Just one hour east of San Diego, California is a beautiful mountain forest, replete with meadows, lakes, and cool temperatures. The Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is a welcome retreat for mountain lovers in the Southern California desert.
I had the opportunity to hike the Big Laguna Trail in the Laguna Mountains, and will definitely be heading back again! The famous Pacific Crest Trail (from Mexico to Canada) passes through this forest, and you’ll probably enjoy the refreshing scent of Jeffrey pine trees as much as I did!
The Sunset Trail and Big Laguna trail loop is 7.2 miles, with about 400 feet of elevation gain. I parked along Sunrise Highway, hiked up Sunset Trail and enjoyed seeing a little pond at Water-of-the-Woods (see map), and then gorgeous meadows. The elevation is above 5000 feet, so the temperatures are significantly cooler than San Diego.
You can choose to hike the entire loop, and to return to the trailhead you’ll need to head directly southwest when passing Big Laguna Lake (or the meadow if you’re there in the spring and summer time). From there you can head toward a brown house, called Laguna Ranch, and connect back to the start of Sunset Trail (see map).
The Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is a nice respite from the heat, and even when the lakes dry up in the spring and summer months, the cool breezes and wildflowers make it worth the trip.