San Diego Trail Tramps

  Corte Madera Mountain

Date: Sunday, November 19, 2006  09:00 AM -  05:00 PM
Info. URLs: National Forest Recreational Passes and Permits, NOAA Weather Forecast for this area
Location: Southeast corner of San Diego County, near Buckman Springs and Lake Morena
Directions: Today we're headed to 4657' Corte Madera Mountain, in the southern part of San Diego County. As usual, we'll meet at our Hillcrest location at 9 am on Sunday morning to arrange carpools. The drive out to the hike area is about 1 hr. 15 min. We'll plan to rendezvous at the final parking spot, and start hiking between 10:45-11:00 am. 

Take I-8 east past Pine Valley (and about 4.5 miles past the Mount Laguna/Sunrise Highway turnoff) to the Buckman Springs Road exit (same as for the Kitchen Creek hike). Turn right from the ramp onto Buckman Springs Road. (It will curve to the left and head south.) Drive 2.7 miles south of I-8, past the high school, to mile 6.6 and look for a road on the right signed for the Corral Canyon OHV Area. (The turnoff is on a sharp curve to the left on Buckman Springs Road.) Turn right (west) there, onto Corral Canyon Road.

Proceed 4.8 miles along the Corral Canyon Road on narrow pavement, passing the old honor camp (Camp Morena) and a private house with a wooden fence, to a hairpin turn. There, you will eventually see a gate with a big red heart painted on it, on the right. This is the curve where gated, unpaved Kernan Road leaves the canyon to the left, from the outside edge of the hairpin turn, and begins to climb to the OHV area. There is parking just above the heart gate for 3-4 cars, and more nearby below the gate along the main road.
Background information: Corte Madera Mountain's summit plateau is one of San Diego County's prime view spots, affording a panorama that stretches from Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands to the west, to the mile-high Sierra Juarez plateau in Baja California to the south.

The sheer south face of Corte Madera Mountain can be seen from many parts of metropolitan San Diego, about 35 miles to the west. At one point there's a 300' near-vertical dropoff and from the southernmost point on the plateau you can peer over the abrupt face into the canyon drained by Espinosa Creek. To the southeast is 4805' Los Pinos Mountain, topped by a fire lookout, the last remaining active lookout in San Diego County as of 1998.

Dry lake bed to the northwest of Corte Maderea Mountain

Hike Description: Hike distance is 6.5 miles roundtrip, with an elevation gain/loss of 1750'. It's moderately strenuous, a 3-star hike out of a possible 5-stars, in degree of difficulty, and should take about 4 hrs. roundtrip, plus break and lunch time.

Dogs allowed.

The hike starts by squeezing around the vehicle gate on Kernan Road, and follows the dirt road up into the oaks. After about 1/2 mile where the road bends right in a horseshoe curve, turn left on the Espinosa Trail and continue northwest.. This trail has the steepest climb of the hike, especially as it nears the ridge. The trail leads about 1 mile to a saddle and intersects Los Pinos Road (a dirt road). At this point Corte Madera Mtn. is in front of you.

Turn right on the dirt road and follow it 0.3 mile to another saddle. This saddle is 0.5 mile southeast of a boulder-studded, Cooulter-pine-dotted peak 4588. At the saddle on the ridge there is a parking area for 4x4s on the left side. The Corte Madera Mtn. Trail (a narrow path) leaves the main dirt road to the west, immediately to the right of the parking pullout (you don't walk back into the parking area for the trail, it is closer to the main road).

The trail then leads up the hill along the ridge and over peak 4588' (not a bad destination in its own right), and across another saddle just northwest of the same peak. Continue following the path northwest and then finally southwest along a crest to the summit plateau of Corte Madera Mountain.

For safety, be aware of possible snakes in the area (on warmer days, they'll be out sunbathing), and explore together in small groups.

For those who would like more info. on the area, check out Jerry Schad's book,"Afoot and Afield in San Diego County", in Mountains: Pine Creek, Trip 6: Corte Madera Mountain. In the 2012 edition, it's on pp. 282-283. (see map on p. 275)

Some beautiful photos of the hike can be found on this informative website: Hiking SD County

Boulder-studded, Coulter-pine-dotted Peak 4588

Fees: A Forest Service "Adventure Pass" is NOT required for parking at the trailhead of this hike. In 1997 the national forests of So. Cal. collectively instituted a recreation fee program called the "National Forest Adventure Pass". As of September 2016, forest visitors parked in standard amenity recreation fee sites in the four southern California national forests must display a valid recreation pass. This includes sites on the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests.

As listed in the “Recreation Enhancement Act,” standard amenity fee sites are those that provide designated developed parking, picnic tables, toilet facilities, security, interpretive signs and trash receptacles. Vehicles parked at these fee sites are now required to display a National Forest Adventure Pass permit, or else risk being "ticketed". The permit, which costs $5 daily or $30 yearly, can be purchased from any national forest office or ranger station, and from virtually every So. Cal. outdoor equipment and sports vendor.

The "stated purpose" of the national forest fee program is to provide funds for protecting natural habitat on national forest lands, and for campground and trail maintenence and improvement... Although the fee's validity has been in dispute, at least 80 percent of the funds collected through the adventure pass program are supposed to be applied to local projects.

To find out where A Forest Service "Adventure Pass" IS required, go to this website:

Daily Pass $5
Annual Pass $30
Second Vehicle Pass $5

Coulter Pines amid granite boulders