Kanaka Flat Loop and 500 Miles

Coast to Crest Trail – Kanaka Flat Loop Trail

Distance: 7.4 Miles
Elevation gained: 800′
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 3:00
Critters: Deer, wild turkeys, quail, rabbits, squirrels, and enough beef to keep Chicago chubby.

– Lovely, green grass and oak woodland
– A vast, rolling, green meadow

– Cow crap
– I got charged by this cow:


Well, maybe the machine gun was a bit of an exageration.

For a pretty mountain area, Julian doesn’t have a lot of hiking. Compared to Palomar, Cuyamaca, and Laguna, the opportunities for hiking in Julian are pretty paltry. Fair enough, since most people come here to chow on dutch apple pie slathered in caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream (me). It’s only in the last ten years that hiking opportunities have cropped up. This, of course, is news to me, since I’m new to San Diego. However, the two newer hikes in the mountain region of San Diego county also happen to be two of the nicer all around hikes.

I hiked the first of the two, Kanaka Flat, in the morning on a day trip to Julian today. The hike features a large, grassy meadow fringed by Coulter pines and black oaks. I’ve seen it described as reminiscent of Montana’s Big Sky topography, and while I can neither refute or deny such hearsay, I can confirm that it’s a beautiful place, particularly when the grass is green, the weather is fine, and a breeze is blowing through the tall grass.

At the start, you park at the small lot labeled “Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve.” To avoid confusion, this hike is labeled Kanaka Flat Loop, even though it lies within Santa Ysabel Preserve. The preserve itself sits in two different locations and has three distinct trail heads. This is the only trailhead in the mountains (Farmers Road, north of Julian, just past the Volcan Mountain trailhead), and it is the easiest way to get to the Flat, since the first trailhead requires you to climb a good 1200 feet over 7 miles just to get there.

From that trail head, you descend into a valley that is covered in tall grass and fringed with oaks and sycamores. To the left, you’ll find a creek that gurgles along merrily for most of the opening stretch. The creek also supports a robust riparian woodland of canyon oak, sycamore, a few maples, and a few cedars. You wander through this gorgeous pastoral scene until you come to a creek crossing.

At the creek crossing, which is made easier by a thoughtfully provided plank, the trail makes a hair pin turn and begins to climb. The views of the mountains of north Julian steadily improve as more and more black oaks appear. Throughout the winter, I’ve seen these trees without leaves. Now, with their bright green leaves fluttering in the breeze, I can begin to appreciate how much more lovely the mountain areas are during the spring.

Without leaves, Black Oaks are slightly dark and a little bit brooding. With the leaves, they add a bright splash of green that contrasts against the darker evergreen oaks. Add the brilliant green of the grass, and this hike is every bit as verdant as any you could hope for in Southern California.

The trail finally flattens out, and you face Kanaka Flat, which stretches about a half mile north-south and a mile east-west. The trail here can go either left or right, but I think it’s best to go left and get the next 300 feet of climbing out of the way once and for all. This stretch of climbing is no picnic, but as the trail ascends, the views improve. Tough it out, and you’ll have smooth sailing the rest of the way.

From here on out, the trail skirts the flat, which is really just a massive meadow. You’re likely to find a large herd of cattle grazing here. Expect them to eye you with dull curiosity. One or two may follow you. However, keep your distance. I got too close to a juvenile, and it charged at me. It pulled away when it saw I was backing off, but it was still an alarming moment. They may be docile and stupid, but cows are big, and therefore dangerous. Again, keep your distance.

After you finish off the loop, creating something of a lollypop shape, it’s back the way you came, past another herd of cattle and back to the car.

Not only is this a really enjoyable hike, it’s a fairly unique one for San Diego. I can’t think of any other place so far that offers such a rich oak-grass woodland, a rolling meadow, cattle, mountain views, conifers, and numerous creeks trickling down the gentle slopes. Highly recommended!


Almost forgot. I hit 500 miles on this hike. As of April 29th, I am officially halfway to 1,000 miles. Neat little accomplishment getting halfway in a third of the year. I’ll need it as it heats up and school gets more intense. That said, I am well on my way, and with some really epic hikes lined up for late spring and early summer, I anticipate I will have no trouble at all nailing 1,000.

April: 147.9 Miles
Year-to-Date: 507.3 Miles

2 Replies to “Kanaka Flat Loop and 500 Miles”

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