A popular hike in north-inland San Diego County, Monserate Mountain provides a good workout with spectacular views from its summit. This moderate trail climbs 1,160 feet in 1.6 miles and is a memorial to honor all the fallen first responders who lost their lives on 9/11. The trail markers A1-A11 represent every 10th floor of the former twin towers.
Getting to the Trailhead
The trailhead is just to the east of the I-15, just past the junction with Hwy. 76. Exit on Pala/Oceanside/Bonsall/Palomar Mtn. (Exit 46). Head east to Horse Ranch Creek Road, then turn left. Continue north for about 1.7 miles. You will find parking along the side of the road. The trailhead will be on the east side of the road. Get turn-by-turn directions via Google Maps.
Hiking Monserate Mountain
The hike begins under new trailhead signage, so make sure to stop and grab your photo with it. Shortly after that, you will pass through the actual gate into the preserve. The wide dirt trail will quickly rise up before you. It is a popular hike, so you should see fellow hikers and runners working their way up and down the trail.
This trail is also a memorial to honor all the fallen first responders who lost their lives on 9/11. You will see markers, denoted A1-A11, representing every 10th floor of the World Trade Center.
The trail is wide but can be a bit rocky and have some rain ruts to be mindful of as you continue your climb. After about 3/4th mile, you will reach a junction just after the A5 marker. Turn left if you want to take the direct route to the summit. If you want to do this hike as a loop, this is the junction where the loop will return to. The noise from the freeway should have faded away by now.
As the trail turns north, you will pass junctions with two marked side trails. Stay to the right past Red Diamond Trail and Canonita Trail at 1.05 miles and 1.35 miles from the start, respectively. Just past the junction with Canonita Trail, the trail will make a sharp turn to the east.
At about 1.5 miles into the hike, the trail will plateau just below the summit. You will reach another junction here as well. If you take the left fork, this will take you onto the summit proper. The right fork will be the one to use for the full loop.
From that junction, you will have just 1/8th mile to go to reach the 1,567-foot summit of Monserate Mountain. Now enjoy the rewards of your efforts with some nice views of northern San Diego county. Off to the northwest, you will be able to see Red Mountain, with the Santa Anas beyond that. To the east are the Agua Tibia Mountains, which rise to 5,077 feet at Eagle Crag.
Once you are done, return back down the spur trail to the junction.
If you are doing the hike as an out-and-back, stay to the right and just retrace your route up. If you are doing the full loop, stay left and follow the ridge trail southward. This will take you toward the water tank, as well as offer up some nice views along the way.
The trail will descend down a flight of wooden stairs toward the water tank. After passing through a gate at the end of the Ridge Trail, you will find yourself on the paved service road for the water tank. Continue heading south until you come to another junction. When you reach the road, Pala Mesa Mountain Drive, head to the right and pass through a white gate marked with a Monserate Mountain Preserve sign. You will now work your way back to that first junction you encountered when you began your hike. Just beware, that this loop adds another 225 feet of elevation gain, as well as sometimes hiking on the pavement.
Once back at that first junction, you have a mere 3/4th mile to go to reach the trailhead. This is a popular trail, so expect to see fellow hikers and runners sharing the trail.
Montserate Mountain Trail Map & Elevation Profile
As of December 2021, you will not be able to do this hike as a loop as some construction work has closed it temporarily. Check with Fallbrook Land Conservancy for updates as to its reopening (currently planned for December 2022). In the interim, you can still hike Montserate Mountain as an out-and-back.