San Diego County Highpoint Trip Report

Hot Springs Mountain (6,553 feet)

Date: July 24, 2009
Author: Garrick Meeker

The reservation has reopened after being closed since Labor Day, 2004. The information in previous trip reports is mostly valid but Suttle's trailhead is not reachable. Here is the current information.

760-782-2790 (check-in station)
760-782-0711 (tribal office)
(See the web site for fax, address, etc....)


Day use: $9
Camping: $16 per night

With horse:
Day use: $13
Camping: $26 per night

Parking fee: $5 (not sure what this is)

Camping is only allowed in the main campground, not at Suttle's trailhead.
No water, but they are working on it. Bicycles are also allowed.


Fri-Sun (and holiday Mondays)
8:00am to 5:00pm
7:00am to 3:00pm on the last day (Sunday or Monday)

I heard different times when I talked to them on the phone, so you may want to call if this is an issue. For day use, you must be out by 5:00 so I recommend showing up early. My total time on the reservation was 3:15, but driving further would reduce this considerably.

WEBMASTER NOTE: As of 2010 the Park is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


The last 2.5 miles before the reservation is being paved and is currently a gravel road (suitable for any car). The sign says this should last until September 30th, 2009. Inside the reservation, offroading is no longer allowed but the woman at the entrance confirmed that they allow driving on the dark roads on their map, however she wasn't sure about the current road status. These are Hot Springs Mtn Rd (labelled Lookout Rd on their map) and the main road leading to the campground and then eventually joining the summit road. Both have been recently graded. They also show a short spur leading to Nelson's Camp, which is the trailhead in Suttle's book. This road seems to be currently blocked by trees and hasn't been graded, so Suttle's route doesn't seem possible at the moment.


About 0.1 miles from the gate, there is a sign intersection for Hot Springs Mtn Rd. This is dirt and recently graded but seemed to be closed. There are a number of intersections leading to houses, so I could have missed the correct route, however I would recommend following the main road instead, if just to avoid disturbing the occupants of the houses.

On the main road, there is a cattle guard and gate 1.0 mile from the check-in, and the road turns to dirt. At 2.4 miles, the main campground will be on the right across the creek. Park here for a 5 mile one-way hike (to the summit lot) or keep driving. Take the first left turn. The road ascends steeply but low clearance is fine. My economy class car couldn't make it up the hill at the 4.5 mile mark. (After that last hill, it flattens out for several miles, until the final climb.) A little further the road joins the summit road and continues to the top. The summit lot should be at about the 7.5 mile mark. (Of course, there's another 0.2 miles on the use trail to the true HP.) The last 0.3 miles of the road is pretty rocky so you probably need high clearance and maybe 4WD if you want to drive to the very top, and you might have stop even earlier with low clearance. There are numerous pullouts, so you can select whatever length of hiking you like.


From the 4.5 mile mark, it was about 6.4 miles and 1140' round trip. That's 3 miles of graded dirt road and 0.2 on the use trail, each way. It was only 860' of gain to the top but there's some uphill on the way back. A week earlier I tried to hike from the campground but had arrived too late, so between these hikes I've done the whole route from the main campground. Driving the first few miles cuts out most of the effort. It took me about an hour to hike to where I parked the second time. From the summit lot, follow the use trail and climb the boulder as described elsewhere. I was the fourth person to sign into the register this month (two people from a San Diego hiking club and fellow cohp'er Eric Geissinger). The previous entry was 2003, well before the closure.

After waiting for five years to climb this, I only cared about reaching the HP, but I was surprised that I really enjoyed the hike. It was only in the high 70's at the top and was full of trees, not the desert environment I expected. The summit boulder was fun too. However, it was 90 degrees the previous week, so bring plenty of water during the summer or visit during the fall. Please thank the tribe for reopening and show them your support by visiting!