Volcan High Five!

Hike the Volcan Mountain Five Oaks Loop near Julian in San Diego County

The moderate 5.5-mile round-trip Volcan Mountain/Five Oaks loop hike in the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve near Julian transports you from lush farmland to a summit with panoramic views. The trail gets down to business immediately upon entering the preserve, following the path of an old road and quickly ascending to leave behind the apple and pear orchards for a mixed conifer forest.

Hikers on a trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve near Julian in San Diego County

Hiker looking at the ruins of the Old Volcan Mountain Observatory Outpost near Julian San Diego County

Hikers on the trail at Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve in San Diego County

The climb is 1,227 feet in elevation, most of it at the beginning. Manzanitas line the trail, and if you’re lucky you might spot a golden eagle! Not too far into the hike you’ll reach a junction with the Five Oaks Trail. Staying on the fire road is a shorter but steeper route, and the Five Oaks Trail is a scenic detour adding 0.6 mile total to the hike, with a gentler grade and better views. Weave under oak canopies and through chaparral, with every turn opening up into a new stunning vista, including apple orchards on hillsides below and the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains.

Hikers on a wide trail entering Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve near Julian in San Diego County

The trails meet the fire road again approximately 0.8 mile from the summit where it’s a straight shot through rolling hills covered in native grasses with views all the way to the Salton Sea. Just before the summit you’ll pass the ruins of the old Volcan Mountain Observatory Outpost, built in the 1920s. When scientists were looking for a location for the Hale Telescope, Volcan Mountain was one of the contenders.

Hiker on a wide dirt trail at Volcan Mountain near Julian in San Diego County

Hikers on the trail high up on Volcan Mountain near Julian San Diego County

Hikers on a trail to the summit of Volcan Mountain near Julian San Diego County

Between 1928 and 1932, astronomers would come here to evaluate the conditions to see if this was a good spot, so an outpost was built to provide shelter for them (the telescope ultimately ended up at Palomar Mountain, 25 miles north of Volcan Mountain). Continue to the summit for views of the mountains, desert, and even the ocean on a clear day. The unobstructed vista makes it obvious why this place was considered for the telescope. Head back down the way you came but when you reach the Five Oaks junction just stay on the fire road to complete the loop.

View of mountains from Volcan Mountain near Julian San Diego County

HARD CIDER BONUS: Cool off with some fresh-pressed hard cider at Julian Hard Cider (4470 Julian Rd.). There are 12 flavors to choose from, enjoyed as taster flights, pints, and growlers. We like the Apple Pie cider. Indoor and outdoor seating available. Patio is dog-friendly.

Hard cider samples and pumpkins on a table at Julian Hard Cider in Julian San Diego County

Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is located in Julian, roughly 80 minutes from the I-15 freeway and Temecula. Take the Temecula Pkwy/CA-79 until it intersects with the CA-78 in Santa Ysabel. Turn left, staying on CA-79, and then make a left onto Wynola Rd., and then another left onto Farmer Rd. The preserve will be on the right-hand side. Street parking available on Farmer Rd. Preserve is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to sunset. Dog-friendly!

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