The more than 100 miles of unpaved public roads around San Diego County are one of the things that make a back-country day trip fun and unique, but when we’ve had heavy rains — and historically heavy this month — the toll on the roads can be severe.

Contact the County of San Diego’s Department of Public Works before taking any unpaved road in our wilderness area. Even if the county says a road is open, it may be in lousy shape so a front-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle that might have been fine on the road when it’s freshly graded would have a great deal of trouble handling rocks and ruts.

In other words, unless you’re a capable off-roader driving something with full four-wheel-drive and decent ground clearance, I’d be very careful if attempting a dirt-road drive at least until we’ve had a few rain-free weeks.

Four of my current Kindle books use unpaved roads; here are some suggestions for still enjoying your day in the country.

  • Journey to the Stars: This trip up Palomar Mountain includes Nate Harrison Grade, the original dirt road up to the top. Instead of the dirt route, use either South Grade or East Grade roads. It should be beautiful and green at Palomar, as it received about two inches of rain in the recent story.
  • Curves, Dirt and Cuyamaca: There’s about eight miles of dirt on Boulder Creek Road. Consider it a one-way-in, one-way-out drive if you still want to see the beautiful vistas as about a third of the road is paved north from Descanso. Take the road north from town to where the pavement ends, then double back and head up SR-79, the Cuyamaca Highway. It should be spring-like in the Cuyamacas. Engineer Road is paved, so you can take it from Lake Cuyamaca (which is full of water, by the way) into Pine Hills. In fact, you can take the sports car on this route; it’s a blast.
  • Off the Grid Journey and Beautiful Badlands: Both in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, check with the ranger to see what shape this road is in.


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