Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is located near the town of Julian in San Diego County. There are about 2900 acres of land, including grass land and forest. The area is administered by the County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation.
The most popular trail is a 5-mile round trip to the top of Volcan Mountain, which climbs about 1200 feet. It’s fairly steep in places. Generally there are excellent views from the top, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean (almost 50 miles away) in one direction, and to San Jacinto (also almost 50 miles away) in another, as well as towards the desert and the Salton Sea.
I recently hiked this trail with my friend Belinda and her two dogs (dogs permitted, but must be leashed). Be aware that there are no services at the trail head at all – no water, and no outhouse or porta-pottie. The day that we did it was an unseasonably cool and overcast day for May, and the mountain was covered in fog. In some ways this was a good thing, because the trail has little to no shade, and on a warm day it can be a hot hike.
The trail head is located at 1209 Farmer Road just off Wynola Rd. What’s confusing is that there are TWO Farmer Roads off Wynola Rd, within about 100 feet of each other. You want to take the one that doesn’t have signs for the two wineries. If you’ve chosen the correct road, you’ll see the Volcan Mountain Preserve sign soon after you make the turn. Parking is along Farmer Road – there’s a wide shoulder there.
After parking, walk up the dirt/gravel road. First you’ll see the sign pictured above. And then you will see this much more impressive gateway, created by a local artist named James Hubbell. Beautiful detail on the animals and birds carved into the wood, which are all native to the area. Beyond this gateway, the trail follows a nice wide road. Good footing, somewhat rocky in a few places. You could do it in running shoes, but I wore lightweight boots.
Even though it was a bit late in the season for wildflowers, we still saw quite a few…I think because it has been a cool and wet spring for us. The hills were also much more green than they usually are by this time.
Most of climbing takes place in the first 1.3 miles of the hike. The last 3/4 mile is mostly along the ridge towards the summit. There are a couple of viewpoints on either side along the way with signs that show you what you should be able to see. But as you can see below, we were in the clouds and all we could see was a sea of gray.
Maybe a half mile from the summit we came upon this old rock chimney – what was left of the Volcan Mountain Observatory Outpost. Volcan Mountain was one of the sites considered for the Hale Telescope, but it was placed on Palomar Mountain instead.
It was really windy on top, and the temperature was 42 so it felt pretty cold! We didn’t stay long at the top, but as we were taking the loop around the summit the clouds began to lift a little bit and gave us a view over the San Felipe Valley towards the desert.
It took us about 1.5 hours to climb up and an hour to go down. It was a very nice hike – challenging enough that I felt I had a decent workout, but also with interesting things to see. With all the flowers and the green hills this was certainly a great time of year to do it…I wouldn’t want to do it in the summer unless I got a very early start.
After our hike we drove back down the road to Wynola (about 10 minutes) and had lunch at Wynola Pizza and Bistro. Not at all crowded on this particular day, though it can get very busy. We enjoyed a nice margarita pizza and some Julian hard cider and Volcan Mountain wine. Skipped the apple pie this time, though that’s something that the Julian area is known for.
For more information on Volcan Mountain, click here.