Our Top Three Day Trips Into the Cuyamaca Mountains
DELSEY PARIS and THE UNSEASONAL have teamed
up to take a fresh look at travel destinations that go beyond expectations.
The Cuyamaca Mountain range in San Diego County is a part of the expansive Peninsula Ranges that stretch over 930 miles from Southern California to the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. These mountains offer a surprisingly distinctive landscape full of majestic oak and pine forests. Just an hour east from downtown San Diego, the Cuyamacas first rise gently but soon envelope the visitor in clear and crisp mountain air. Unlike the rest of San Diego County and all of Southern California’s coastline, where the climate is always mild, a day trip into the mountains allows one to experience the full potential of the traditional seasons.
In spring, vibrant wildflowers dot the humming meadows which are full of wildlife and busy insects. In summer, thunderstorms roll in, but the many mountain lakes also invite boating and fishing, while in fall the golden foliage turns the forests into a magical place of light and color. In winter, the snowy mountains are at their calmest. Skiing is not unheard of at Cuyamaca Peak, which has an elevation of 6,512 feet, but it is rare. Typically, the mountains carry enough snow for cross-country and Nordic skiing, which can take place on just a few inches of snow after one of the winter storms that typically occur from January to February.
Julian — The Best Apple Pie
The former mining town Julian is nestled into the northern section of the Cuyamaca Mountain range and is a real hidden gem surrounded by countless orchards. Our favorite time to visit is in the fall when the farms open their doors for apple-picking season which lasts from early September to mid-October. You’ll find Golden Delicious, Gala, and the remarkably tasty Fuji apples, among others. Most of the farms, like the Crosscut Farm and Orchard, offer cider
pressing, tours, and tastings as well. The experience is wholesome. Snapping the ripe, red-cheeked apples from the branches is as sweet as enjoying the organic fruits fresh from the trees. But the true star is the famous apple pie of Julian.
Visiting the town of Julian feels like walking through one big bakery. From near and far the intoxicating smell of apples and spices caresses your nostrils. The original apple pie is fruity and crunchy with a filling that is not too sweet. The bottom crust holds its texture and is very tasty. In addition to apple pies, the selection of other flavors of pie is huge and a good reason to come back.
You’ll be able to pick from pecan, rhubarb, cherry, peach, or even delicate strawberry or creamy pumpkin pies. Our favorite bakery is Mom’s Pie House which was created in 1984 and is one of the original bakeries in Julian.
Lake Cuyamaca — The Scenic Reservoir
Located in the eastern part of the Cuyamacas, the lake is not only an idyllic destination for recreation, but also offers several activities from horseback riding, biking, and birdwatching to hiking. The Lakeview cabins come with a choice of a complimentary boat rental each day. The reservoir is the only body of water in the county that can stock trout all year long. Other species of fish you will find there include Florida bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, bluegill, and sturgeon. The peacefulness and tranquility of Lake Cuyamaca is a source of deepest relaxation. It is one of the oldest and most scenic reservoirs in the area surrounded by oak and pine trees.
There are over 100 miles of trails that accommodate hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Several hiking trails lead around the reservoir and into the surrounding woodland forest. The trails wind gently, leaving hikers room to explore, rest, and absorb the grace of undisturbed nature. One of our favorite trails is the Stonewall Mine trail which leads to the ruins of the region’s most profitable gold mine, the Stonewall Jackson Gold Mine. The route follows the Marty Minshall Trail along the southern edge of Lake Cuyamaca and leads through willows, lush meadows, and a dense forest. A small cabin museum at the old mine features many interesting vintage photographs of the mine’s active years.
Descanso — The Ranch Experience
Descanso by the beautiful Sweetwater River is a small community surrounded by countless farms in the southern part of the Cuyamacas. The area is not only a recreational space but also an agricultural resource for the entire county. At Descanso, a very special experience awaits travelers: the alpaca. The local alpaca farms offer several activities throughout the year. Visitors are invited to feel the fleece and experience the calming effect of the gentle animal. These encounters show that alpacas can lead to a sense of relaxation and contemplation by lowering the heart rate and reducing blood pressure. Hiking in a gorgeous natural setting is another way of stress relief and provides a rewarding workout.
One of our favorite routes in the area is Garnet Peak trail. The hike is steep with an intensive finish but first leads through the beautifully forested Laguna Mountains. At an elevation of 6,000 feet, you’ll feel the adrenalin of the climb and the endorphins from mastering the exertion. The east-facing slope of the peak makes the summit a spectacular sunrise viewing location with stunning vistas of the expansive valleys and mountains around you. The fresh air has a renewing effect. You’ll feel revived and empowered by the mountain’s magical spell.
Images: Ger Ger Words: Tina Ger
The Unseasonal is a purpose-driven special projects magazine and alternative take on the world – a magazine about passion, travel, beauty, the change in seasons, the unusual, and the human condition. It features timeless pictorials, thoughtful stories, and unique collaborations. The Unseasonal embodies the feeling of a getaway, of slowing down, of exotic places, optimism, breathtaking dreams, unique architecture, and a lightness of being, traced with elements
from the past, the future, Romanticism, and impulses for making the world a better place.