About an hour from most places in San Diego there is a magical place, a real diamond in San Diego County, Palomar Mountain State Park. The Sierra Nevada like atmosphere and 5,400 feet of elevation make Palomar Mountain State Park a unique habitat to San Diego County. Lush forests, babbling creeks and gorgeous views are endless in the park. Home to a few historically important sites, great weather, diverse flora and fauna, and many hiking trails make it a hiker’s paradise.
Palomar, the Spanish name for pigeon roost, was named during the Spanish colonial era in California when Palomar was known for its band tailed pigeons that are present on the mountain. Prior, Lusieno natives called Palomar, Paauw, and lived in seasonal villages on the mountain. There is still evidence of them today, mainly in the form of morteros, or grinding rocks. In the 1880’s, the start of settlement came when George Edward Doane built a cabin where the present day Doane Valley Campground is located. By the 1890’s the mountain’s population had grown significantly and supported three schools and three hotels, including Bailey’s Cabin, which operates as a private lodge today. Four apple orchards were planted around this time, and still produce apples that are used for the annual Apple Festival in October. A fire lookout, Boucher Hill Lookout, was built on Boucher Hill on the 1920’s. The lookout today is operated by volunteers and visitors are able to take a tour of the tower during the season (May-December- 7 days a week from 9am-5pm). In the 1930’s Palomar Mountain State Park was born. Most of the park’s roads, trails, and picnic facilities were built by the Civilian Conservationist Corps. Palomar is also home to Scotty’s Cabin site, Big Willie’s gravesite, and the Weir on Weir Creek, which are accessible by hiking trails.
The mountain receives on average 30”-40” of rain a year and snow in the winter. This humid climate supports the densely wooded forests and vast vegetation in the park. It is included in the California mixed evergreen forest sub ecoregion that California black oaks, firs, cedars, closed cone pines, other California oaks and conifers are grouped in. Cooler days and even cooler nights than the majority of lower elevation areas of San Diego County make the mountain a great escape from the warm summers. Wintertime can bring snow, and the trails are awesome for snowshoeing.
The diverse array of wildlife, including the southern mule deer, raccoons, western grey squirrels, skunks, gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes and mountain lions are present in the park, and make their appearance every once in a while to guests. In the late spring through summer, flowering trees, plants, and shrubs share their beauty with us. Dogwoods, wild lilac, wild sweet peas, azalea, lupine, goldenrod, buttercups, and Indian paintbrush are just a few you can see in the park.
With miles of trails, there are many variations that accommodate most levels of hiking. Our favorite hike is the 11 mile moderate outer loop route. Touching most areas of the park, hikers get to see much of the diversity the park offers. The hike starts at Doane Campground, follows French Valley Trail to the Weir on the Weir Trail, up Baptist Trail to Adams Trail to Boucher Trail and the lookout, then down Boucher Trail to Silvercrest Trail, and all the way down Chimney Flats Trail to Thunder Springs Trail and back to the trailhead. With this route, you experience everything the park has to offer from the 500 year old Live Oak canopies, a stunning meadow in French Valley, historical Weir on Pauma Creek, a heart pumping ascent to Boucher Lookout with expansive views to the ocean, Black Oaks on Boucher Trail, a visit to Big Willy’s grave and the apple orchards, and ending at Doane Pond. Palomar is truly a magical place and we highly recommend the trails. Make sure to stop at Mother’s Kitchen afterwards for lunch!
A few things to know before you go:
Parking is $10 per car & Seniors are $9 per car
Camp spots can be reserved here:
Fishing is allowed at Doane Pond with a valid California fishing license.
Dogs are allowed in the park but not on any trails.
Check out Scott Turner’s trail write ups for Palomar Mountain SP on Modern Hiker here:
Hike It Off Magazine supports Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park, the officially recognized non-profit association that supports the park in cooperation with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Check out Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park as well and consider making a donation!