Black Mountain Truck Trail is an easy to moderate off-road trail near Ramona, California, that brings you from the picturesque Pamo Valley to striking views at the peak of Black Mountain, in Cleveland National Forest.
The 6.8-mile trail climbs 2,965 feet from the valley to the peak, with an average grade of 8.7 percent. It’s steep (with over a 30 percent grade in places) and some portions of the road are vertigo-inducing.
- Trail type: Out-and-back
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Length: 6.4 miles round trip
- Elevation gain and loss: 3,089 feet, -3,089 feet
- Trailhead Coordinates: 33.140487, -116.850088
- Location: Poma Valley, Ramona
- Season: Year round, but best October – May
A truck, Jeep, or SUV with good clearance should be able to handle the terrain. This is one of the mellower off-road trails in San Diego, and a good trail for beginning off-roaders. If it has rained recently, the trail may be muddy and slippery which adds to the difficulty.
Speaking of rain, the National Forest Service often closes the road (with a big metal gate) after rains to prevent erosion and damage to the soft, muddy road. Make sure to check with the Palomar Ranger District Office, which manages the trail. You can also check the Forest Service’s list of local road closures here.
Black Mountain Truck Trail Details
Owned by the City of San Diego, the floor of Pamo Valley is leased for cattle grazing and much of the valley floor is fenced off. San Diego’s Coast to Crest trail passes through the valley and its grazing pastures. The surrounding mountains are managed by the National Forest Service and regional Native American tribes.
Temescal Creek flows through Pamo Valley and confluences with Santa Ysabel Creek, which comes into the valley from the East. The area is home to many native species of plants and animals, and you may see deer, foxes, snakes, coyotes, bobcats, and many different birds.
Black Mountain Truck Trail, which starts in the valley, is particularly popular among off-road enthusiasts but is also used by mountain bikers and hikers. The trailhead is located off Pamo Road (GPS: 33.140487, -116.850088), about 4.5 miles north of Ramona. The large metal gate at the trailhead is locked closed when the trail is closed, typically as a result of rainy weather.
The climb starts gradually and become steeper as it climbs Black Mountain. The trail winds through chaparral and a few oak groves, with sage, yucca, cactus and low shrubs bordering the road. About 1.8 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to a fork. The left fork continues north on Black Mountain Truck Trail and the right bends east on Santa Ysabel Truck Trail, another fun trail in the area.
The Black Mountain trail winds along the slopes of the mountain, at times crossing cattle grates that were presumably to keep cattle from climbing too high into the mountains. At a number of points along the way, the trail is narrow enough that you’ll need to look for a wide spot to pass if you encounter another vehicle headed in the opposite direction. In places, the narrow shoulder of the trail drops precipitously and you may find yourself gripping the steering wheel a bit tighter.
For hard-core off-roaders, there isn’t much in the way of technical wheeling here to get excited about. There are a few steep banks to play on near the Santa Isabella Truck Trail fork, and one steep and fairly challenging optional section that cuts off a switchback further up the mountain.
As you near the top of Black Mountain, you’ll begin to see pine trees and other plants more common to alpine ecosystems. At the peak, there is a clearing for parking near a stand of tall pines that runs along the summit ridge. This is a great place to have a picnic and take in the panoramic views of Pamo Valley to the west and the Mesa Grande Tribal reservation to the east.
There are some short hiking trails to explore that head both ways along the summit ridge from the parking area.