19952 State Park Rd.
Palomar, CA 92060
Dog-Friendly: At camp grounds but not on trails Kid-Friendly: Yes
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.
The beautiful forest and mountain meadows of Palomar Mountain State Park are in northern San Diego County, high atop the west side of Palomar Mountain. 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.
Personal Experience: 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.
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!
If you’re lucky, you may find yourself above the clouds when you get to the top!
You can also visit the Observatory:
And even hike to it from the Observatory Trail if you’re wanting to get a little exercise:
If you have a truck, 4-wheel drive or feel very lucky, come back down the Nate Harrison Grade: