Laguna Lunch: Scenery, Sandwich Yummy; Quick Mountain Trip Worth The Drive

With all the mountains in San Diego County, a picnic in the wilderness is only a few minutes away for the thousands who have high-ground-clearance vehicles. Qualifying are most of the SUVs on the road, including crossovers.

The Mount Laguna area, at around 6,000 feet, has all the necessary features — trees and dirt roads. Pick a day like I did, when there’s hardly anyone around, and it makes for a perfect afternoon getaway.

My vehicle for this San Diego day trip, back in the summer of 2007, was a bit more than just something with high ground clearance. It was a 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, the four-door version loaded to the gills with bigger tires, assorted skid plates underneath, a hard top and interior almost as comfortable as a passenger car. Clearly too much for the roads, but fun nonetheless. The version you find today in your local Jeep showroom will be about the same.

Head east on Interstate 8, but don’t forget to pick up a sandwich along the way. I stopped at one of my favorite delis, located at Alpine Frontier Liquor, 1730 Alpine Boulevard, unit 201. Exit I-8 at Tavern Road; it’s located in the same center as the Carl’s Junior, right off the freeway. One caution… the sandwiches are huge.

Continuing on I-8, I exited at Sunrise Highway, taking the pleasurable drive up the hill. It has a couple of designations: county Highway S-1 and the Sunrise Highway Scenic Byway. Whatever it’s called, drivers curve up the sides of the hills, passing the timber line after a few minutes.

At the top is the small community of Mount Laguna. Mostly inside the Cleveland National Forest, there’s the Laguna Mountain Lodge, with small store, restaurant, cabins, and where I made my first stop, the Visitor Information Center. There, knowledgeable volunteers will help plan a day in the mountains. Trail maps are available, as are National Forest passes ($5), needed only for parked vehicles. Cruising around is free.

If you’re looking for formal picnic areas, the volunteers can direct you to one of several that are on the mountain. My plan was to just park somewhere, pull out my folding chair, and enjoy the secluded spot, rather than go to an official picnic area.

Most of the roads are closed to private vehicles. One that is open, at least for 2.5 about miles, is Los Huecos Road, which runs west from the visitor center.

An easy, well maintained dirt road, it’s one place a passenger car wouldn’t have any trouble. It was still a bit early to eat, so I stopped back in at the visitor center to get some more directions. While there, I ended up chatting with a couple of volunteers who were having their lunch at the picnic table behind the center; I joined them and managed to eat half the huge sandwich I picked up in Alpine.

There was another road to explore, Thing Valley Road, which is about a mile south on Sunrise Highway. A sign posted says the gate is closed three miles ahead, but it was still worth the trip.

Thing Valley Road is named after the Thing family, which still owns property near Las Posas Road and Interstate 8. On Mount Laguna, the road winds through a beautiful forest. It is narrow, rutted and rocky in spots, so it was a bit more of a challenge for the Wrangler. And although I put the Jeep in four-wheel-drive high at one point just to make sure it was working, any vehicle with high ground clearance would have an easy time on this road.

This trail does have its ups and downs. It rises and falls about 500 feet, with the highest point I saw being 6,040 feet, according to the Jeep’s built-in GPS system, which actually had Thing Valley Road in its database.

And off road, what a nice Jeep it was. The last time I drove a Wrangler — a second-generation model — was back in 2002. The new-for-2007 third-generation still looks back to its CJ and World War II roots, with removable top and doors, and a Spartan (at least for 2007) interior. This one has a V-6, replacing the inline 6 that originally powered the American Motors Rambler. With four doors and a big tire hanging out back, it seemed a bit long.

On the twisting drive up Sunrise Highway, it was fun. On the freeway, however, it seemed a bit underpowered, with the automatic transmission doing a lot of shifting and my right foot spending a lot of time near the floorboard. Still, it was quiet and much more civilized than that 2002 Wrangler. I can see why the factory in Toledo, Ohio, can’t keep up with demand.

After a pleasant drive through the trees for a mile or so, the road hugs the edge of Quail Springs Meadow. A beautiful open patch surrounded by peaks, its grasses were a patchwork of green and gold in the sun when I visited in mid-August. If I hadn’t eaten lunch back at the visitor center, this would have been the spot.

A few minutes down the road are several homes, and about the only traffic I saw that day was on Thing Valley Road, where a couple of residents and a Ranger Sally, who patrols the area for the Forest Service, drove by. It’s a one-lane road, but there are turnouts here and there. Be polite and back up, if you’re the closest to the turnout.

Sure enough, the gate was locked about four miles in. There was plenty of room to turn around, and the drive back was as pleasant as the drive in. Since the trip back to Sunrise Highway was mostly a gentle uphill grade, it was here that I shifted into 4WD high, just to give it a test.

Sure, this wasn’t a long drive, but it did put me in nature for a few hours. The sandwich and the company at the visitor center were great, and the Jeep got a little exercise. Stake out some time to give your senses and your SUV a little exercise.

Jeep on the trail at about 6,000 feet.

On the trail.

Route and Info

  • From September 2007


  • An easy, off-road drive.


  • 33-mile round trip from Interstate 8. Exit is about 45 miles from central San Diego.


  • Interstate 8 east to Sunrise Highway (S-1).
  • Turn left onto Sunrise Highway after exiting freeway.
  • Visitor Information Center is about 10 miles north.
  • Los Huecos Road runs west adjacent to the visitor center.
  • From the visitor center, Thing Valley Road is less than a mile south (toward I-8) on Sunrise Highway and runs east.
  • Return to I-8.
Jeep at 6,000 feet.
Jeep at 6,000 feet.


Hybridding Through The Desert

Green SUV Up To Task On Easy Anza-Borrego Roads

  • From December 2006

Coyote Canyon, in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, has enough history to fill a book. It’s the stuff of controversy, human civilization, geology, plant and animal life, and convenience.

It’s also a good place for city-dwelling desert newbies to get a little off-road time, get advice from Anza-Borrego experts, make it out to the sand and back to San Diego in a day. That there are fun, twisting mountain roads along the way makes it just that much better.

Coyote Canyon is a wide valley heading north from the town of Borrego Springs. It’s home to bighorn sheep and other wildlife, attracted to one of the few streams in the area that runs year-round. Today’s human visitors like it because it’s close to Borrego Springs, making it one of the busier areas in the desert.

Getting there involves going over some of the narrowest and most twisting highways in the county.

They’re the type of roads favored by driving enthusiasts; since the destination is the desert, there can be a lot of traffic from fat-tired pickups with toy haulers filled with desert bikes. Throw in a few motor homes and a weekend drive can be less than enjoyable.

But hang in there, as the desert’s always a prize.From wherever you are, get to Julian, whether it’s on state Route 78 or 79, via Pala Road, Ramona or, the route I chose, up Cuyamaca Highway from Interstate 8. Allow at least two hours, more if you stop in Julian for apple pie. Then it’s down Banner Grade and another turn or two to Borrego Springs.

My first stop was at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, 200 Palm Canyon Drive, (760) 767-5311. Knowledgeable rangers, staff members and volunteers can help plan a map for the day. A status board also lets drivers know the state of the roads. Winter rains can rough up the dirt trails, so it’s always a good idea to check the board before heading out.

I also stopped for lunch and supplies in Borrego Springs before traveling the five miles north to Coyote Canyon. Even though I’d left home early in the day, it was now nearing 2 p.m. and the sun sets fast in desert canyons. So, maybe I didn’t go as far up the canyon as I planned, but I still had a good day and was back home in early evening.

A little background on the canyon, courtesy of Anza-Borrego A to Z, Diana Lindsay’s dictionary-style book on everything about the park. Named for the Wiamiistam (which means people of the coyote), the Native Americans who once lived here, the canyon leads north from Borrego Springs. The San Jacinto Fault — yes, an active earthquake fault — created this valley. It has been preserved over the years despite plans ranging from running highway through it connecting to Los Angeles, to building a dam and filling it with water.

Trails and roads connect north to SR-371, then onto SR-79 and I-15. Controversy and court cases have raged over the years. Currently, the road is closed completely from June 1 to October 1, according to the official State Park map.On the warm, sunny day I visited, the trail was very much open. It was busy with off-roaders, hikers and folks just sitting around enjoying the sun.

It’s just a few minutes up the road from Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs. Once the pavement ends on DiGregorio Road, the trail was sandy but, except for a few spots, in decent shape.

This was my second off-road trip in the 2007 Mercury Mariner hybrid; the automatic four-wheel-drive handled the sand just fine. Its ground clearance was adequate to avoid most of the rocks in the road and the suspension soaked up many of the bumps.

Along the way was Desert Gardens, with picnic benches and hiking trails. If I’d been smart, I’d have packed a lunch at home and eaten it here. A couple on horseback were enjoying the day, as were several carloads of visitors. There’s a parking area here, so drivers can pull off the narrow, sandy road. Past Alcohol Pass, the road gets a bit rocky, worn from the traffic, occasional rains and wind. It can get a bit bumpy and this is where a car’s suspension might have trouble — or end up with trouble after a drive over the bumps.

The road up the canyon crosses Coyote Creek in several spots. With water running here almost all year, I was warned that it at the first crossing it can be as high as two feet deep. When I visited in November, there hadn’t been much rain yet, but water still flowed. If your visit comes after winter storms, be careful.

Between the first and the second creek crossings, the road was packed with rocks… very bumpy and requiring some maneuvering to avoid the biggest rocks. The road also runs through its own rut, higher than the bottom of the Mariner’s side windows. Since it’s narrow, be alert to passing vehicles… and I found more than a few that weren’t interested in yielding. In one spot, a group in a Saturn sedan sped by with barely enough room for both vehicles between the dirt side walls. They looked like they were having fun.

I only went as far as the second crossing, where a family was enjoying the day, kids splashing around, mom and dad enjoying music and cold beverages. The Mariner didn’t have any trouble in the mud. Beyond, Visitor Center volunteers advised the road narrows considerably.

On the trail, I wasn’t driving more than 25 mph most of the time, so the electric motor was powering the wheels. The only sound was the crunch of the tires, one of the benefits of driving in a hybrid. Power from the gasoline engine kicked in instantly when needed, so with its high ground clearance and automatic 4×4, the Mariner was just fine navigating this easy trail. And I got around 30 miles per gallon on my round-trip.

On the way back, I was surprised to see a Toyota Prius parked off to the side. I hope that meant that its owners were off hiking, not that the Prius got stuck. I wouldn’t take one out there, as it rides close to the ground.

Because it’s so near to Borrego Springs and a through route to the north, Coyote Canyon is popular and can be a busy place on the weekends. There’s camping at Sheep Canyon and a horse camp. For those looking to drive on a little sand and get an introduction to the desert, it’s a great place to start. ⚙

Mercury Mariner Hybrid

Note that I tested a 2007 Mariner hybrid. The SUV was redesigned for 2008 but was discontinued along with the rest of the Mercury brand. Ford still has an Escape hybrid.

Directions & Info


Easy to difficult. Cuyamaca Highway and Banner Grade can be challenging with twists and turns. Narrow Coyote Canyon road can be rocky, sandy, muddy and crowded.


About 22 miles from Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs is about 90 miles from central San Diego.


  • Interstate 8 to state Route 79 North, Japatul Valley Road. After exiting, left onto Japatul Valley Road.
  • Left at Cuyamaca Highway to stay on SR-79.
  • In Julian, right at Main Street onto SR-78. Continue onto Banner Grade.
  • In desert, left at Yaqui Pass Road.
  • Left at Borrego Springs Road to Christmas Circle.
  • To Park Visitor Center, take Palm Canyon Drive west (exit toward business district) in Christmas Circle. Visitor Center is at the end of Palm Canyon Drive.
  • To Coyote Canyon, exit Christmas Circle east on Palm Canyon Drive.
  • Left at DiGregorio Road. Continue on to Coyote Canyon. Retrace your route to return.

Web Sites

Clean Climbing: Mountaineering in a hybrid SUV

Cutting Through Unexpected Urban Wilderness In A Hybrid Mercury Mariner

While the general area where San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties meet is one of fastest growing in the nation, its center somewhat of a surprise.

Much of it is wilderness.

This hole-in-the-donut is the northern portion of the Cleveland National Forest, which stretches south to near the US-Mexico border and is familiar to most San Diegans as the home of Mount Laguna and Mount Palomar.

For drivers of the scary Ortega Highway, the area on today’s drive is the highest part of the road from San Juan Capistrano to Lake Elsinore. Campgrounds and picnic areas, hiking trails and off-highway vehicle areas are along this stretch of state Route 74.

A topographic map will show hills, canyons and mountains that seem to be linked all the way from the seaside cliffs of San Clemente and San Onofre all the way to Fallbrook, Mount Palomar and beyond. Freeway drivers pass by and through these mountains all the time. On Interstate 5, they rise quickly east through Camp Pendleton and San Clemente, while on I-15, the freeway cuts majestically between the peaks.

The rugged terrain is a big reason there are no east-west freeways between SR-78 in San Diego County and SR-91, which crosses from Orange to Riverside counties. In between is the notorious Ortega Highway, a twisty, narrow, two-lane road that at times has extremely heavy traffic.

This open space has left a welcome hole in the region’s sprawl that’s perfect for off-road exploration. Except it’s not really off-road, since most of today’s route from South Main Divide to Los Alamos Road is paved. But since I had an SUV and the folks at Ford had challenged me to do a little “green” off-roading with a hybrid, all-wheel-drive Mercury Mariner, I did check out the first dirt trail I found, but more about that later.

To get there, it’s a straight shot up I-15, exiting at SR-74 west in Lake Elsinore. A few zigzags through town and a few more on the quickly rising cliffside highway and drivers reach the summit, elevation 2,666 feet. Just past is the sign for the Main Divide (north and south); we head south today, skirting the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness and the Wildomar Off Highway Vehicle Area. The El Cariso Visitor Center (951-678-3700)is located on Ortega Highway just west of where we leave SR-74.

This is one spectacular byway. Turn left off of Ortega Highway to South Main Divide Road, passing the Wildland Firefighter Memorial Picnic Area and one of the many Penny Pines forests in California.

For a few miles, this is a fine road, wide and paved. It narrows after passing old Rancho Capistrano about four miles south. Good enough, in fact, that I might even return sometime in the Miata.

Still shown on some maps and signs as Killen Trail, it was changed back to South Main Grade in 2003. The street became notable in 2002 after hikers found the body of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion near the road.
The vistas here are spectacular as the road snakes from one side of the divide to the other. At one moment, drivers are looking east at the 1,500-foot drop to Lake Elsinore; hang gliders sometimes launch from this area. After the next curve, the road overlooks an unspoiled coastal canyon.

Rancho Capistrano is a small island of homes in the middle of the National Forest about four miles from Ortega Highway; beyond the road narrows, but is still paved and generally begins to descend.
About eight miles in, a dirt road snakes off to the left. Called Calle Campanero at the bottom, some maps identify it as the end of South Main Divide Road. It’s a quick drop to the estate homes in the valley below; twisty, rocky and rutted, cut into the cliff in many spots. In short, lots of fun.

It was here I really noticed I was driving a hybrid. Not traveling much above 20 miles per hour because of the terrain, I glanced at the tachometer and… it read zero. Mr. Gasoline Engine was taking a nap. But the brakes, power steering, CD player and everything else was running. A quick glance at the small video “information center” in the center of the dash showed the fuel economy was off the scale — because no gas was being used.

On the rare occasions when the road climbed slightly, the electric motor pushed the Mariner a bit, then the gas engine would kick in smoothly. No problems here.

At the bottom, I decided to just make a u-turn and head back up the trail. On the way back up (an elevation rise of at least 500 feet over two miles, I’d guess), Mr. Gas was needed the whole way. And the Mariner’s all-wheel-drive system was up to the task, rolling up, down and through the rocks and ruts just fine.

It didn’t seem quite as sure as the Jeep Liberty I took up the rocky road southeast of Mt. Laguna last year, but the Mariner isn’t advertised as having conquered the Rubicon. For an SUV that would probably spend most of its life as a grocery-getter and commuter, it’s got a real fun side. Not to mention, when the motor shuts off, you’re not polluting this natural area.

A two-wheel-drive SUV would be fine on all but the dirt segment, so this drive would be open to my neighbors and their hybrid Ford Escape, the Mariner’s corporate twin.

Back at the top of the hill, I continued south on the paved road, now a bit narrower. Maps seem to indicate this is called Los Alamos Truck Trail or Los Alamos Road, but I wasn’t able to get a definitive answer. Whatever it is, I just continued south, passing the entry to the Wildomar Off Highway Vehicle Area.

From there, the road kept descending, reaching the bottom of Los Alamos Canyon. There, it parallels, then crosses, Los Alamos Creek. The crossing was dry when I visited just before Thanksgiving, but if we’ve had some rain, it might have a lot of water flowing very fast, as the bottom of the canyon is narrow. The concrete road doesn’t bridge the creek, it just goes through it. So, when there’s water the road will be wet, take care.

A few more twists and climbs and you’re back on Cleveland Forest Road, cruising again through the estate homes. It’s been about 20 miles since exiting Ortega Highway (excluding the four-mile dirt trek) and another 15 miles on regular country roads to I-15.

This area is the donut hole of nature in the middle of urban Southern California and well worth exploring. And if your vehicle is green, go ahead and check out nature guilt-free.

Great vistas from trail.
Great vistas from trail.

Route and Info

  • From November 2006


  • Easy to moderate on South Main Divide-Los Alamos Road.
  • Difficult on dirt road South Main Divide-Calle Campanero.


  • About 46 miles from I-15 at Central Avenue in Lake Elsinore to I-15 and Clinton Keith Road in Murietta. Central Avenue exit off I-15 is about 80 miles from downtown San Diego. Additional 8 mile round-trip dirt segment.


From central San Diego
  • Interstate 15 north to Lake Elsinore.
  • Exit at Central Avenue SR-74. Go west (left) and follow SR-74 west signs.
  • Right at Collier Avenue. — Left at Riverside Drive.
  • Bear left to continue onto Grand Avenue.
  • Right at Ortega Highway.
  • Left at South Main Divide.
  • For dirt segment, follow South Main Divide about 8 miles after leaving Ortega Highway.
  • To return to I-15, follow Calle de Campanero, right at Avenida La Cresta, left at Tenaja Road, left at Via Volcano to stay on Tenaja Road, continue onto Clinton Keith Road to I-15.
  • At dirt road about eight miles in, road changes name to Los Alamos Road, later Tenaja Truck Trail, then Cleveland Forest Road.
  • Left at Tenaja Road.
  • Left at Via Volcano to stay on Tenaja Road.
  • Continue onto Clinton Keith Road to I-15.

Mercury Mariner Hybrid video review

Taking the High Road in Corral Canyon

Wilderness Area Is A Real San Diego County Gem

In La Mesa, Interstate 8 and State Route 94 nearly meet, coming within a couple of miles of each other, connected by SR-125. Before meeting up in Boulevard, they form the shape of an eye heading east, with the widest spot coming near where I-8 passes Pine Valley and SR-94 hits Campo.

The center of that wide spot is our destination for today’s San Diego day trip, one of the most remote, rugged and beautiful spots anywhere in the county — the Corral Canyon Off Highway Vehicle Area.

It’s also home to the last operating fire observation tower in the county… and the friendly fire watcher is happy to welcome visitors, so let’s make her day and stop on in.

With more than 50 miles of trails ranging in elevation from 3,400 to 4,169 feet, Corral Canyon allows drivers to sample challenging rock trails, dirt and paved roads. Campgrounds are also in the area, which has lush coastal chaparral and native trees at this writing, not having had a major fire since the early 1970s.

Maps show the off-highway vehicle area being smack in the middle of a largely unpopulated area, surrounded by the Pine Creek Wilderness, just southwest of Pine Valley, and the Hauser Wilderness, east of Lake Morena. It’s one of the biggest open spots anywhere in the county.

So, on my way back from a late-season visit to the desert (by the way, this is about six hours from Phoenix) and driving a four-wheel-drive equipped Explorer courtesy of Ford, I pulled off at the Buckman Springs Rest Area to check it out.

The trip alone from the Rest Area to Corral Canyon Road is worth the drive in any vehicle. Buckman Springs Road is a beautiful, twisting highway with many parts shaded by old oaks. Keep the speed down as you pass Mountain Empire High School.

Off Buckman Springs Road is even better… if you have the driving skill and at least an SUV, truck or other vehicle with high ground clearance. The Miata was best left at home today.

The turn to Corral Canyon Road is well marked with signs pointing to the Off Highway Vehicle area, campground at Lake Morena and Camp Morena, a post that since 1940 has had several different uses by the U.S. Army, California Army National Guard and other military units.

Oaks surround and cover the early parts of Corral Canyon Road as it passes Camp Morena and a few private ranches on the way. When I visited in mid-May, things were still green and blooming following the late-winter rains. The spring aroma was wonderful.

Even when things are green, remember that this is fire country, something I was reminded of when I met Angela Cook and her firefighting crew about seven miles in at the Four Corners area, the official entry to the Off Highway Vehicle area.

According to Cook, it’s a serious off-roading place, with some of the trails a challenge even to experienced rock-crawlers. It’s also best to leave the kids at home, she said, pack water and supplies, and plan ahead.

“There’s no cell service out here,” she added, recommending that serious off-roaders always come in pairs of vehicles… in case one rock-crawler gets stuck, the other can go get help.

At the Four Corners lot, there are large maps showing the Off Highway Vehicle area and outlining the rules. Permits are required for off-highway vehicles.

While the Explorer had seemed capable off road on an earlier trip in the desert, Cook didn’t recommend I try any of the off-road trails in the area for a couple of reasons. First, because I was alone, she advised that I come another time and bring other folks along in another off-road equipped vehicle, just in case there’s trouble.

Second, she thought the Explorer’s large size would be a problem even on some of the easier trails, since, she said, even vehicles as small as a Jeep Wrangler sometimes are a tight squeeze.

She did recommend I take a trip up to the top of Los Pinos Mountain, where a fire observation tower is located at elevation 4,805 feet. The rangers, she said, are always happy to see visitors and the view is great.

So, I headed up the road — recently paved — to what I found out is the only operational fire observation tower in the county. There, fire observer JoEllen Scully and her partner, Norm Mitchell, keep a vigil almost every day of the year.

With a view that on a clear day can stretch to the Coronado Islands, the drive up the narrow, twisting road was well worth the visit. There was fog and the “May gray” haze to the east, but I swear I could smell the ocean from the peak. Scully said yes, they do get ocean breezes here, and it was cooler than down in the valley.

A throwback to the days before satellites and other high-tech fire monitoring techniques, Scully spends her days in the tower keeping an eye out for puffs of smoke that might end up as blazes as large as 2003’s Cedar Fire, which burned a few miles to the west.

“It’s the best office in San Diego County,” she said, adding that visitors are always welcome.

The 2006 Explorer did a great job getting up and down the mountain, even if it did seem to be filling the entire width of the narrow, but paved trail. Four-wheel-drive wasn’t needed, even on the two miles of dirt from Buckman Springs Road to Camp Morena. The 4.6 liter V-8 mated to a six-speed automatic overdrive transmission had no problems getting up and down the hills.

According to the computer readout on the dash, gas mileage was around 16.5 miles per gallon on the off-road segment, down from the 18-19 it was getting on the freeway. That isn’t bad for such a large vehicle.

Vigilance is needed, however. Nobody was going the other way as I went up Los Pinos Road, but on the way out, a guy in a Jeep Wrangler was coming the other direction on Corral Canyon Road. He was nice enough to pull over while I passed. The nice leather seats, cut-pile carpeting and cold air-conditioning were in contrast to his rig, which looked like a basic Wrangler with only a tarp between the windshield header and roll bar as protection. Some folks go for utility, others for comfort.

These days, a lot more folks have vehicles like this Explorer, rather than the rough-and-ready Wrangler. If you’re one of them, check out Corral Canyon. Both Scully and Cook said I should be able to make the drive around the off-highway vehicle area with no problem.

It’s a 12-mile loop around the southern section, past the Bobcat Meadow and Corral Canyon campgrounds. From Four Corners intersection heading in from Corral Canyon Road, either go straight on Corral Canyon Road or turn right onto Skye Valley Road. Taking Corral Canyon Road, the maps show they meet about 4 miles southwest; taking Skye Valley Road, you’ll find Corral Canyon Road after almost 8 miles.

Unless you’re a serious off-roader, Cook advised staying off of Skye Valley Road west of Corral Canyon Road, as the trail had some serious rocky areas as a result of the winter rains.

However, I didn’t have time to take a drive around the park. The day was ending after spending time yacking with Scully and enjoying the view at the fire lookout tower. So, I headed home.

This is one of the best open space areas in the county — and one of the best I’ve seen in Southern California. If you go, be careful, pack out anything you bring (including trash) and be safe. You’ll have a great time.

Fire tower at Corral Canyon.
Fire tower at Corral Canyon.

Route and Info


  • At least a 20 mile round-trip from Buckman Springs Rest Area. Buckman Springs is about 45 miles east from central San Diego.


  • Moderate to Difficult, including dirt access road. Trails inside Corral Canyon Off Highway Vehicle area can be hazardous; don’t attempt unless you’re a serious off-roader.


  • Interstate 8 to Buckman Springs Road. Head west from freeway to Buckman Springs Road. Continue south on Buckman Springs Road.
  • Right at Corral Canyon Road, posted with Off Highway Vehicle Area signs and a large sign pointing to Camp Morena.
  • To Los Pinos Lookout, turn right at “Four Corners” parking lot onto Los Pinos Road.

Web sites:

View from fire tower.
View from fire tower.
A reminder to keep on the roadways.
A reminder to keep on the roadways.