The third confession that I have for my readers this week is not a confession, it’s a fact. Fact: Iron Mountain is the second most popular hike within the confines of San Diego County. The only thing that makes Iron Mountain the second most popular hike within the county is that at six miles roundtrip, it is a big longer than the first most popular hike within the county, Cowles Mountain. If you are looking for solitude on your hike, do not hike Iron Mountain. Well, ok, I shouldn’t say that. If you hike Iron Mountain in the middle of the night or on a rare rainy, cold day in San Diego, you might be alone on the trail. You might. Even under those conditions, I’d still assume that you’d run into at least one person. Iron Mountain is the second largest peak in the city of San Diego proper at 2,696 feet; and it is in the portion of the county with a number of hiking trails, such as the Goodan Ranch-Sycamore Canyon Preserve, and Woodson Mountain. Unlike Woodson, I’d recommend Iron Mountain as a hike, as it’s a great hike or jog; and when you get to the summit, you will have great unobstructed views of the surrounding area; however, do bear in mind that if you are indeed seeking solitude, this is not the hike for you.
Directions: The parking lot for Iron Mountain is located almost exactly at the junction of CA-67 and Poway Road. By almost exactly, I mean that the lot is located a smidgen South of the junction, but for all intents and purposes, it is at that spot. If you are at that T-intersection facing East, you will be able to see it, and the horde of people around it. A quick note about the lot: back in the day, one had to risk life and limb crossing the CA-67 as there was no “official” parking; but occasionally, the lot does fill up on warm weekends. If this is the case, there is parking across the road, or on the side of the road; but do take care crossing the CA-67.
The hike is a fairly simple out-and-back route; from the lot, one heads out under a tree-lined canopy, and then across a stretch of meadow for the only flat terrain of the hike.
At approximately three quarters of a mile, the trail curves down slightly, before heading up into the first sections of switchbacks. At this point, you will start to gain some elevation before ending up at a T-junction. At this point, if you are heading for the peak, you will want to turn right (South) on the well-signed and marked trail. From this point, the trail winds around the backside of the mountain, giving you good views of Eastern San Diego County, before a series of switchbacks provide you with most of the elevation gain, and leave you on the summit. From the summit, you will have a great three-hundred and sixty degree of the county, and on a very clear day, you can indeed see the ocean. Once you are done on the summit, follow the trail back to the parking lot. I would rate this as an excellent moderate hike, one that will challenge a beginner hiker, and one that will keep an experienced hiker at least interested. Plus, there’s a good view at the summit.
A Word About Distance: As this is the second most popular hike in San Diego county, one would think that the distance on the hike would be cut and dry. Well, one would be wrong. I’ve hiked Iron Mountain more times than I can count, and I find the mileage to always be consistently from 5.6 to 5.8 miles roundtrip. Yet, as noted above, there’s a sign at the beginning of the trail stating that it is 3.5 miles to the summit; and if you look at the links below, you will find a variety of mileages from 4.8 to 6.63 miles roundtrip. Based on my experience, I’m going to stand by my mileage totals, which were originally based out of Jerry Schad’s Afoot and Afield, and confirmed by my GPS. If anyone is overly concerned about the mileage issue, they can write me, and either agree, or tell me that I’m an idiot. I suspect the different mileages are from people adding or subtracting portions to the hike, but that’s just my suspicion.
Tips: If you are doing this hike in summertime, or a warm fall day in the fall, do bring plenty of water. Most of the hike is exposed, and it does get quite hot - into the 90’s or higher during those times. As you will be heading uphill for a fair portion of the hike and exerting yourself, the risk of dehydration at those times is high. Bringing water is a good idea in general, however! Also, there’s a telescope and mailbox at the summit which are things that are not usually seen atop mountains. My last tip is something I discussed months ago: there’s plenty of great scenery around, especially at the Goodan Ranch-Sycamore Canyon Preserve. If you’re looking to get out and beat the crowds, this is the spot for you: http://lastadventurer.com/last-adventurers-fieldnotes/2011/11/30/goodan-ranchsycamore-canyon-preserve-cardiac-hill-to-ridge-t.html . If not, enjoy the hike!
See you on the trail!