Recently we spent the day hiking in a remote part of San Diego County on the Los Coyotes Reservation near Warner Springs, about 75 miles NE of downtown San Diego. The goal: Hot Spring Mountain, the highest point in San Diego and site of a historical fire lookout tower.
We were not disappointed!
The hike starts at the campground on the reservation that sits at just over 4,025 feet in elevation. After parking under a large ancient oak tree we put on our pack and headed up the trail which starts out pretty steep right away. Before you know it, you’ve gained close to 1,500 feet in the first 2 miles! The views of the valley below are beautiful as you make your way up the trail. We saw 4’ o’clocks in full bloom, their bright pink flowers a big contrast to the shades of greens and browns that make up the scenery.
After the two mile mark, valley oaks and low scrub give way to tall coulter pines covered in lichen and stunning black oaks which we were told put on quite a colorful show in the Fall.
The trail becomes a bit more moderate as you climb closer to the lookout tower before a final, short but steep, push for the top. At just under five miles, the fire lookout tower comes into view.
Located at 6,533 feet, the tower has been built three times, once in 1912, again in 1928, and the existing structure built in 1942. The tower is no longer in service and is in major disrepair but is still an awesome historical site to see. It was easy to imagine what it was like when it was an integral part of the fire tower network here in Southern California. The 360° view from the tower’s foundation is arguably one of the best views in San Diego.
The actual summit of Hot Springs Mountain is just past the tower through a forest of manzanita. There is a large set of boulders that have ropes attached to assist you in getting to the top. This is a perfect spot to eat your lunch while enjoying views from the highest point in San Diego.
To get back to the trailhead, you’ll take the same way you came up. It’s an amazing hike, but keep in mind you are a guest of the tribe so the utmost respect for their land is required, including following strict Leave No Trace Principles.
Elevation Gain: +2,500/-2,500
Trail: Fire Road
Restrooms: Outhouse at trailhead
Dogs Allowed: No
Cost: $10 per person (pay at reservation entrance)
Address: 2300 Camino San Ignacio Warner Springs, CA 92086