You’re not in Montana, but this really is big sky country. Love Valley in northern San Diego’s Palomar Mountain might well have been designed by Cupid, with a sprawling and becoming meadow that beckons a picnic with that special someone. The easy 2-mile (round-trip) trail to reach Love Valley sports a vista-worthy view of nearby Lake Henshaw, a giant reservoir at the base of the mountain. The valley is an open mountain meadow the size of a few football fields, so there’s plenty of space to spread a blanket. Pick a sun-soaked section or settle in beneath an oak. Low green mountains shoulder the valley. There are no tables or garbage cans here, so you’ve gotta pack out what you pack in. Your only company in Love Valley may be an old abandoned barn. It’s a bit ominous to approach it for a peek inside, making for a prime opportunity to clutch your companion’s hand. Ahhh, paramours in Palomar!
BONUS: Forgot the picnic? The Round Up BBQ Grill (Santa Ysabel at 26439 Highway 76, a mile past the intersection with East Grade Road) serves up wood-fired meats covered in sauce. Lip-smacking good save!
Palomar Mountain is east of I-15 between Temecula and Escondido. Take I-15 to exit 46 and head east on Highway 76 for 30 miles to East Grade Rd. Turn left and drive 3.3 miles up the road to a large dirt pullout on the left (just before mile marker 3.4). Find the gated dirt service road leaving from the pullout and begin hiking down to the valley. After a third of a mile, if you come across a barbed-wire fence placed across the road by ranchers, open the left side of the gate and go through. The road reaches Love Valley after 0.8-mile and splits. Turn right to find the barn. Dog-friendly!