Hot Springs Mountain – Peak #21 – San Diego’s Highest Peak

The Fog in Lake Henshaw Valley, on the way to Hot Springs Mountain

The Fog in Lake Henshaw Valley, on the way to Hot Springs Mountain

Hot Springs Mountain
Elevation:
6,533′
Miles:
.4
Trailhead

This weekend I had the privilege to have access to a peak that has been closed since Labor Day 2004, Hot Springs Mountain. From what I could ascertain, it was closed due to the behavior of some individuals who did not respect the tribal lands, including OHV drivers and campers.

It turns out that the highest peak would also be the easiest.

After driving through the foggy Lake Henshaw Valley and seeing Hot Springs Mountain from a distance, I arrived at the reservation a little early, as I was unsure of how long it would take to get there. I was to meet Robb at 8AM.

Hot Springs Mountain from the 79

Hot Springs Mountain from the 79

There was no one at the gate at 7:30, so I drove into the reservation to find out where the road was that would either lead us to the peak, or lead us to the trailhead. Since the reservation has been closed for 5 years, information about trails and access is either outdated or sparse at best.

After basing my route on the County Highpoint report by Garrick Meeker, which was extremely helpful and seemed to be the most up-to-date trip report that I could find, I found the dirt road that would lead us up the mountain. I returned to the gate to find Robb there with his family. We waited a few minutes until a couple of Los Coyote guys rolled up in a well-used Bronco with duct tape on the back window. The truck was painted black with white doors and no badges. One guy got out and opened the gate house, mentioning that he was just back from deer hunting with no luck. A couple of unleashed friendly dogs wandered by to say hello. The truck sped away in a cloud of dust. We were in a new nation now.

We asked the friendly guy working at the gate why the reservation was closed for recreational use. He answered vaguely, “We were clearing some trees and doing tribal things.” I don’t blame him for not really answering. He doesn’t have to. After we paid and received maps and were heading back to our cars, he started pumping dumbbells outside the gate house.

It was a cool start for what was to be a pretty cool overall experience.

We drove down the road and took a left and drove up the dirt road up the mountain. I have an all wheel drive Tiguan, but kept my eyes on my rear-view-mirror, worried that my companions might get left behind on some of the steeper, gravel-covered hills. We made it to a part of the road where it seemed that it started losing elevation, so we turned around to a clearing that looked like there was a trail leading off. Robb’s GPS told us that Hot Springs Mountain was nearby, so we headed up the mountain. When we got to the top, we could see the Hot Springs Mountain Fire Lookout Tower on a nearby peak, so we knew we were on the wrong mountain. Looking at my Topo maps when I got home, I could see that Hot Springs Mountain is clearly written across the whole mountain, not on the peak, so it was easy to see how we were led astray. There were great views and it wasn’t a long detour, so we took some breaths and pictures and headed back down and onto the road.

Hot Springs Mountain Fire Lookout Tower from Unnamed Peak

Hot Springs Mountain Fire Lookout Tower from Unnamed Peak

A view into the Los Coyotes Reservation

A view into the Los Coyotes Reservation

The road got sketchier, including a section with a large rock that had fallen off to one side, but the Tiguan handled it all great and we ended up getting all the way to the summit parking lot, which was only .2 miles from the summit and was placed directly in-between the Tower and the summit.

I would have preferred to do more hiking, but I wanted to scout out the way to the top of the road. I recommend a high-clearance car, and at least AWD if you have it, since some sections are a little sandy.

Before we went to the summit, we climbed to the Fire Lookout Tower.

View from the Fire Lookout Tower on Hot Springs Mountain

View from the Fire Lookout Tower on Hot Springs Mountain

The Fire Lookout Tower on Hot Springs Mountain

The Fire Lookout Tower on Hot Springs Mountain

We then went down to the summit lot and then did some minor bushwhacking and rock-climbing and ended up on the cement platform atop Hot Springs Mountain, the highest point in San Diego County. We could see deep into the Anza-Borrego Desert to the Santa Rosa Mountains. We could also see Combs Peak, which we summited last month. We signed the summit register and enjoyed the perfect weather and silence before we headed back down the way we came.

The tower from Hot Springs Mountain summit block

The tower from Hot Springs Mountain summit block

The Hot Springs Mountain Summit Register

The Hot Springs Mountain Summit Register

The Santa Rosa Mountains from Hot Springs Mountain

The Santa Rosa Mountains from Hot Springs Mountain

Square Top

Square Top

Hot Springs Mountain San Diego Map (Click to Enlarge)

Hot Springs Mountain San Diego Map (Click to Enlarge)

Update 02/27/2011: Shot this picture from Highway 79. A lot of snow dumped on the area.

Hot Springs Mountain, San Diego, Covered in Snow in 2011

Hot Springs Mountain, San Diego, Covered in Snow in 2011

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Comments

  1. says

    Enjoyed your page – been wanting to get back into climbing and thought I’d start with the highest peak in SD county and move on to in Southern Cal, California, Continental US, US on my way to doing Kilimanjaro. K2 I think will have to wait until my next life. LOL I’m in my 50’s now.
    Thanks for documenting this. Doesn’t seem all that exhilirating though – Just need to do it as the step in the program for my own edification.

  2. says

    Thanks for the comment!

    If you want to make it more challenging, you can park at the campground at the intersection of Sukat Road and Camino San Ignacio and hike all the way up to the top and back, a total trip between 9-10 miles with ~2000′ of gain/loss. Just watch out for occasional autos coming up the road.

    If you really want a challenge that is still not technical, try a day hike to Villager Peak (See my peak list). It is around 13 miles round trip with nearly 5000′ of gain and loss. Start before dawn and bring a lot of water!

  3. says

    Hey there!

    Really enjoyed your site!! Im thinking of trying to give myself a challenge of all the peaks in the us..and found your site! Will be visiting SD soon and plan to put this one on my list. It looks super easy! Not like the ones ive done before!!!

    Cheers

    diana
    1mileatatime.com

  4. PHYFITMIKE says

    Your site has been a lot of help for me as I summit San Diego’s mountains. I only started last year and have become addicted to it. Just recently reached the summit of Hot Springs last weekend for a 10 mile hike from the campgrounds but did not have the great views that you did because I was mostly in the clouds. Was difficult to actually find the cement platform since it was never visible but I found it after some bushwhacking and going in circles but I had a great time. Plan on doing this one soon. Thanks again for your site and look forward to the day you publish.

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