Though it’s a short hike to the summit, Garnet Peak in the Laguna Mountains rewards you with stunning mountain and desert views with relatively minimal effort – the trail to the top is 2.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 500 feet.BONUS: If you’re a morning person, try to get to the peak before sunrise to watch the amazing colors light up the sky over the desert!

While there are a few trail options, the designated Garnet Peak Trail begins off of Sunrise Highway at Mile Marker 27.8. There is a small pull-off on the east side of the road with a sign denoting the trail. An Adventure Pass is required for parking in this area of Cleveland National Forest.

The first portion of the trail takes you northeast along a dry wash bed through the burn zone of a Jeffery pine forest. The trail remains relatively flat for the first 0.6 miles until you intersect the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). From that point on, the remaining 0.7 miles to the top are uphill, circling around the north side of the peak to the summit, where you can take a breather among the rock outcrops to admire the gorgeous views. It won’t take long for you to admire the level of exposure as the east side of the mountain abruptly drops nearly 6000 feet to the desert floor. On a clear day, you can spot the Salton Sea to the east, Laguna Salada to the south, and the larger San Gabriel Mountains to the north.

If you are looking to extend your mileage, try starting the hike from Penny Pines trailhead (mile marker 27.3) to the south or the Pioneer Mail Picnic Area to the north (mile marker 29.3). These trailheads will give you access to the PCT which will intersect the Garnet Peak Trail to get you up to the summit.

The Garnet Peak Trail is part of Cleveland National Forest and is dog-friendly. Despite being a short hike, be sure to bring plenty of water, especially during the summer, as this trail doesn’t offer and shade.

Pack List

  • Water
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Jacket (if hiking in the fall/winter)
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RT Distance 2.6 Miles
Elevation Gain 500 Feet
Activities Chillin, Photography, Running, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Romantic
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Great short hike that takes you straight up to views that looks down on the desert to the east and Salton sea. Looking west you see the the green of Mt Leguna area. Wind can be pretty extreme up at the top and the drop offs to the desert below can make you dizzy. Hike is exposed the whole way but crosses the PCT part way up.

Classic Mountain Peak

When it's really windy, like, sticking-your-head-out-a-sunroof-on-a-freeway windy, the level of adventure on this hike goes way, way up. This hike gives you a nice taste of San Diego's backcountry, and puts you on a mountain peak that really feels like a peak: birds of prey overhead, sheer rock drops, and giant views. It's also fun to stand on the PCT, close your eyes, and think about that thin little trail winding all the way to Canada. Maybe someday I'll go all the way...


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