Hiking the Palomar Mountain Overview Loop

Today I hiked the Palomar Mountain Overview Loop, which is #17 in Sheri McGregor’s book 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of San Diego.

But before I started, I decided to not use the regular paved road up to Palomar that everyone takes. I took the Nate Harrison Grade Road, which is unpaved and winds it way up the mountain from Pala on the southwest slope.

The road is fairly well graded in the lower sections.

It was a cloudy and cold morning. Looking down into the valley, I often could not see anything but clouds.

In the higher sections, the road got quite rough. I would not want to do it without 4-wheel-drive.

But with a high lift and large tires, my Mojave was just purring up the mountain. It was made for this. Here it is parked by the edge, with sky all behind it.

Once I got to the higher elevations, the clouds thinned out, and the sky was bright blue.

Once I reached the state park at the top, I noticed a tribute plaque to the California Conservation Corps, or CCC as we call it. My son Devin has worked for the CCC many years and is an avid conservationist. He follows a long tradition of Californians dedicated to the preservation of the beauty of our land.

Finally I got to the trailhead.

There is a short spur of paved road that I walked down, and then I turned right onto the trail.

Here is the map of my hike. I followed it exactly as the book described it, starting at the parking area indicated on the red bubble of the map on the bottom. There is also a parking area in the Upper Doane Valley, right by Doane Pond. That’s where most people start that hike. But I’ll get to that.


I hiked the loop counterclockwise, turning right. On the map, you can see yellow, orange and red where I hiked fast, and green and blue where I hiked slowly, and dark blue where I stood and caught my breath. As you can see, I hiked fast in the first half because it was all downhill. I started at about 5,200 feet and Doane Pond is at about 4,500 feet elevation. But then, from the pond forward, it was all uphill and quite steep in sections!

If I had started out at the pond, I would have first gone uphill, and then downhill, which is more like a normal hike on a mountain.

Shortly after starting out, there is a very nice view of the world-famous Palomar Observatory in the distance:

The trail is quite shaded most of the way. Here is a typical view.

And another view:

At one point there is a section of old fence that has all but disintegrated. Time kills all fences in the wilderness.

Down in the valley, the trails are a little more level and are skirted by pleasant meadows on both sides.

Here is a nice view of Doane Pond from the south side. Behind the trees in the center is the main parking lot from which most folks start this hike. But even today, an a holiday weekend Saturday, I only saw another five to ten people on the trail. It was very quiet.

My hike was four miles long (it felt longer for some reason) and took me exactly two hours. I took ample breaks to snack, catch my breath, and take pictures. When I finally got back to the car, heading down for the main road, I pulled over once more and took one photo from the crest of the mountain down into Pauma Valley far below.

The Palomar Mountain Overview Loop Trail is a nice, moderate hike, with a good elevation change to get your pump moving. And if you have an offroad vehicle, I can recommend taking the Nate Harrison Grade Road up. I saw not a single other car on that road on my way up.

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