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Begins: Dec 23, 2010
Date: Sat, Jan 1st, 2011
Start: San Diego
End: San Diego
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 144.0
Entry Visits: 9,450
Journal Visits: 16,840
Guestbook Views: 666
Guestbook Entrys: 8
Concluding Thoughts - San Diego Sea to Sea Trail
2016 Update: A lot has changed since I first hiked this trail. The trail is pretty much the same, but there is a lot more information now. A local hiker (Scrubrat) has set up a Facebook group (San Diego Transcounty Trail) and leads a group of 20++ hikers every January on a thru-hike. It's a bit of a party and it seems like not too many people actually hike the whole way but it also seems like a lot of fun. In the Facebook group there is now a GPS track, PDF set of maps, water report and resupply listing. I hiked the trail a second time in 2015 and used these items. Scrubrat is doing a great job trying to make sure there are no private property issues while walking and improving the route.
The San Diego Sea to Sea Trail was a great trail. Its 140+ miles were much more scenic and challenging than I expected. As I hiked west I kept expecting to encounter urban San Diego and amazingly stayed very remote for a very long time. Part of the allure for me was to walk through my home county and while the walk through Anza Borrego was quite unique and amazing for anyone, beyond that the hike for me was an experience of what San Diego has to offer. Trying to look at this from a non-San Diego perspective I think a lot of what I found amazing was partially due to appreciating the beauty of the wilderness combined with the fact that I was actually walking through a populated region. For example, walking the dirt Boulder Creek road for me was a fantastic, peaceful and scenic walk. However, I could see how someone from not around here wouldn’t appreciate it like I did. It’s kind of like walking through New Mexico on the CDT. It’s not perfect but you appreciate it for what it is.
With that being said I would highly, highly recommend this trail to any hiker from the San Diego area. You will not be disappointed.
I always like to summarize the hike a bit to help others so here goes:
Salton Sea to Lake Cuyamaca: Approximately 70 miles. From the Salton Sea to the outskirts of Borrego Springs I predominantly followed trackless desert washes. Navigation was pretty easy. There is an approximately 6 mile road walk through Borrego Springs. From there to Lake Cuyamaca it’s a combination of the California Riding and Hiking Trail and old, low grade dirt roads. This whole section is amazing. Walking through the Anza Borrego desert with and without trails is incredible.
Lake Cuyamaca to Poway: Approximately 45 miles. Leaving Cuyamaca there is the 1 mile Kelly Ditch trail, then it’s the paved Engineers road, the high grade but desolate Boulder Creek road and then the closed Cedar Creek dirt road. From there you climb down and then up out of the San Diego river on trail and then getting through the Four Corners area is a confusion of dirt roads. From there it’s the El Capitan Truck trail which appears closed and was scenic. Then a brutal bushwhack up the east face of El Capitan and then down the westside on insanely steep closed dirt roads. The trail then is supposed to go through the Oak Oasis open space preserve and then across the San Vicente Reservoir without trail. The San Vicente Reservoir is closed for many years under construction and apparently has a guard booth. Instead I mapped out a nice little road walk around the southern end through some high-end residential complexes which worked out real nice. Then across Highway 67 and up Slaughterhouse Canyon into Poway. This whole section is quite nice as well. It’s surprisingly remote, varied and quite scenic.
Poway to Pacific Ocean: Approximately 30 miles. The trail follows the extensive (and sometimes confusing) Poway trail system weaving through the little mesas and valleys quite nicely. After Poway the trail then follows dirt horse paths beside little travelled paved roads and then the Carmel Valley use trail (which parallels Hwy 56) to under Interstate 5 and then the sidewalk along Carmel Valley Road to the Pacific Ocean. This section is mostly urban, but the trail amazingly only walks like 2 miles of paved roads. If you are from San Diego you will appreciate walking by the places you drive by all the time.
As far as I can tell a bunch of years ago a not-for-profit (Sea to Sea Trail Foundation) was raising money and pushing to complete this trail. It appears to have gone defunct around 2005 but the website is still up with a lot of good information. http://www.seatoseatrail.org/ The trail is now the responsibility of the County which calls it the Trans County Trail. Don’t expect the trail to be completed anytime soon.
The following is what I used for my trip. It may seem like a lot but it actually wasn’t that much. I just had to piece together a bunch of different information which was readily available.
1) There is a section by section description of the trail on the Sea to Sea Foundation’s website. I found this to be pretty accurate although sometimes a bit vague (like it might skip over a step). Without this description it would be impossible to know where the trail actually went! (since there is no complete map set). There is a warning about 20% of the trail not being completed but I think this takes into account trail that they want to build instead of dirt road alternates. Actually bushwhacking is very, very limited. One might say there is no trail for the first couple days through Anza Borrego but you are following desert washes which are easy to navigate.
2) Philip, a local San Diego hiker has created Topo maps for much of the trail. http://www.efgh.com/c2c/. His website also warns of the maps not being updated but again I found them to be pretty accurate. I think the warning is more for liability reasons (although there are a few changes here and there).
3) The Tom Harrison San Diego Backcountry Recreation map is a great map for Lake Cuyamaca to (almost) the Salton Sea. It is topographic (although very high level at 200’ contours) and has some mileage points. I found this map, paired with a GPS to be fine. There is also the Wilderness Press Anza Borrego map which is slightly higher level and not topographic, but does show all the way to the Salton Sea. I bought both, brought the Harrison one with me and then just cut out the small missing section from the Wilderness Press map and took that with me.
4) Halfmile, of Halfmile’s PCT maps is also a local San Diego hiker and expert map-man. He has started to put up his own maps of the trail on his website. He only has about 15 miles done so far but I suspect he will get the whole trail done at some point. He will also probably post waypoints for the whole trail when he is done.
5) I also printed a few USGS quads when I wanted more detail or a wider view from what the other options offered.
6) Thomas Street Guide was helpful for me to trace the trail from the Pacific Ocean to the beginning of Anza Borrego. It gave me a good overview during the planning stage and I used it a few times while hiking (mainly when roads got confusing).
7) I used my GPS a lot. I put in some waypoints before my hike by guestimating points on the Mapsource Topo 100k software (on my computer) and then importing the waypoints to my GPS. These were helpful. I also logged a bunch of waypoints while walking.
I hiked from East to West which logistically makes sense, especially if you have a friend to drop you off at the Salton Sea. There are a couple places you will want to cache water so it only makes sense to drop the water on your way out to the Salton Sea and hike back to San Diego. Going this way you start in the most remote place and end up in the most urban. I kind of liked this as days went on I was hitting food more often which was nice near the end of a hike and not the beginning. If you don’t have a friend to drop you off at the Salton Sea then there is a rural bus than runs Thursday and Friday only out to Borrego Springs. From there you could reasonably easily hitch to Hwy 86 and then get lucky and get a ride 4 more miles to the Salton Sea or just walk it and then retrace your steps back to Hwy 86. The problem with this is you won’t be able to cache water. The finish at the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines is right on the bus route than runs all day.
You don’t have to carry much food!! Borrego Springs has a small market with good resupply and has several good restaurants, laundry, etc. Lake Cuyamaca has a decent café and a very small general store which you could easily resupply from if you aren’t too picky. You can also drop a food box off here. There were super nice to me. At the bottom of El Capitan on Wildcat Canyon road, 2.5 miles north is Barona Casino which has an awesome buffet. The casino is a pretty nice one as far as casino’s go. Wildcat Canyon road is a VERY dangerous walk with little to no shoulder, heavy traffic and people who may have been up all night and/or drinking. I’ve walked my share of roads and would never walk this one. I’d recommend getting a ride from a hiker at the parking lot at the bottom of El Capitan and then asking around the gas station at Barona on the way out. The trail through Poway is never too far off from Poway road (north of trail) which has a lot of food and places to stay. I stayed at the Ramada Inn which was a good price and was only a ½ mile off the trail north on Pomerado road. There are also many other options I’m sure. The trail is also never very far from Scripps Poway road to the South but this is a higher speed road with less services. About a ½ mile or less from the Pacific Ocean are a couple restaurants including a pizza place and Alberto’s the famous taco shop.
I cached water at the Arroyo Salado primitive Camp (Highway S-22) which is a good first night to camp. I also cached water at Plum Canyon (Highway 78). There is really no need to cache water anywhere else along the trail. In addition to these caches in Anza Borrego there was water: Borrego Springs of course (town), Pena Spring (spring), Stuart Spring (piped spring), Oriflamme Canyon (creek) and Lake Cuyamaca (Lake and Store). I believe these are all year round sources. West of Lake Cuyamaca there is the Pine Hills fire station with a spigot always on, year round Cedar Creek, year round San Diego river, spigot a few minutes into the Oak Oasis open space preserve, Poway (never too far off from civilization), Penasquitos canyon flows year round, and water fountains at Torrey Pines. Prior to my hike there was a huge 5 day rain storm and another big day of rain while I was hiking so I always had a ton of water. There could be sources in addition to the ones above but it would be hard for me to tell if these are year round or just flowing because of all the recent rain. I would say west of Cuyamaca to just not worry about it. You are never too far off from a house or car to get some water if you misjudge and really need it.
When to Go:
December was a pretty good time to go. It was a bit chilly but the days were nice and sunny. Basically your biggest restriction would be the temperatures through Anza Borrego desert. I’m not exactly sure but October-March might be the weather window. April-September could possibly be quite hot (I’d check the temperatures carefully on the shoulder months).
San Diego Sea To Sea Trail
The San Diego Sea to Sea Trail is 140 miles of natural beauty, running from the Salton Sea near the Anza-Borrego Desert, to the Pacific Ocean near Del Mar, California. No where else in the world can you experience such a diverse range of geographical and environmental features in just 140 miles!
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