Palomar's Other Side

Hike the Barker Valley Trail on Palomar Mountain

Palomar Mountain in Northern San Diego County is a popular location for cyclists, thanks to its steep, hairpin road that twists and turns to the observatory up top. But there's a road less traveled on the back side of this mountain range and it leads to beautiful Barker Valley Trail and a 6-mile (round-trip) hike. The catch? You're going to need a 4x4 to reach the trailhead. This adventure begins with an 8-mile stretch of dirt road that takes you up to the Barker Valley Trailhead. It's a bumpy, sometimes rocky ride. Few venture this far (save for 4-wheeling enthusiasts), so you're almost guaranteed a quiet hike. And, just to keep things interesting, the trail begins with a 3-mile, 1,000-foot descent. Pass manzanita and white sage brush as you dip into Barker Valley. Once you've descended you're technically at the end of the trail. But continue following the dirt path to a grassy, butterfly-studded meadow. Plan to spend a few hours picnicking in the grass or checking out the main attraction: a waterfall flowing into a water-slicked pool. (Water flow is best during winter months, but if there's been recent rain or cooler weather, you're likely to see some action.) To find the waterfall, follow the trail past the end of the meadow and the last campsite (the clutch of campsites here are primitive, and for backpackers who have a remote camping permit from the Forest Service). Head back the way you came … and be sure you've saved some water for the arduous ascent. Up, up, and away.

From San Diego, take CA-79 north through Warner Springs. After passing the town, drive 6.5 miles (mile marker 41.9) to Palomar Divide Rd. The unpaved road continues for 7.8 miles to Barker Valley Spur Trailhead, where the hike begins. Park off the side. Keep your eyes out for poison oak bordering the trails. Be sure to bring extra water as the valley can get hot. You can purchase maps of Cleveland National Forest. Dog-friendly (bring extra water for your furry pal, too). Photo by tzegler2.

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