Los Coyotes Reservation Campground to Hot Springs Mountain and back
(10 miles, +2,600/-2,600 feet).
Usually if you are #1, everyone knows it.
That’s why it’s so surprising how few people in San Diego realize that the tallest peak in the County is not Cuyamaca Peak. At 6,515 feet, that peak is still 20 feet shorter than Hot Springs Mountain.
The difference, I think, is that Hot Springs Mountain sits on the Los Coyotes Reservation and it can be confusing to figure out the rules for visiting it. It is not public land so you need permission to go, and at times the peak has been closed in response to vandalism. Add to that a $10 per person fee to access it, and I think most people are happy to climb the free and always-open second-highest peak in San Diego County.
Another barrier is that the workers we needed to get permission from tend to start much later than hikers. We called the Los Coyotes Reservation to say we want to go early before the workers arrived and a very nice woman there told us we could pay on the way out. But when we returned today, there was no one at the front gate and no one in the Tribal Offices around to take our money. (Never fear — we will be sending them a check!)
All that aside, I highly recommend the hike. The views are pretty amazing from the top and the forest all along the way has been very well managed and is beautiful.
To be clear, much of this hike is a road walk, and in principle you could pay your $10 when someone was around to unlock the gate for you and you could get most of the way there in your car. But there is absolutely no traffic on the road and it is quite peaceful.
It’a about 2000 feet of climbing, but most of that is in the first 3 miles. After that the road traverses a ridge and rolls up and down through a forest before reaching the peak.
The best views are actually not at the top, but by an old lookout near the peak.
We had a leisurely lunch below the tower and then went to climb the last few feet to the peak. It’s actually a class 3 climb to get up the last 20 feet, but they have fixed ropes in place so it’s not too bad.
On the way back down we noticed whole fields full of golden poppies we had missed in the early morning shadows.
There was no wind on this hike, so the gnats were a little annoying at times. In retrospect I wish I had a head net for about 30 minutes of the hike. Other than that it was amazing and I can’t wait to go back!