The Doane Valley Nature Trail provides a sampling of the many plants and shrubs that can be found at Palomar Mountain State Park. Taking a hike on this trail is a great way to learn about those plants. There are 30 unique interpretive stations giving a brief description of the plant, shrub, tree, or item featured. Stop at one or all of them. For a small fee, you can pick up a trail guide at the trailhead put together by the rangers of Palomar Mountain State Park. Be sure to check at the entrance station to find out if the rangers have any guided nature walks or campfire programs scheduled while there.
The nature trail runs alongside Doane Creek, and the brochure highlights many of the plants and shrubs found here and provides information on how indigenous Luiseño (Payómkawichum) people traditionally used them for food, housing, and clothing. After following the stream for about 0.25 mile, the trail climbs a little into an open meadow where grassland shrubs and flowers can be seen. The trail continues to rise into a wooded hillside where there is alder, incense cedar, white fir, Jeffrey pine, and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii), the oak favored by the ancestors of many indigenous groups in the region as a staple in their diets, as the acorn is large and has less tannic acid to process.
Be sure to stop at any of the 30 stations. The first station is a stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) with the recommendation to look but not touch, as this plant has chemicals in its trichomes or hairs that will cause a mildly painful “sting” if touched. Landscape features are also pointed out along the trail. For instance, station No. 8 highlights where a landslide took place during the winter of 1992-93 when approximately 80 inches of rain fell on the mountain.
The trail ends on the access road to the Doane Valley Campground where you can decide whether to turn around and go back down the same trail to see the things missed on the way up or traverse the campground and return to Doane Pond via the road.
We’ve rated the difficulty for this hike easy, with up to 300 ft. of elevation gain. There is a $10 Day Use Parking Fee per vehicle. No bicycles or dogs are allowed. More detailed information about the area can be found at Palomar Mountain State Park.
There are many plants featured along this trail. Another is the five-petaled wild rose (Rosa californica). Notice the placement of the “thorns,” which are correctly called prickles as these modified hairs occur randomly about the plant. Thorns are modified branches that occur at nodes in an axillary position with leaves below, while spines are modified leaves or stipules and may have a bud or a portion of the leaf above. Rose hips, the fruit of the plant, are edible and high in vitamin C. Rose hip jam is commonly prepared and eaten in rural communities here, but isn't commercialized. In addition to being a food, it has many uses both medicinal and religious in the cultures of native people.
You’ll also learn about various mountain wildflowers, such as the thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) that grows in abundance alongside the creek. It is not a true berry and is like a raspberry with an aggregate of fruit drupelets around a core. When the fruit is removed from the central core, it resembles a thimble. Thimbleberry fruits are too soft to be sold in stores, but frequently they are collected and made into a jam that is sold as a local delicacy in places where thimbleberry is abundant.
There is also a great deal of history here. Payómkawichum (or Luiseño) people have lived on or near Palomar Mountain since pre-Hispanic times. They are related to the Cupeño, who once lived at Warner Springs before being forcibly removed and marched to the Pala reservation. The information along this trail will share various historic medicinal, religious, and cultural use of featured plants by Payómkawichum, their ancestors, and related indigenous peoples in the region.
From CA-76 go east on S-6 (South Grade Road/Palomar Mountain Road) for 6.7 miles until intersection. Turn left to stay on S-6. Turn left again immediately on S-7 (State Park Road), just before the store and restaurant. Go 3.1 miles. After Park entrance, go 0.2 mile. Turn right at the stop sign. Go 1.4 miles following signs to School Camp and Doane Pond. Parking lot on right. GPS: N33.34147, W116.90155
Looking for more great hikes? Check out our Canyoneers page or purchase the book, Coast to Cactus: The Canyoneer Trail Guide to San Diego Outdoors.
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