Eagle Peak is not the highest peak in the area, but it has a commanding 360-degree view of the San Diego River Canyon, the river’s main tributaries, and all of the surrounding peaks. Worth it.
The trail to the peak leads straight ahead from the trailhead, passing through chaparral dominated by chamise with a scattering of interesting shrubs and vines. The trail begins to rise and goes to the top of a hill and under a few Engelmann’s oaks set in non-native grassland. From the top of the hill, the trail declines to a saddle, 0.66 mile from the trailhead with the left trail going to Boulder Creek’s Three Sisters Waterfall. The trail to Eagle Peak goes straight ahead or west from this point and continues up the side of a south-facing slope. Beyond the Three Sisters Falls split, the trail is less traveled and can be narrow in places, so there is a chance of ticks hitching a ride on your clothing. Light colored long pants and sleeves will help. At 1.35 miles from the parking area, the trail crosses a saddle and begins a slow descent into a shallow valley, while staying on its north-facing slope.
There is a second fork in the trail 1.7 miles from the start. The trail to the left goes about 0.2 mile to a lookout with spectacular views of the rugged Boulder Creek and Eagle Peak cliffs. The trail straight ahead continues 0.4 mile with about 300 feet of elevation gain to the peak. The trail becomes increasingly difficult to follow before actually reaching Eagle Peak itself, and care is needed due to the sharp drop off. However, the climb is worth it for the perspective it gives you on this whole area. Return to your vehicle the way you came.
We’ve rated the difficulty for this hike moderate, with elevation gain/loss of up to 1,000 feet. An Adventure Pass is required. Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open. More detailed information about the area can be found at Cleveland National Forest – Palomar Ranger District.
When the ceanothus (also known as buckbrush, California lilac, soap bush) is in bloom, the shrubs will be covered with a mist of blue flowers with a wonderful fragrance. Wildflowers are also abundant here in the spring.
You’ll see plenty of Engelmann’s oaks on this trail. They are more fire resilient than coast live oaks and managed to survive the 2003 Cedar Fire that scorched this whole area. There’s a mixture of foothill chaparral shrubs, including scrub oaks, ceanothus, and California sagebrush as well as chamise. Due to some of the protective slopes along the trail, you’ll find growths of a lusher coast live oak woodland with an understory of chaparral in some areas.
You might also find yourself doing some people-watching, as this is a popular destination for local area rock climbers. Don't worry though, the trip described here does not require any special climbing skill. The shear portion of Eagle Peak is closed to rock climbers during raptor nesting season with a map available at Cleveland National Forest Raptor and Raptor Habitat Management. So bring binoculars and be on the safely distant lookout for the Prairie Falcons, Peregrine Falcons, and Golden Eagles these closures are meant to protect.
From CA-79 go north on Riverside Drive for 1 mile. Turn left on Viejas Grade then make an immediate right past the store onto Oak Grove Drive. Go 1.6 miles. Turn right on Boulder Creek Road. Go 13 miles (the last 7 miles is on a well-kept dirt road) to a hairpin turn that intersects Cedar Creek Road and the trailhead. Parking lot on left. The trailhead is for both Three Sisters Falls and Eagle Peak with Cedar Creek Fire Road slightly to the north. The trailhead can also be accessed via Engineers Road from Lake Cuyamaca. It is a shorter route but has many hairpin turns.
Trailhead GPS: N32.98454, W116.67711
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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