Volcan Mountain

Volcan Mountain Fire Road – Five Oaks Trail

Distance: 5.2
Elevation Gained: 1,200′
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Time: 2:00
Critters: None to speak of

Volcan Mountain

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– Great views of Julian, the desert, and East County
– Beautiful oak woodlands

– Jerry Schad did me dirty


Volcan Mountain is the high point of the mountains upon which Julian is located. Those mountains, which are called the Volcan Mountains so as to add confusion, are reminiscent in topography, flora, and fauna to both the Palomar Range and the Cuyamaca Mountains. If you go, expect voluptuous rolling hillsides, oaks, pine, and cedar woodland, trickling streams, deer, and sweet breezes.

In the case of the Volcan Mountains, you can also expect to see a lot of tourists, day-trippers and weekend warriors clamoring for windy roads and a slice of apple pie. Julian doesn’t have a lot of hiking, but with the addition of the previously blogged Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve, Volcan Mountain represents the bulk of the areas hiking. For more extensive mountain hiking experiences, you’ll have to go out to Palomar, Cuyamaca, or Laguna.

Sparse as the opportunities are, they are still excellent. Volcan mountain offers sweeping views of Anza-Borrego desert to the east, Julian and Cuyamaca to the south, Ramona and Santa Ysabel Valleys to the west, and the rolling hills of Palomar and Warner Springs to the north.

The hike itself starts at the trailhead on Farmer Road, just north of Julian proper. You have to park on the road since there is no parking near the trail gateway, and private residences lie on both sides of the access road. You walk up the gravel access road, past the gateway, which is an elaborate wood and wrought iron carving designed by a local artist. It’s a little ornate for a hike, but whatever. It’s Julian. I didn’t take a picture, which seems to be obligatory for reviews of this hike, but you can see it here.

After the gate, you can climb up a fire road, which is graded pretty steep. This isn’t a cakewalk hike like I was expecting, which is why I believe that Jerry Schad did me dirty.

For those who don’t know Jerry Schad, he’s the recently-deceased author of Afoot and Afield in San Diego. He also wrote similar volumes for Orange and Los Angeles Counties, plus a few other must-do hike books. His book is the go-to reference source for hikers all over San Diego. His work is mostly excellent, and I only razz him in jest. His write-up on this hike says it’s 3.2 miles plus 300 feet of elevation gain. That’s true if you start at the latter junction of the fire road and the Five Oaks Trail. However, you don’t get that luxury since traffic is barred from passing a certain point.

Therefore, this hike is a lot more difficult than the book leads you to believe, so if you go here expecting a leisurely stroll up to the top, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. And when I say sore, I’m referring to your hamstrings.

The Five Oaks Trail is the suggested return trail in all the literature I’ve read on the trail, but I think I’d recommend taking it up and down. It’s single-track, which is always preferable to double-track. It’s closed to mountain bikers and horses. And finally, it’s just flat-out more beautiful. I don’t know about Five Oaks, since I only counted 3 species (Canyon, Black, and Interior Live), but the trail winds downhill, sometimes steeply, through a beautiful oak forest that occasionally breaks up for views of Julian and Cuyamaca. You don’t get any of that on the fire road, even though the fire road forms a loop.

It’s a great hike if you are in Julian and don’t mind earning your pie. Just be aware that it’s no joke, and you should be golden.

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

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