52 Hike Challenge 2016 Adventure Series
10 miles | +1000'
From the tip of Baja California to the tectonic collision that gave birth to Mt. San Gorgonio and Mt. San Jacinto, the Peninsular Ranges provide some of the most startling contrasts and expansive views anywhere south of the Sierra Nevadas. This chain of ranges includes (from north to south) the San Jacinto, Santa Rosa, San Ysidro, Santa Ana, Palomar, Volcan, Cuyamaca, and Laguna Mountains. The contrasts and views present in these ranges are a product of their north to south alignments, which allows them to catch incoming Pacific Storms and milk them dry. On the west sides lay relatively verdant Riverside, Orange, and San Diego Counties and their millions of people. On the east sides are Southern California’s deserts, including the Coachella Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert. The Laguna Mountains, a relatively dry range east of the Cuyamacas, offers a fine example of the stark contrasts present in this long line of mountains.
The Big Laguna Trail (herein referred to as the BLT) and the Pacific Crest Trail (herein referred to as the PCT) complete a 10 mile loop around the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area, which is governed by the National Forest Service. The PCT runs along the eastern crest of the Lagunas for four miles while hugging the Laguna Escarpment, which drops precipitously to the desert floor 3,000’ below. After connecting with the main BLT network, the remainder of the trail traverses oak and pine woodlands and forests, a vast meadow, and a lake, which seem out of place in San Diego’s semi-arid backcountry. The multiple ecotones on display on the BLT provide a great example of San Diego’s rich biodiversity.
Today, the area is mostly dominated by recreation, with a small community of about 57 residents nearby. The village of Mt. Laguna is an important re-stock point on San Diego’s segment of the PCT, and there is also a lodge and two campgrounds. While cattle still graze occasionally in the meadow, the wildest animals you’re likely to see are dogs led by hikers. Given the relatively easy access from Interstate 8, the Lagunas are one of San Diego’s more popular outdoor recreation areas.