San Diego's east county is honeycombed with a number of great moderate mountains. Climbs like Portrero Peak, which overlooks Mexico, Lyons Peak (which is inaccessible), Corte Madera Mountain and more all provide solitude for the adventurous hiker. In this vein, Lawson Peak provides both a challenge - and is also accessible for the average hiker. Named for John Lawson, a settler who had a post office in the area from 1890-1891, the granite slab covered peak is now one of the "100 Peaks" on the Sierra Club's list of mountains for San Diego County.
Directions: Getting to Lawson is easy – one takes the I-8 East to State Route 79. From the State Route 79, one heads south on Japatul Valley Road for a couple miles until one reaches Lyons Valley Road. From the turn, go approximately three miles. At three miles, there is a sign - mile marker thirteen. There is off-road parking at the marker, but don’t block the road – it is an off-road trail – the “Carveacre Road”. It is important for hikers to realize that along the road, there is not much parking, nor a parking lot. Correspondingly, on rare occasions when the trail is busy, hikers may have to park a short distance from the trailhead and walk down Lyons Valley Road before beginning their hike.
As Lawson Peak is in San Diego's eastern county, for most of the year, temperatures on this hike are quite warm. The reason I mention this at the outset of the route description is that most of the route is exposed to direct sunlight, which is something that every potential hiker should be aware of. From late April through early November, temperatures on this trail during the day can regularly exceed ninety degrees. Accordingly, hikers should plan accordingly about when and how they attempt this route.
The start of the route to Lawson Peak is fairly straightforward - the "trail" follows the unmaintained Carveacre Road steadily up. Aside from the elevation gain, and direct sunlight, this part of the route is accessible to all skill levels of hikers. While it is not the most beautiful route in the county, the increasing views as one ascends do provide a great reason to hike this trail. At 1.5 miles, the road levels out on a saddle, and provides great views of the area, both to the East and West, and North. To the North, Lawson Peak is readily visible. Hikers will want to follow the road North (right) past Pancake Rock to a slight circular break, where there is a use trail heading directly up Lawson (west), and another use trail heading North. The second use trail leads to Gaskill Peak, which is the companion peak to Lawson, and something that hikers can also climb in one go on the same day from this point.
This is the point on Lawson Peak where the route becomes less accessible. Overall, the entire route is not-maintained, but by starting on Carveacre Road, people can - and do feel like the entire route should be well-laid out. However, from this point, near Pancake Rock, the route is a series of pick-your-own use trails that involve steep uphill scrambling and the use of arms, hands, and occasionally some bouldering. Hikers should judge their skill level accordingly at this point. For those with small children, or a fear of heights, this point - at Pancake Rock - is a good stopping point for picnicking, before turning around for a moderate three mile hike.
For those willing to proceed on the use trails, they will find a number of interesting granite blocks, and a steep leg-burning ascent through native chaparral. The payoff is a great series of views that overlook Gaskill Peak, the Pacific Ocean (on a clear day), and all of the nearby mountains in the Cleveland National Forest and beyond. For those that are comfortable with climbing, the actual summit is above on a series of granite blocks. For those that wish to scramble or climb to the actual summit, care should be exercised not to utilize the old ropes or protective devices that are likely present, as they are unreliable. The views from the 3,664 peak, either from the top, or the last summit blocks are fantastic. Once one is done, the return is back the way one came for a 4.2 mile roundtrip hike with 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
Tips: Again, based on the area, parties attempting this hike will want to have lots of water.