El Cajon Mountain Hike, San Diego County--March 24, 2013

Posted by Adventure 16 | 11.01.2015

”The Toughest Hike in San Diego County”
By Kevin Lee
A16 Buying, Sales & Marketing Manager, Wholesale

El Cajon Mountain Elevation ProfileEl Cajon Mountain Elevation gain Profile

   El Cajon Mtn & El Cap
El Cajon and El CapTRAILHEAD 
The trailhead for El Cajon Mountain is located off Wildcat Canyon Road on Blue Sky Ranch Road between Lakeside, CA and the Barona Valley. (Take I-8 East to Hwy 67 North and take the Willow exit. Go east on Willow 9/10 mile and turn left on Wildcat Canyon Road for about 3/4 mile. The small parking lot is on the right.)

There is basically no shade on this trail so be sure to bring plenty of water and electrolytes and remember to wear your sunscreen and a good sun hat. It is best to start your hike as early as possible and take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures. The trailhead parking lot opens at 7am and closes at 5pm in the winter and 6pm in the summer. The trail is closed the month of August.

The trail is approximately 5.5 miles one way to the summit of El Cajon Mountain. The average hiker takes around 5+ hours to complete this hike but there are some hardcore speed hikers/trail runners who can easily do the entire trail in less than 3 hours.

The trail starts out with a good climb up the private Blue Sky Ranch Road for 1/3 of a mile to a picnic area with two restrooms. At this point the trail continues to wind up for another two thirds of a mile and connects with a fire road at the one mile marker. The San Diego County Parks and Recreation Dept maintains the parking lot and trail and on occasion grades the fire road to allow easier access for emergency personal to aid distressed hikers.

From mile one until mile 2.5 the trail/fire road has a series of shorter up and down “rollercoaster” climbs and descents.

From approximately mile 2.5 to 3.5 there is a series of steep climbs with very few breaks until you reach a saddle. Then you drop down to mile 4.25 and climb back up a good ascent to mile 5. 

Looking west from El Cajon SummitView from El Cajon Summit looking southwest    View from summit looking West                                                                                                                                                View from summit looking Southwest

From mile 5 it is a short but very steep ½ mile scramble up a small trail to the summit of ECM. Just follow the trail ducks/cairns and keep heading up. Once you reach the summit you will be treated to some of most spectacular views in all of the county. On a clear day you can see easily see downtown San Diego to the west, El Capitan Reservoir and Cuyamaca Mtn. to the east, Mt. San Miguel and the boarder of Mexico to the south and as far north as Mt. San Jacinto and Mt. Baldy.

It is “mostly” downhill on the way back to the parking lot, but on a warm day the “rollercoaster” hills you went down on the way out can be very challenging on your way back, so pace yourself accordingly.

Technical Clothing: Headsweats Coolmax Pro Tech hat, Dri Fit pants and shirt

Footwear: Inov-8 RocLite 315 trail running shoes, Injinji Mid Weight socks, and Inov-8 trail gaiters

Hydration Pack: Jansport Catalyst hydration pack

Accessories: Human Gear Go Toobs with Vanilla Bean GU energy gel and chia seeds

Resources: Jerry Schad’s Afoot & Afield: San Diego County

View from the top of El Cajon Mountain

Leave some energy in the tank for the three “rollercoast” climbs between mile 2.5 and mile 1 on the way back. They can be killers if your legs are dead.