With conifer-covered slopes, mountain meadows, and a cooling canopy of cedars and silver firs, Palomar Mountain State Park
feels like a hiking haven in the Sierra Nevada. Surprise! This 1,862-acre gem is in San Diego County. Take in some of the park’s marquee highlights by jumping onto the 4.25-mile round-trip loop trail at Doane Pond, a popular spot among anglers vying for trout and catfish. Make tracks through a forest of shady oaks and ferns to the waters of Thunder Springs. (By summer, the thunder is more like a murmur.) At the loop’s highpoint—5,350 feet—thinned-out fir and Ponderosa pine give way to gaping views of nearby peaks, including the southern edge of the 3-mile-long Aqua Tibia Mountain ridge. Small patches of purple lupine adorn the mile-high crossing to the loop’s last landmark, the remains of a homesteader’s cottage from the 1880s known as Scott’s Cabin. Today, the ruins could easily be mistaken for a pile of oversize Lincoln Logs, but if properly assembled, you would probably want to move in. Location, location, location.
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Palomar Mountain State Park is situated between Temecula and Escondido. Take the 15 Freeway to exit 46 and drive east on Route 76 toward Pala. After 20 miles, turn left on South Grade Rd. Drive 7 miles up the mountain and turn left onto Route S7. Continue 3 miles into the park. Pay an $8 day-use fee at the entrance or at Doane Valley Campground and proceed 1.7 miles to the Doane Pond Trailhead, passing the turnoff for Boucher Hill. Hike straight around the pond toward Thunder Spring. Turn right on Chimney Flats Trail after the first mile and proceed up to a maintenance road at 2.3 miles. The path becomes temporarily faint passing through a cluster of pines to the right, becoming Scott’s Cabin Trail. Turn right on Cedar Trail and hike the final 0.6 miles back to Doane Pond. All junctions are well-marked.