The Volcan Mountains are a relatively small range about 13 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. Located east of San Diego, near the town of Julian, this hike up Volcan Mountain gives you a perfect excuse for a weekend trip rewarded with a slice of Julian apple pie. The out-and-back double-track trail has and entrance designed by a renown sculptor, several marked view points, interesting historical sites, and views that on a clear day stretch from Catalina Island to the Salton Sea.
Getting to Volcan Mountain
The entrance to the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve is located at 1209 Farmer Road at Wynola Road, Julian, CA 92036 about 40 miles east of Escondido. The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset, though the preserve closes when there is 1/2 inch of rain or snow until the trails dry out, mainly to avoid ruts being created on a muddy trail. The preserve allows dogs on leash, bikes and equestrians on the main double-track trail, while the optional Five Oaks single track trail is for hikers only. Entrance is free, and parking is also free along the shoulder of Farmer Road.
Hiking Volcan Mountain
From Farmers Road, follow the entrance signs to Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve up a short gravel road. Note the hours and any travel restrictions or other rules before you head out on the trail. A short distance up the driveway you’ll come to the gateway designed by world-renown artist and Julian local James Hubbell and built by volunteers. Before proceeding through the gateway, note that there are a couple of port-a-potties off to the right; the only restrooms on this trail.
In front of the gateway, if you look down you may notice a plaque commemorating a time capsule placed there on the winter solstice of 2000, and to be opened on the winter solstice of 2100.
The main double-track trail can be used by hikers, bicyclists and equestrians, though we saw no tracks or signs of bikes or horses. Roughly 1/2 mile in you reach a junction with the Five Oaks Trail. This optional single-track route adds about 0.4 miles to the hike, and is a nice option. You can take it up, down or both ways; it eventually reconnects with the main trail so you’ll end up getting to the summit either way.
The trail is lined with manzanita, oak trees, and conifers, give you some relief from the brilliant sun. Most of this trail is exposed to the sun, so sun protection is essential.
The trail climbs to the rounded ridge of the Volcan Mountain Range, then heads south.
Along the way, take time to check out the remains of the Volcan Mountain Observatory Outpost.
This site was considered as a potential location for the Hale Telescope that was eventually located at the Palomar Observatory on Palomar Mountain. Astronomers used this an other outposts at potential sites between 1928-1932 to evaluate night sky conditions. The chimney and remnants of the foundation are all that remain of this structure today.
As you climb along the ridge, you’ll pass two viewpoints with information signs that help you identify the mountains you see. Looking to the west, you can see downtown San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, and even as far as Catalina Island.
Near the top of Volcan Peak, the trail forks. You can take either direction; they loop around the summit and meet.
Near the high point, you’ll see the Volcan Mountain Airway Beacon Light Tower. It was built in the 1920s by the Post Office Department as part of a nationwide navigation system used by Air Mail pilots. These beacons were placed 15-25 miles apart, and there were more than 2,000 of them in operation by 1946, helping pilots navigate across the country in darkness (and before modern electronic technology).
The true high point is obscured by a cluster of bushy oaks, but you’re essentially there. There is a survey benchmark on the far side of the loop, embedded in an elevated concrete pipe-like column.
On your way down, consider taking the optional Five Oaks Trail for a change of scenery, otherwise, head back down to the gateway to complete your hike.
Volcan Mountain Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Volcan Mountain Tips & Resources
- Get turn-by-turn driving directions to the trailhead via Google Maps
- Volcan Mountain Foundation – official website
- 1/2 inch of rain or snow will close the preserve until the trails dry out
- There is no water available at the preserve, so bring plenty. We carried a liter each, plus an extra for our dog. In warmer temperatures, carry more.
- After the hike? Head to Julian for a slice of their famous apple pie.
Volcan Mountain is part of the annual San Diego Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. For more information, visit sixpackofpeaks.com.
Julian Weather Forecast
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Originally hiked on February 15, 2020 with Joan and Lucy.