Granite Springs Backcountry Camp

Granite Springs Backcountry Camp is a backpacker’s campground accessible via East Mesa in Cuyamaca State Park. This park is one of two dedicated to backpacker campgrounds – the other being Arroyo Seco. It features a water pump (needs filtering), dedicated campsites, and vault toilets.

Distance: 8.8
Elevation Gained: 1200′
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: Overnight
Critters: Hawks, ravens, quail

Get there like this. 

Note: It costs $5 to camp overnight, which is not a bad deal considering the day use fee is $8. You will also need to check in with the rangers, who don’t always give the clearest directions.


This was the first practical test of new backpacking gear. The gear is designed to drop the weight down from 40 lbs to 20-25 lbs in the service of making long-distance overnight hiking more enjoyable. I’m happy to say that hiking with the pack feels like a dream. After 12.5 miles, I could hardly feel it there at 21 lbs. I arrived at camp feeling a little tired, but barely sore.

I first learned of Granite Spring in March of 2012, when I attempted to hike 26.2 miles through Cuyamaca State Park. I had never been here, and it had snowed a few days before, so a lot of this trail was difficult and soaking wet. However, East Mesa was a revelation, with its rolling plateu fringed with Jeffrey Pines. I saw the campground and resolved to come back here one day.

Of course, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be coming here in January, when the park tends to receive moderate to occasionally heavy precipitation. Instead, the weather called for Santa Ana winds, above normal temperatures, and still no precipitation in sight. I didn’t think I would camp at all in January, much less at 5,000′ at the wettest spot in San Diego.

Anyhow, that’s where I was. The campground itself is quite nice, with toilets, campsites, and a water pump (filter it) making the camp less primitive than most backcountry sites. This would be a good intro site for backpacking, as it is relatively close and reasonably comfortable – unless you set your bed up on a slope and struggle to sleep because of it like I did.

I enjoyed the sunset from a nearby hilltop, and then crawled into my tent. The wind never got too bad, and the cold never got too cold. Sloped bed aside, it was reasonably comfortable. It would have been more comfortable had I not left my Camelbak unstopped, thus spilling 1.5L of water into my tent. Thankfully, the dry weather evaporated the moisture in a hurry.

At about 6:20 am, I crawled out of my tent and packed up. I was fully packed up (sans breakfast since I forgot fuel for my stove) and on the trail in 15 minutes. Having less weight means carrying fewer things, which means less time futzing around with gear when breaking camp. I approve of this. In fact, aside from the things I had forgotten like the gas and an extra pair of socks, I didn’t want for anything. Lightweight camping will work. However, I may splurge on an inflatable pillow. A pillow that moves around while you are trying to sleep is not much fun.

Soon, I was on the trail across the mesa with the sun rising at my back. I’d stop to look back and take pictures frequently. The chance to wake up in the middle of the world makes all the discomfort worthwhile. It’s very hard to see the sun rising over a meadow with nobody around any other way.

And you don’t realize what a wonderful thing that is until you finally get away from the computer screens and the urban noise and the loud neighbors and the traffic on the roads. Waking up with the sun while birds sing and the wind makes the pines sing is more than worth a little discomfort.

Next time, I bring an extra pair of socks and take more care with my water bladder. I will try not bringing a stove at all to see what it’s like to eat a cold dinner. I will hopefully have a lighter sleeping bag. I will try a different sleeping pad, and I will bring light gloves and a wide-brimmed hat to block out as much sun as possible. Don’t like the feeling of getting cooked, especially in January. Rain, dammit.

January: 59.1 Miles
Year-to-date: 59.1 Miles


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