Background on the Infamous Goat Canyon Trestle Hike

The Goat Canyon Trestle; and the reason for the Goat Canyon Trestle - the collapsed rail tunnel where the route used to go.

The Goat Canyon Trestle; and the reason for the Goat Canyon Trestle - the collapsed rail tunnel where the route used to go.

Fact: the best hike in San Diego County is one that most people aren’t going to want to do, and probably shouldn’t do, unless they are physically and mentally prepared. And, even better, here’s a supplemental fact about this hike: I had so much to say about this hike that I had to break up my comments into two posts. This hike involves traveling over rough terrain. It involves using a map and compass, or GPS unit. It involves scrambling and some bouldering. It involves not following a trail. It involves off-roading to a remote trailhead; and it involves committing a whole day to hiking in and hiking out. It involves exploring, and possibly breaking the law. It involves avoiding glowing orbs, and avoiding the Borrego Sandman (or men), if they exist. In short, the best hike in San Diego County is nothing short of an epic one-day adventure. This is precisely why this hike is the best hike in San Diego County: it is an adventure. What hike are we talking about? What I am talking about is the Goat Canyon Trestle Hike to the Carrizo Gorge, or if we are being formal, the Mortero Palms to Goat Canyon Traverse.

Abandoned water car near the Goat Canyon Trestle. Photo taken by Jaime Hernandez (also, that graffitti on the top of the car? RIP Huell Howser - cool stuff)

Abandoned water car near the Goat Canyon Trestle. Photo taken by Jaime Hernandez (also, that graffitti on the top of the car? RIP Huell Howser - cool stuff)

Now look: San Diego County has a lot of great hikes. If you live in the County, or if you are visiting the County, know that this area has an incredible amount of biodiversity. There are beach hikes. There are mid-range hikes; there are alpine hikes; and there are desert hikes all within a two hour radius. Most outdoors people around the world would positively kill for these types of variety. Many of these hikes are amazing; but they do not have the adventure that the Goat Canyon Trestle hike has, which is why the Goat Canyon Trestle hike is the best hike in the County to me.

Old Switching Station, Goat Canyon Trestle, Carrizo Gorge, California

Old Switching Station, Goat Canyon Trestle, Carrizo Gorge, California

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on disclaimers in the rest of these posts, but what I will say here is this: this hike has a lot of risks. If you don’t know how to use a map and compass; or GPS unit, you should not go on this hike. This hike has no “trail”, and if you do not know how to orient yourself in the backcountry, you will get lost, and you will endanger yourself and others. If any of the things I’ve described above – off-roading, exploring, a whole day of hiking – don’t sound like your cup of tea – then this is not the hike for you. Finally, if you are not prepared for a strenuous hike, and this hike is strenuous, as it involves bouldering, scrambling, and substantial ascents and descents, this is not the hike for you. If this is not the hike for you, you know what? There’s plenty of other great hikes in the County – there’s Corte Madera Mountain, Volcan Mountain, Woodsen Mountain (home of the potato chip rock), Stonewall Peak, and the Del Dios Gorge Trail just to name a few. Still interested? Be sure to grab plenty of water, food, and be prepared for the desert, and now let’s discuss my best hike in all of San Diego County.

Rail Tunnels, East of Goat Canyon Trestle, Photo Taken by Jaime Hernandez

Rail Tunnels, East of Goat Canyon Trestle, Photo Taken by Jaime Hernandez

What is it? The Goat Canyon Trestle is the largest wooden railroad trestle in the world. That’s right, the world! The trestle itself is made out of redwood beams, and is over 600 feet long and over 180 feet high, although there seems to be a small dispute as to exactly how high it is and how long it is if you read the sources cited below!

Why Was It Built? The Goat Canyon Trestle is perhaps the signature piece of engineering on the “impossible” railroad that stretches from San Diego to Yuma.  It was built in 1932 after an earthquake destroyed one of the seventeen (17) tunnels that were constructed along the track between 1907 and 1919. Rather than proceed through the same mountain that had the remnants of the previous collapsed tunnel, the railroad engineers elected to bridge Goat Canyon; and the results are the trestle that remains to this day. 

Is there anything strange about the trestle? You know it! Again, more information about the Trestle can be found in the links above, but construction on this section of rail prior to the trestle was hard, arduous work in the early 1920’s, with temperatures regularly reaching 120 degrees. Workers had to live “on site”, and regularly reported strange glowing orbs floating in or around the construction area at night! In addition to this, numerous rumors abounded at the time of strange, bigfoot like creatures roaming the Anza Borrego Desert – the notorious “Borrego Springs Sandman(or men)”. Finally, in 1977, an engineer on the track thought he saw a bright light ahead of his train – meaning that another train was headed toward his train, so he pulled the brake, and his train derailed. That other train he saw? It was never there! (More Info about all of these weird things can be found in this short video HERE).

Tomorrow: the “how-to” on hiking to the trestle and back!