Garnet's Grand Vista

Hike to Garnet Peak Outside of Julian in San Diego County

On your next trip to beautiful Julian, get out of town! But only for a day trip to the Laguna Mountains. Located just a few miles east, this area has some of San Diego’s best hiking trails, including two short hikes with perhaps the best vistas in the entire county: the 2.4-mile trek to Garnet Peak and the 1.6-mile out-and-back on the PCT from Kwaaymii Point.

Park in the tiny dirt lot off the side of the highway and find the trail heading northeast through a narrow opening in the barrier. The hulking 5,900-foot summit of Garnet Peak rises in the distance, but the rocky trail starts out flat as it meanders through often overgrown shrubbery. (In spring and early summer it’s a fantastical sight—incredible dense patches of purple lupines frame the trail.) After 0.6 mile, the rocky ascent begins at a four-way trail junction. Head straight and keep going up. You’ll net a little more than 500 feet over the next 0.6 mile, with views of the rolling hills to the south and the surrounding Lagunas.

The trail becomes a bit technical at the top, so watch your footing as you climb up to the summit. Find a boulder to perch upon but hold onto your hat: It gets really windy up here! The vistas are amazing, with the surrounding forest, the ocean (on clear days) and—most dramatically—the expansive Anza-Borrego desert to the east. It’s a breathtaking sight, and that’s not just because of the altitude. 

Head down the same way you came, being careful on the initial tricky descent. On your drive back to Julian, don’t miss the Kwaaymii Point Trail, a portion on the PCT that sits a bit north of Garnet Peak’s trailhead. This easy 1.6-mile out-and-back offers constant epic panoramas of the desert and is a less windy spot for a picnic. Now that’s viewtiful!

BONUS: If you want to explore more of the Lagunas, the visitor center is a great place to start. It’s also a great place for a post-hike meal—the Outpost by Valley Farm is just across the street and serves up delicious bbq and beer (is there a better post-mountain-hiking meal?). Get the ribs and some fixin’s or, if you’re with a group, try the sampler platter to taste all their meats.

To get to the Garnet Peak trailhead, take the CA-79 16 miles southeast from Julian (Kwaaymii Point is 2.5 miles north of Garnet Peak). The Outpost and visitor center is an additional 4.6 miles southeast on the CA-79. Dog-friendly!

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik, @mattitudehikes

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Bike the Monterey Coastal Recreation Trail

    To the Lighthouse

    The Monterey Recreation Trail is one of America's most beautiful coastal experiences, accessible to bikers, strollers, rollers, and walkers. This 8-mile (round-trip) bike ride follows premier parts of the trail before detouring to Pacific Grove's storied Point Pinos Lighthouse.

  2. Sponsored

    The Unexpected Wonders of Monterey

    One of the world’s best teachers? Mother Nature. And one of the best destinations to learn from her? The Monterey Bay Aquarium. Spend a few hours at the Aquarium, then take your pick of self-guided walks...

  3. Tombstones and Tarantulas

    Forget black cats; a randy tarantula crossing your path can really get your heart racing. So can spirits in a cemetery! Visit Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve and learn about these misunderstood spiders, plus pay a visit to the Rose Hill Cemetery, where ghosts are said to exist.  

  4. London Calling

    The writer Jack London was known for his adventure stories, and an autumn hike at his namesake state park in Sonoma Valley illuminates more than his career. Eucalyptus, oaks, sprawling vineyards, and brilliant redwoods are part of the autumn magic amid the rich history of the park.


Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. woman hiking Elkhorn Slough Reserve in Monterey

    Hike Elkhorn Slough Reserve

    Elkhorn Slough Reserve is one of California’s few remaining coastal wetlands. Go on a hike and marvel at one of the state's largest coastal salt marshes, a valued habitat for birds, plant life, sea otters, and marine mammals.

  2. Red Rocks in California

    Colorful badlands, towering buttes, and scenic desert cliffs form a hikers paradise. Red Rock Canyon State Park is a lightly visited desert wonderland where the southernmost tip of the Sierra Nevada converges with the El Paso range.

  3. Woman hiking up to views from Desolation Canyon in Death Valley National Park

    Canyons Calling

    Canyon hikes come in all shapes and sizes in Death Valley, and we’ve got two gems. One requires more rigorous scrambling and navigation, and leads to a dryfall; the other takes you up to a brilliant vista.

  4. Hiking Cobb Estate Haunted Forest

    Welcome to Mr. Cobb's Haunted Forest

    The ruins can be explored on an easy 1.5-mile (round-trip) loop trail. Hike it close to dusk for maximum creepiness (just make sure you're out by dusk, when the park closes).