This trail sits right on the border of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Cleveland National Forest. It is one of the most spectacular places to view the transition from mountains to desert, and is also a popular place for trail runners and for hang gliding.
This short segment of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which was once part of the original Sunrise Highway, follows a wide ledge that was hacked out of the near cliff. The ledge drops several thousand feet to the Anza-Borrego Desert below. As such, this segment of the road was difficult to maintain and dangerous for motorists, especially with extremely high winds. In the 1970s, the highway was rerouted to a safer—though less spectacular—location on the other side of a nameless hill. The pavement was largely removed when this became a segment of the PCT.
Kwaaymii Point is accessible from the Pioneer Mail Trailhead, which is actually a misnomer. The Pioneer Mail Trailhead was named in the 1930s when it was thought that the 1857-1861 Jackass Mail Line between Vallecito and San Diego came through this area. It didn’t (it actually came up from the desert through Oriflamme Canyon), but the name stuck.
We’ve rated the difficulty of this hike easy, with 200 ft of elevation gain. Before you go, check to ensure the trail is open. More detailed information about the area can be found at Cleveland National Forest - Kwaaymii Point.
Head north on the trail, which has all the characteristics of a dirt road as it leads up the slope through low-growing chaparral consisting of shiny-leaf yerba santa, manzanita, buckwheat, chamise, mountain-mahogany, and scattered scrub oaks.
Continuing up the trail, the dropoff on the right becomes more dramatic, and a sense of appreciation begins to grow for the effort that was necessary to chisel a road into this increasingly steep slope. Soon you will be gazing out over a cliff with an unbroken 3,000-foot drop down to the floor of Cottonwood Canyon and Mason Valley. The Pinyon Mountains rise up on the other side of the valley, and the massive Santa Rosa Mountains loom over the horizon in the hazy distance. After a fall or winter storm, the view will be even more spectacular as you can see much further.
For those inclined towards night-hiking or camping in the general area, the point provides excellent star-gazing and wonderful chances for night photography. So keep an eye on the weather for an evening with clear skies.
Kwaaymii Point is an aggregate of uplifted, colorful metamorphic rocks, probably Julian Schist. These rocks have been used to memorialize a number of fairly recently departed individuals who appear to be known only to their friends and family.
The point is named for Kumeyaay people who lived in the Laguna Mountains and had a 360-acre reservation there. For hundreds of years within the Kumeyaay/Ipai/Southern Diegueño communities, there have been numerous bands, clans, and familial groupings. One such group is the Kwaaymii. The Laguna Reservation reverted to private ownership of the Tom Lucas family in 1947 when Congress approved the deed transfer. As the last surviving full-blooded Kwaaymii, Lucas fought for 18 years to obtain title to the land through the transfer of the deed to his family. Tom Lucas died in 1989, and the ranch now belongs to his daughter Carmen Lucas. After exploring the Point, retrace your steps back to the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area.
From the Sunrise Highway (S1), turn north into the Pioneer Mail Trailhead staging area, 15.6 miles north of I-8 and 8.3 miles south of CA-79. Drive to end of road and park. GPS: N32.92476, W116.48215
Know before you go: A California State Park Adventure Pass is required to park at the Pioneer Mail Trailhead.
Note: If you’re interested in only visiting Kwaaymii Point and not going on this hike, then instead of starting at the Pioneer Mail Trailhead, drive to milepost 30.3 on the Sunrise Highway and turn onto Kwaaymii Road on your right. Just drive 0.3 mile down the paved road to arrive at Kwaaymii Point. Parking here doesn’t require an Adventure Pass because it is in the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park rather than in Cleveland National Forest where the Pioneer Mail Trailhead is located.
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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