Top Ten Los Angeles Adventures
When the Digueqo Indians named these mountains Cuyamaca ("no rain behind"), they were answering the question asked by every visitor to daydream in its meadows: How is it possible for such a lush place to exist in the most arid part of Southern California? The answer: Clouds from the coast get trapped in the peaks, leaving little moisture to pass over the backside (hence, "no rain behind").
As you wander through the Sierra-like terrain, you'll see what happens when the water from those clouds trickles down into the valleys. Streams rush past yellow pine and manzanita, down to wildflower-filled meadows marked with verdant oaks. From the campground, a 6.5-mile trail leads up to the 6,512-foot Cuyamaca Peak, from which you can look out onto the Pacific, then turn around for views of the desert and the Salton Sea. Other recreation possibilities: fishing at Cuyamaca Lake, mountain biking nearly 100 miles of trails, and, some winters, cross-country skiing.
Big as it may be, this is one of the prettiest campgrounds in Southern California. You can maximize your solitude by reserving one of the back sites (#41 through #45). Or, for those with a serious aversion to humanity, there's a walk-in campground nearby at Arroyo Seco. It's almost as scenic as Paso Picacho and usually quieter.
One final note: No visit to Cuyamaca is complete without a stop in Julian on the way home. The apple pie at Mom's is almost worth the trip alone.
Directions: Take Interstate 5 south to Highway 78 east. At the town of Julian, head south into the park on Highway 79 to the Paso Picacho campground and picnic area on the right.
Travel Time: Approximately 4 hours
Fee: $12-$14, $1 extra per dog
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication