which has been listed in the Sierra Club’s “Hundred Peaks Section” since first published in 1946. There, you’ll also find the historic Boucher Hill Fire Lookout.
The park is open from dawn ’til dusk daily. Reservations are highly recommended for camping during peak season. Day use fees are $8.00 per vehicle, cash or check only. Trails are open to foot traffic only, and dogs and mountain bikes are not allowed on trails. Please note that there are no gas stations on Palomar Mountain.
1. The Drive
Wintertime is lovely. Lots of fog, cool weather and barely any people on the trails. The drive may be a little scary, but it’s also surreal and really feels as though you’re in a movie:
Maybe it will be snowing!
2. Above the Clouds
If you’re lucky, you may find yourself above the clouds when you get to the top!
3. Palomar Observatory
You can also visit the Observatory:
4. Observatory Trail
And even hike to it from the Observatory Trail if you’re wanting to get a little exercise:
5. Nate Harrison Grade
If you have a truck, 4-wheel drive or feel very lucky, come back down the Nate Harrison Grade:
6. Doane Pond
Make sure to stop by Doane Pond, which is only .10 miles from the parking lot!
The pond freezes over when it snows!
7. The Weir Trail
After you park in the Doane Valley parking lot, I suggest hiking to the weir!
8. Doane Valley
Doane Valley is one of the most beautiful hiking grounds in all of San Diego!
9. French Valley Trail
Another great trail in Doane Valley is the French Valley Trail.
10. Fry Creek Campground & Hiking Trail
Just like every inch of Palomar Mountain, Fry Creek Campsite was beautiful, lush and green! There is a loop trail that takes you around the perimeter of the campsite which we checked out. It had truly stunning landscape and what appears to be seasonal waterfalls.