Few peaks are positioned so geographically perfect that the hiker is able to view both of Southern California's seas, the Pacific and the Salton, from one vantage point. Hot Springs Mountain, the zenith of San Diego County, is one of those. Besides boasting impressive views of both water-bodies, the Henshaw Plateau, the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, the Inland Empire, and the San Diego Metro Area, Hot Springs Mountain offers some of the finest conifer stands and wilderness trails in Southern California.
Located well over an hour away from any major cities, and only a stone's throw away from the desolate Anza Desert, Hot Springs Mountain sees few visitors, save for the dedicated peakbagger eager to claim the summit high point of each California county and the occasional off-roader. Indian Reservations for the most part are few and far between in California, but in northern San Diego County, and parts of southwestern Riverside County, there are many individual tribal lands, and this peak is on one of them. For many years, a hefty fine and strict regulations were imposed by the Los Coyotes Band of Indians for entrance into the peak's vicinity; a discouraging setback for would-be climbers. However a new Tribal Ordinance now allows hiking every day of the week for a nominal fee of $10. It is well worth the small daily fee for the quiet quest to the peak.
Elevation Gain: 2400'
Location: Los Coyotes Indian Reservation
Directions: HERE (Be sure to pay the guard on duty at the checkpoint. If he is not there head up the road about another mile to the Tribal Office/Community Center, and purchase the payment for the day pass there.)
Tribal Website: http://www.loscoyotestribe.com/home
The Hike: From the Los Coyotes Campground, head north onto the obvious dirt road across from a old, round-shaped building. It is chained, prohibiting vehicular traffic and labeled as "Rough Road", although it appears in USGS Topo Maps as "Sutka Road." Whatever you choose to call it, follow the dirt road as it steeply ascends the abrupt south wall of the Hot Springs Mountains. This arid section ascends 1000' in about 2 miles, and is completely sun-exposed, so take the going with patience. To lessen the unpleasant effects of such a grade, the hiker is offered every expanding views down Los Coyotes Canyon and across to the stone sentinel of the Anza Desert, San Ysebel Peak. Near the top of the wall, around 5,700', the grade lessens, and leaving the arid shrubbery behind, enters into a coniferous forest with seasonal snow. It is as glorious as any by Southern California standards and stands in stark contrast to the vegetation previously passed by.
Passing by Incense Cedars, Black Oaks, and Ponderosas, another road joins yours in about 1 mile, before you skirt by a seasonal meadow. The dirt road ascends to a pass-like breach in the forest, before descending 200', and passes by a poorly maintained trail before reascending 300'. As the road turns, you attain your first vistas into the Henshaw Plateau and its namesake lake. Continue on the now rough dirt road onto the summit. The actual summit high point is about 100 yards east of the abandoned lookout tower, but offers poor views. For grand vistas, the secondary summit, topped by an abandoned fire tower and emergency communications, offers vantage points from the gleaming Pacific to the parched desert, from the grand summits of San Gorgonio, San Jacinto, and Mount Baldy to the Mexican border, and from Imperial County's Blue Angel's Peak to Orange County's Santiago Peak. Indeed it is a unique experience to be atop San Diego County's highpoint peering out onto the highpoints of five other counties. Return the way you came through the dark forest--with patience on the returning uphill sections.
Hiked: 2/11/2016. San Diego County. $10 entrance fee required.
|Rough Road entrance|
|Heading up the south wall|
|Totally sun exposed|
|San Ysebel Peak|
|Nearing the end of the south wall climb|
|Entering the forest|
|Small, seasonal meadow|
|The Pass-Like Breach|
|A little more snow was fun!|
|First view of the peak|
|Final section up to the summit|
|Follow the small use trail through here to the actual highpoint|
|Large Rock near actual highpoint|
|Some brush in the way...|