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Just 40 miles east of San Diego there’s a 25,000-acre oasis made up of rolling hills, meadows, mixed conifer and deciduous trees, large streams, and waterfalls. Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is one of the highest areas in San Diego County, with Cuyamaca Peak topping out just past 6,500 feet. This scenic park is a result of a rancher’s 1933 land sale to the California State Parks system. The acquisition provided work for the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, whose work still remains today despite the destructive 2003 Cedar Fire that burned much of the park.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has a rich history all the way through the present day. Geologic history hints that these mountains were once similar to the Andes and has recent volcanic activity. The Kumeyaay people lived in numerous villages throughout the park for centuries, resisting assimilation by Spanish missionaries. The land was eventually purchased from the Kumeyaay as ranchland in the mid-19th century, right before gold was discovered in the Cuyamaca Mountains. The short-lived gold rush did produce a lot of ore, most of which was extracted from the park’s preserved Stonewall Mine at Cuyamaca Lake. Visitors enjoy exploring all of this history, along with its beautiful hiking, vistas, and wildlife. You can see it all for yourself by booking an RV in San Diego County.
The restored lands at Cuyamaca Rancho provide over 100 miles of trails for hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians. One of the shortest, easiest hikes is the self-guided Paso Picacho Nature Trail in the Paso Picacho Campground. Other popular hiking trails include the 3.5-mile hike to the fire lookout with spectacular views of the desert and ocean, and the 2-mile Stonewall Peak Trail that offers views of Cuyamaca Lake and the old Stonewall Mine. Some of the trails will take you to small waterfalls and swimming holes. Stop by the visitor’s center for maps explaining all of the different hiking, biking, and horse trails.
Wildlife enthusiasts have plenty to look for at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. Sightings include gray fox, tree frogs, bobcats, badgers, and mountain lions. The recent restoration of trees throughout the park has also brought back numerous bird species like hawks, sparrows, owls, and woodpeckers. Springtime brings colorful displays of wildflowers, and there are a great variety of places to see Indian paintbrush, lupine, monkeyflower, and nightshade, to name a few. This is a wonderful season to go RV camping in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park's rangers host some excellent interpretive programs. Throughout the summer they'll lead you on walks of all different flavors, explaining the history, wildlife, and geology of the area. You can explore the Stonewall Mine exhibit on your own and imagine what mining here was like 150 years ago. The visitor center also houses numerous displays explaining native plants, wildlife, and how the Kumeyaay natives lived before Europeans arrived.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has two RV campgrounds that are open year-round. Due to the park’s older design, the maximum recommended RV length is 30 feet, which you should keep in mind when renting an RV. All of the sites have fire rings and picnic tables, and each campground has a dump station, coin-operated showers, and flushing toilets. Hookups are not provided. You’re welcome to bring your pet camping at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, but they must be on a leash and are not allowed on trails.
The Green Valley Campground has 81 sites next to the Sweetwater River, six miles south of Cuyamaca Lake. Most sites have small trees that provide shade and privacy. You’ll find access to nearby hiking trails directly from the campground. The other RV campground is only one mile south of Cuyamaca Lake. Paso Picacho Campground has 85 sites, five of which are handicap accessible. This campground is situated in a wooded area providing shade and privacy, a contrast from the surrounding area. This campground also has nearby access to numerous hiking and nature trails.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park borders Cuyamaca Rancho and can extend your hiking and horseback opportunities even further. It too has RV camping opportunities. Nearby businesses will let you hire a horse and a guide for a day and take you riding through this high desert landscape. The remote, high location is also favored by a couple of animal centers. A few miles north of the park there’s a wolf center, and a few miles south of the park there’s a small zoo that will get you up close and personal to lions, tigers, and bears.
Interstate 8 isn't too far from the park's south entrance and is your best bet for fuel and supplies. If you’re heading west, you’ll arrive in El Cajon first, where you can fuel up your motorhome and shop for supplies and groceries at the big box stores. Not much further west are the beaches of San Diego, and other activities like the renowned San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and the naval museum. The confluence of cultures in San Diego has created quite the culinary scene, mostly starring seafood and Mexican food. If you’ve already done San Diego and would like to head east, Gila Bend and the Arizona Sonoran Desert are just 250 miles away.