If your looking for a lot of visual bang for your hiking buck, Stonewall Peak Trail in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is the ticket. Stonewall Peak is a steep, two-mile out-and-back trail brings you to a stony outcrop that offers stunning 360-degree views of the expansive landscape.
- Trail type: Loop
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Length: 2 miles round trip
- Elevation gain and loss: 820 feet, -830 feet
- Trailhead Coordinates: 32.959654, -116.579116
- Location: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
- Season: Year round, but can be hot in summer
Getting to Stonewall Peak Trail
Take I-8 about 35 miles east of San Diego. Take exit 40 and take CA-79 north for miles, until you see the Paso Picacho Campground on the left. The trailhead is just across CA-79 from the campground. You can park in the campground parking lot, but will need to pay a day use fee.
The hike, which begins at a trailhead just across Route 78 from Paso Picacho Campground, winds through a series of long switchbacks to the 5,700-foot summit. Moving at a moderate pace, it will take you about an hour to get to the top.
The trail is well-maintained and other than the elevation gain, it’s an easy hike. Shade is scarce. Bring sunblock, hats and plenty of water, especially during the summer months, when it can get brutally hot with the sun beating down on you.
At the summit, a set of stone stairs bring you to the rocky peak, which is protected by a handrail. The view from the top takes in much of surrounding Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Cuyamaca Lake to the northwest and some of Anza Borrego Desert State Park to the northeast.
History of Stonewall Peak Trail
The Kumeyaay people had already been occupying the Cuyamaca area seasonally for generations when the Stonewall Mine, located between Stonewall Peak and Lake Cuyamaca, was flourishing in the late 1800s. The Kumeyaay name for the area was “Ah-ha’-Kwe-ah-mac’,” meaning “what the rain left behind” or “mist behind the clouds.” Their largest village in the area was located near the road that leads to the Stonewall Mine, just north of Stonewall Peak.
Stonewall Peak is a popular hiking destination today, located in the western part of the Peninsular Ranges Batholith, an exposed irregular igneous mass. The peak is formed from light-colored, bouldery outcrops of granite containing gray quartz and whitish feldspar. From the top of Stonewall Peak, you can see all three of Cuyamaca’s highest peaks, all of which are composed of a slightly different kind of rock.
Lake Cuyamaca, created by the second oldest dam built in California in 1888, is a beautiful part of the view from the top of Stonewall Peak, especially in the spring when patches of yellow goldfields wildflowers color the meadows.
The nearby Stonewall Mine was discovered in 1870 and was named the Stonewall Jackson Mine, but anti-Southern sentiments quickly abbreviated the name to the Stonewall Mine. During the ownership of Robert W. Waterman, who would become California governor, the Stonewall Mine produced over $1 million in gold and supported some 200 miners and their families who lived in Cuyamaca at the time.
The Stonewall Peak Trail intersects with its northeast spur heading to Los Caballos (or Los Vaqueros) Horse Camp, making it possible to make a longer loop by connecting to the Vern Whitaker Trail to the Cold Stream Trail to return to Paso Picacho’s parking area. Cuyamaca’s Green Valley Campground is also open during late spring and summer, with a grant procured to keep Green Valley’s 81 campsites operating this year.