I've been spending most of hike time at Mt Laguna lately. I keep coming back here for two main reasons;
1.) it's incredibly close to San Diego and
2.) It's actually pretty nice!
The first couple times I drove up this way I noticed a number of mountain bikers mounting up at the first real spot you can park. This appears to be a common spot for most people to park as it is normally flooded with folks. I tend to stray away from the pack, so I typically park a little bit ahead at the parking lot next to Wooded Hills Camp Ground. This is also pretty close to the start of the Agua Dulce Loop (If that's your cup of tea). But before you park anywhere, make sure you get your adventure pass!
There is a little saloon about 5 minutes passed that the turn off for the camp ground, that is every bit as weird as it cool, that sells adventure passes. Day rate is somewhere around $5 while a year pass will cost you $30. When I went into the saloon to buy my pass I was greeted to guys running the shop for the day. The saloon itself is a little dark inside and floor to ceiling wood. The bar is off the to the left, and the rest of the saloon is open seating.
When I purchased my parking pass, one of the guys motioned me over to the kitchen area to purchase my pass, and while walking that way I noticed the two of them each had a Coor's light popped and were probably in the middle of the day drinking session. Bravo gents! Back to the trail...
I typically pop off from the parking lot and head out for the day. From here you can hike any number of distances depending on the route you take, but I like to take Gatos Ravine down to the end, then pick my direction from there. If you head southwest, you will run into some pretty cool pastures, and are typically greeted by a herd of cows, or a couple horses who are interested in watching the hikers and bikers pass by. This is also a part of the Big Laguna Trail, so you can stay on this for quite some time, you'll just have to dodge/give way to mountain bikers from time to time.
View from Sunset Trail
If you stay on the Big Laguna Trail, you will end up doing a nice sized loop around a good part of the recreational park. I typically will do the the Big Laguna Trail, then peel off to some of the "Hikers Only" portions of the trail like Sunset Trail. The "Hikers Only" trails in the area are really quiet, and you'll be lucky if you run into folks at all (especially if the weather is a little warmer)
(PCT 2018? Who's down?)
So... important thing to note on the hikes here... Water is pretty scarce. You can find a source of water at the camp grounds, but if you are out and about for a day hike, I recommend picking a bladder that fits your distance, and just keep a cooler back at the car for when you're done. I like to pack my cooler with a couple old ones so I can do this at the end of the trail.
(Oi! Fresh out of the cooler and into my belly!)
Let's just say... ending a hike with 2 oil cans of Foster's was perfect. The temp outside was around 92 degrees, but I managed to secure a prime parking spot in the shade, kicked the rear hatch open, and thought about my hiking for the following weekend.
Next weekend... Mount San Jacinto by way of the Palm Springs Aerial Tram :)