Hiking / Backpacking Adventures

Kelly Ditch Trail, Julian CA

Trailhead to Kelly Ditch TrailToday we decided to hike the Kelly Ditch Trail, which goes through William Heise County Park and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. We found a great description of it on the San Diego Reader website. Since we’re in training for our trek this summer, we decided to disregard the article’s suggestion to hike “the easy way” (downhill), which would be south to north. Unfortunately we didn’t have the resources to do a one-way hike (which would require extra cars) or the time or energy to hike the whole thing from beginning to end and back again (11 miles), so we decided to hike the northern half.

We drove to Julian, which is in the mountains northeast of San Diego. It takes 1 to 1.5 hours to get there, depending on whether you’re stuck behind a slow truck towing a trailer, which of course we were.

We got to Heise Park, paid the parking fee, took the opportunity to use the flushing toilets before hitting the trail, and finally got underway around 12:50 pm.

The first little bit of the trail was quite flat, and then we crossed an access road, and the trail started climbing. For the next several hundred yards, both sides of the trail were absolutely covered with poison oak. I carefully walked down the middle of the (thankfully) wide trail, to avoid touching the plants. (I think I neglected to mention in previous blogs that during our Santa Barbara trip I unknowingly touched some poison oak and found out a couple of days later that I am extremely allergic to poison oak. It wasn’t a fun experience.)

Burned tree along Kelly Ditch TrailIt wasn’t long before the poison oak disappeared, and the trail took a right turn up the hill. We walked along, noting the fire damage from the 2003 fires, and the amazing amount of foliage that had sprouted since, especially directly out of the blackened trees. We hiked along, enjoying the weather (sunny and not too warm but not chilly) and the scenery. At a couple of points we saw pairs of deer – but only briefly, because they ran away as soon as they realized we were heading their way. It’s always comforting when the wildlife is actually wild.

After perhaps a mile, mile-and-a-half we reached the boundary for Heise Park. Once we passed this, the trail became much more rough. It also started climbing more steeply. It was an interesting trail. The description said that this trail had at one point been “skid roads”, where lumberjacks would slide freshly cut logs down the mountain. It was interesting to look at the washes in the hill and imagine the huge trees taking a header down the hills.

Not long after exiting Heise Park we reached a mile marker that said “3.8 miles”. We figured that must mean 3.8 miles from the other end of the 5.5 mile trail, which meant we’d gone 1.7 miles. A moment later we saw 3 more deer grazing on the next hill. They fled as soon as we stopped to look at them.

View of fields outside of JulianWe hiked a bit more and then decided that, since we didn’t know how much further we had to go in order to reach the ridge, we should stop to eat lunch. By now it was after 2:30 pm. We found a great spot right off the trail with a bunch of rocks the perfect size for sitting on. The view from this spot turned out to be lovely – you could see the farms down in the valley below. The sky was blue and the temperature was perfect.

We took our time and enjoyed the view, taking a few photos, and started hiking around 3:15 pm. It turned out that we were mere yards from the top – we got there about 5 minutes later. The view from there wasn’t nearly as good, though, so we were satisfied with our decision.

We figured this was a good place to turn around, so we headed back down. About 4:15 pm we came to a creek, which for some reason I didn’t remember crossing before. I played in the water while Dave laughed at me. Then we continued down – again carefully avoiding the poison oak – and got back to the car around 5:00 pm.

We drove into the town of Julian and rewarded ourselves with some yummy pie from Mom’s Pie Shop. A great way to end the day!

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