Leafy green trees shade campsites at Paso Picacho Campground, a hidden gem nestled in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Paso Picacho is close to both the small mountain town of Julian and the Anza-Borrego desert, making it a unique crossroads of California’s diverse landscapes.
In this article, we’ll describe the best activities to do at Paso Picacho and highlight day trips you can take from there to Julian and a wilderness preserve.
Historic Landmarks of Paso Picacho
Paso Picacho Campground is located in San Diego County, CA at an elevation of 5,000 feet. The campground has two historic landmarks, according to California State Parks.
The first is the “Old San Diego-Cuyamaca Stage Route” which coaches and wagons used to travel from Lakeside to Julian in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The second historic site is the Stonewall Jackson Peak Trail, which is one of the hiking paths the Civilian Conservation Corps cleared in the 1930s.
This moderate trail begins across from the Paso Picacho Campground and climbs up to the Stonewall Peak Lookout, a rocky outcropping that gives hikers beautiful views of the sprawling landscape below.
The land is dry, but green bushes and hills are visible, as well as the glimmering blue of Lake Cuyamaca to the north.
What Can You Do at Paso Picacho Campground?
Campers in search of a challenging hike should check out the Cold Stream Trail, a challenging 8.1-mile loop trail that usually takes about four hours to complete.
The first portion of the trail has thick shrubbery and plenty of bugs in the spring, so wear long pants and bring some insect repellent.
Backpackers and runners frequent this trail, and mountain bikers often ride along a portion of the path.
The hike is scenic, with switchbacks through the foliage that keep it from being a straight uphill climb.
Another great option is the Oakzanita Peak Trail, a moderate 5.8-mile hike that usually takes about three hours to complete. There are wildflowers blooming along some parts of the path and several shallow, flowing creeks that are easy to cross. The downside is encountering some buzzing bees and flies along the path, so wear long sleeves and bring insect repellent to beat the bugs.
Paso Picacho Campground has 85 sites with a limit of eight people per campsite. Each campsite has a fire ring and a picnic table, and there are nearby water faucets.
The campground has a dump station, but no hookups.
Firewood and ice may be purchased from the campground.
Campsites cost $40 per night and reservations are required for weekends April through October.
What Can You Visit Near Paso Picacho Campground?
Paso Picacho Campground is just 15 miles south of Julian, a small town that began as a mining camp in 1870 and transformed into a popular fall tourist attraction thanks to its famous apple pie and apple cider.
Take a day trip to Julian and try these delicious snacks while exploring the area.
Follow the moderately challenging 4.1-mile Three Sisters Falls Trail to the cascade, which flows into a wide aquamarine pool at the base.
The hike back is uphill, strenuous and not well shaded, so bring water and sunscreen.
At the Eagle and High Peak Mines, you can explore an old fashioned gold mine, visit an on-site gold panning facility, tour quartz veins and see over 1,000 feet of underground tunnels.
Tours cost $15 for adults, $8 for children ages 5-11 and $1 for children four and younger.
About 18 miles from Paso Picacho Campground lies the Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve, where 3,800 acres of grassland, oak woodland and chaparral are open to explore.
You can start walking from the Highway 79 trailhead or Farmer Road, both of which offer an easy hike through the meadows.
Keep an eye out for the cattle grazing along the trail and take care not to approach or startle them.
Enjoy views of giant sycamores and oak trees as you walk and know that steep hills are worth the climb — the panorama at the top is magnificent.
Another must-see destination is the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, where 2,900 acres of mixed conifer forest is open to explore.
Take a hike to the summit of Volcan Mountain, a 5 mile roundtrip trek, and survey the remarkably vast golden grasslands below.
Wear sunscreen and a hat as there is little shade on the hike, and you will be in direct sunlight for much of the climb.
To get to Paso Picacho Campground, drive on Interstate 8 about 35 miles east of San Diego, take exit 40 and then continue on CA-79 north for around 12 miles.
The campground is in California’s Peninsular Ranges, around an hour’s drive east of San Diego.
The best times to visit Paso Picacho Campground include the spring, summer and autumn months.
Conclusion: Paso Picacho
Paso Picacho Campground is a great place to stay because it gives easy access to hikes and preserves in less-traveled areas of southern California.
Paso Picacho is the ideal home base where you can return after visiting the historic landmarks, trails and mines we’ve described in this article.
Enjoy visiting some of San Diego’s hidden gems as you explore Paso Picacho and the surrounding area.