Horse Riding the Pacific Crest Trail in San Diego County

An active equestrian who frequents horse and mule trails in San Diego County shares great equine trails along the Southern Tip of the Pacific Crest Trail for the Equitrekking 50 State Trail Riding Project.

By Clare Maudsley

The Pacific Crest Trail stretches 2,650 miles from the Mexican border to Canada. It is the longest equestrian and hiking trail in the United States and crosses amazingly beautiful mountains and valleys in California, Oregon and Washington. The Pacific Crest Trail is one of the National Scenic Trails established by Congress in the 1968 National Trails System Act. It is administered by the US Forest Service. The Pacific Crest Trail was begun in the 1930s and completed in 1993. It links several trails: Washington’s Cascade Crest Trail, Oregon’s Skyline Trail and California’s John Muir and Tahoe-Yosemite Trails.

laguna mountains horse trails

Laguna Mountain horse trails. Photo from the author's San Diego Horse Trails website.

You can take day rides, camping trips of a few miles to several hundred miles or you can horseback ride along the entire trail. It takes about five months to traverse the entire trail. The Pacific Crest Trail Association website has good information about the Pacific Crest Trail and logistics for longer rides.

pacific crest trail horseback map

Map of Pacific Crest Trail.

The Southern Terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail is located at the Mexican border in Southern California. The staging area is reached from Forrest Gate Road, a mile or so off Highway 94, just past Castle Rock Ranch. Close by is Camp Lockett which was a US Army military base with historical connections to the Buffalo Soldiers due to the 10th and 28th Cavalry Regiments having been garrisoned there during World War I.

The Pacific Crest Trail is well marked. From the Southern Terminus, the terrain is varied from sandy desert to hilly rocky trails. You cross a bridge over a stream and the railroad line–– all in the first five miles. There are spectacular desert views.

san dieogo pacific crest trail horseback riding

Southern Terminus of Pacific Crest Trail with Loretta Young and Dakota (taken by Clare Maudsley).

About 25 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, there are horse camping facilities at Boulder Oaks, which is located in the Cleveland National Forest. The staging area is located on Old Highway 80. Take the Buckman Springs exit from Interstate 8 East and turn left (south) onto Old Highway 80. Boulder Oaks Campground is a mile or so down Old Highway 80 on the right (west) side. The campsite is closed in March-May for the Arroyo Toad breeding season. For more information on the campsite, visit the Boulder Oaks Trailhead website.

The Pacific Crest Trail from Boulder Oaks varies from easy to moderate to the south to steep and narrow in the north. You pass through chaparral, scrub oaks and pines.

Another magnificent section of the Pacific Crest Trail in San Diego County runs through the Laguna Mountains. You can stage at the parking area on Morris Ranch Road off Sunrise Highway, Route 79 and head north toward the Pacific Crest Trail. After a few miles, the Pacific Crest Trail meanders along the side of a mountain with a tremendous view to the east of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, it’s floor – Vallecito Valley - lying 4400 feet below in the rain shadow of the Laguna Mountains.

Pacific Crest Trail laguna overlook

Laguna Mountains Pacific Crest Trail Desert Overlook (taken by Clare Maudsley).

Eagle Rock Trail at Warner Springs is another gem about 100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. The equestrian staging area is on S22, approximately 2 miles west of S2 off Highway 79. This is a moderate, well-maintained trail through oak woodlands, sycamore groves, along a creak and into open meadows. The highlight of the trail is Eagle Rock, which truly resembles a giant eagle with outspread wings. There are spectacular views of Lake Henshaw along the way.

susan bates eagle rock horseback

Eagle Rock. Photo credit Susan Bates and Pacific Crest Trail Association.

eagle rock horse trails

Eagle Rock horse trails. Photo from the author's San Diego Horse Trails website.

About the author: Clare Maudsley was born in Oxford, England and now lives in San Diego, California. She is very active in trails issues in San Diego County and is a past President of Jamul Trails Council. Clare has created the website,, to provide information to equestrians about horse and mule trails in San Diego County. She has compiled information on some of her favorite trails, most of which she rode on her horse, Gizmo.