Hiking, backpacking, and camping throughout Southern California and beyond

Peak #62 - Sunshine Mountain - Having the mountain to yourself

Pond at the trailhead to Sunshine Mountain Sunshine Mountain Elevation: 3,154′ Total Mileage: 2

Trailhead Map (32.99130, -116.68375)

I had been wanting to get back to this part of San Diego since my hike to Eagle Peak. I also was eyeing this area when I was driving through on the way to Cedar Creek Falls. It looked great on the map and I had a feeling that it didn't get much traffic. I also thought that the views would be outstanding. I was right.

I got a late start, but that didn't keep me from making my way through Ramona, Santa Ysabel and Wynola. After seeing families of turkey and quail along the road, I got to the "turntable," which is a hairpin turn in Boulder Creek Road, and also the trailhead for Eagle Peak and Three Sisters Falls, and the way onto the rustic Cedar Creek Road. There were cars parked at the trailhead there, undoubtedly going to Eagle Peak or Three Sisters Falls, but my sights were set on a different trailhead. I turned right through the gate and headed west on Cedar Creek Road.

When planning this hike, I wasn't sure how close to the trailhead I was going to be able to get. The condition of Cedar Creek Road can be unpredictable and I didn't know how passable the side road to the pond would be. It turns out I was able to drive right over the earthen dam of the pond and park in a wide area adjacent to a stream and a grove of oak trees.

I got out of the car, a little weary and frustrated from the long drive. I was behind a very slow car the entire way through Ramona all the way to the Pine Hills turnoff. They didn't think it was important to use a turnout and didn't let me by until we were both behind a backhoe going about 30MPH.

That anxiety dissolved the instant I heard the small stream running mere feet from where I parked. I walked down to the pond and only heard a swimming coot honking and bees hungrily visiting the flowers that were blooming all over the little valley.

Stream near the pond

Recharged, I started hiking up the hill. Before long, I was trudging through waist-high flowers. I had my eyes out for snakes, ticks and fire ants. I only saw fire ants; plenty of them, but I didn't sit still long enough to be bothered by them. The trail is mostly an old truck trail, but nature has mostly reclaimed it, causing me to lose sight of the trail several times. It is possible that the trail will be easier to follow once the area dries up.

Flowers Blooming on what used to be a trail

Sunshine Mountain from the Trail

I made it up to the fork in the trail. Well, I saw the trail going to the right and I knew there was another one going to the left. The overgrowth nearly completely hid the trail to the left. I waded through the brush to see only a faint outline of twin tire tracks from autos long gone. It was like this for about 200 yards, and then I was at the base of Sunshine Mountain, in a small area of exposed earth. The trail faded into the bushes ahead, difficult to see, but still there. It was time to bushwhack.

I headed towards some large boulders at the southeastern shoulder of the mountain and was able to easily scramble to the summit. The bushes were green and supple; walking through them perhaps irritated some bees, but was like high-stepping through a shallow lake.

A portion of the trail that wasn't overgrown

Sunshine Mountain

Upon reaching the summit, I was presented with a commanding view of the area. I listened to the silence. Elsewhere in the area, Cedar Creek Falls likely had 50 or more people struggling to find a shady spot on the adjacent rocks, opening a can of beer, or scrambling up the slope to jump into the dangerous pool below. I was completely alone on this mountain and loved every minute of it.

To the north, I spotted two waterfalls that have no names and no easy access. To the south, I could see Eagle Peak, perched on the edge of the San Diego River Valley, a giant gorge that you have to see to believe that it's here in San Diego. To the west, there is a nice plateau that also sits on the edge of that valley. To the east, Cuyamaca Peak was shrouded in clouds the whole day.

The wind was blowing and I could see my car next to the pond below. It was a fairly short and easy hike, but the long drive, the incredible views, the fading trail, the bushwhacking, my slowly decaying fitness, and the utter solitude made it seem much farther.

There was a juvenile squirrel jawbone on the peak, reminding me that this area is patrolled by raptors. I know, because I saw tons of them when I was on Eagle Peak.

View to the north to an unnamed waterfall from Sunshine Mountain

Eagle Peak from Sunshine Mountain

Unnamed Falls to the southeast from Sunshine Mountain

Cuyamaca Peak in the Clouds from Sunshine Mountain

Squirrel Jawbone atop Sunshine Mountain

Cedar Creek Gorge from Sunshine Mountain

Reluctantly, since I had such a long drive back, I made my way down to my car. I will be back in this area. The excuse will be to bag a nearby peak, but there are so many areas nearby that feel unexplored.

Hmmm, I wonder what it looks like from over there?

Sunshine Mountain Trail Map


100 Peaks Update - Cleaning House

Jerry Schad - Wish him well