January 17, 2016
About a one hour drive from San Diego, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and its adjacent park Anza-Borrego has a wide variety of landscape and trails. In a few hours, you ride through manzanita chaparral, grassland, meadow, and pine and oak forest. The western side of the Cuyamaca grand loop is mostly double track through oak and pine forest. It has the largest climbs (1000 ft vertical up Middle Peak, 1200 ft vertical up Cuyamca Peak) and the steepest climb (17% max up Azalea Springs fire road, thankfully that section is short, 1/4 mi). And some of the best views; from the top of Middle Peak or Cuyamaca Peak you can see the Pacific Ocean forty miles to the west. Or look across the Cuyamaca meadow northeast, or East Mesa to Mount Laguna to the east.
The climb up the east side of Middle Peak is a great workout and rewards with fast, rough, unpopulated downhill on the west side (I have only seen others on this section once out of dozens of trips.) After the short climb to Azalea Springs there is five and half miles of almost all downhill to the Sweetwater Trailhead. Though double track, it is a blast to be able to keep such good speed for so long (but beware, there is a 15 mph speed limit in the park).
Heading north from Sweetwater Trailhead, up the east side of the Park is some singletrack and double track through Upper Green Valley. This area is posted with warning signs about mountain lions; though in reality lions might be anywhere in the park. I've never seen one in the park; still, I don't like to start this section too late---they hunt at dusk. The last mile of this trail is a rocky, narrow, stiff climb, singletrack.
There is a fork at the top of Upper Green Valley. Turn right to add 2.3 miles of single track east on La Cima and Lucky Five trails. Left (actually straight) at the fork continues single track on a section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail for 3.5 miles where it meets Soapstone fire road. The trail here is low on the sides of hills bounding grasslands with long views across to Cuyamaca Lake.
Deer are commonly seen in the grasslands and meadows. Wild turkey are also common. Coyote, too. Bobcats are also seen, but less often.
There are many trails and alternative routes through Cuyamaca and the adjacent portion of Anza-Borrego state parks. Equestrian use if fairly common in the park; more so in the western portion and near Los Vaqueros Group Horse Campground in the north. General camping is available at Pasa Picacho or Green Valley campgrounds. Free parking can be had at Trout Pond, Cold Stream, or Sweetwater Trailheads; these have no facilities. Paid day use parking is available at Pasa Picacho and at the Cuyamaca Visitor Center (south end of the park and low elevation of the "Grand Loop" route); water, bathrooms, and picnic tables are provided. On the north side of the "Grand Loop" free parking is also available at the Pedro Fages Historical monument (no facilities) on Sunrise Hwy and at the Sunrise Trailhead two miles further east on Sunrise Hwy between La Cima and Lucky Five trails (vault toilets, but no water). (More info http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_ID=667)
There is reason enough to visit, ride, and return many times.
Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve