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San Diego County, California

A Fall Hike in Julian

Just head east for your fill of fall color!  San Diego may not get the depth and variety of color found on the east coast, however, many trees have been showing off their fall finery and putting on quite a display in the mountains of east San Diego County.

A prime spot to enjoy the autumnal abundance is in the foothills of Volcan Mountain on Santa Ysabel Preserve East just a couple of miles from Julian starting from the Farmer Road staging area.  This is one of my favorite hikes to recommend to walkers and hikers of all levels for almost any time of year, because it starts off gently rolling along an old ranch road dotted with cows quietly grazing along the banks of Santa Ysabel Creek--but you can go farther if you’re looking for more of an adventure.  If you haven’t discovered this little slice of heaven on a trip to Julian, now is a great time of year to come up and enjoy.  The sycamores and black oaks along the creek are resplendent in their Julian golds and ambers.

If you’re just looking to stretch your legs and get some mountain fresh air, you can head out even just a mile or so, on easy terrain and soak in all the beauty.  Heading west from the staging/parking area, at a mile and half the trail turns sharply to the left as it prepares to cross the Santa Ysabel Creek.  There is a picnic table here, which makes a great spot for lunch or a snack.  You can turn back here and get in a comfortable 3-mile walk.

For more of an adventure, cross the split-log foot bridge over the creek, and you’ll start heading up hill to Kanaka Flat which is about another three quarters of a mile.  Once up to Kanaka Flat you’ve got great views and more choices.  You can circle around on the 2.6 mile Kanaka Loop before you head back to the Farmer Road trailhead.

If you’ve planned ahead, the truly hearty can continue west another 3 miles on part of the Coast to Crest Trail.   It crosses over Bailey Creek and then dips down and back up as it crosses the headwaters of the San Diego River until it meets up with the West Vista Loop.  Again, you can choose to explore a 2.2 mile loop and then circle back.  There is still yet a 1.1 mile section of trail that drops down steeply and connects you to the west entrance of the preserve along Highway 79, just south of the Santa Ysabel Mission.  The hike from the east end to the west end of the preserve  (minus the loops) covers 7.4 miles, and can be done by dropping off a vehicle on one end or the other and car-shuttling back to your starting point.  Of course, if you’re in really great shape you can forego the car-shuttling and make it a nearly 15 mile round trip!

The preserve is open year-round (weather-permitting) from 8am-5pm.  During the warm months (May-September), plan an early morning or late afternoon trip, and no matter the time of year, always bring plenty of water.  For updates on closures contact the Julian-area County Rangers at 760-765-4098. To get to the Farmer Road staging area from the Julian townsite, head north on Main Street/Farmer Road for approximately two miles.  When you reach the stop sign/intersection at Wynola Road, follow the signs to the right and then left for Camp Cedar Glen.  The Farmer Road staging area/trailhead is located on your right about a half mile past the entrance to Camp Cedar Glen.


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