Big Laguna Trail – PCT Round Robin
Today, we took some friends to one of our favorite San Diego County hiking areas – Laguna Mtn Recreation Area. Located in the Cleveland National Forest, it is a mix of amazing desert views and alpine forests, all within a day hike. We would start around mile marker 25.5 on the Sunrise Hwy, where the Big Laguna Trail crosses the road on the way to the PCT. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through this area and offers a diverse display of scenery and color. We planned on hiking the PCT to Penny Pines, cross over to the Big Laguna Trail and loop around the lake to end up near the starting point. Should be under 10 miles, not bad for a good day hike.
The gently rolling hills and occasional escarpment offer fairly easy hiking. The temps vary greatly here, but it was in the high 70’s today as the warm currents came up from the desert. We would take the “BLT” as the local trail maintainers affectionately call it to the PCT and head north. Not long after we hit the 2,600 mile long trail, we started seeing many runners. It’s rare to find trail runners out here, but today we would see over 150, all heading south. It was the annual PCT 50 mile run and we were smack dab near the turn around point. Over the next couple of hours we would kindly step off the trail for the runners as they came by. About half were walking, but I am amazed that people run 50 miles anywhere, much less on a rocky trail.
We came to Foster Point on the PCT which offers excellent views to the east and north. On clear winter days, you can see for over 75 miles to Mt. San Jacinto. It was neat to have lunch with our friends near a cliff that plummets to a canyon far below. Rounding a bend, a runner warned us about a rattler 50 ft ahead. I borrowed Mary’s hiking pole and there he was, a young Pacific Ratter nosing his way out on the trail. With runners coming through here every few minutes, I gently coaxed him back into the bushes with the pole At one point, he warned me with his shaker but backed off and retreated into the scrub. In my pre hiking days, I would have gladly terminated this serpent. Now, I realize part of being a good steward is to leave the wildlife alone. We continued up the PCT and proceeded into an area that was half scrub, half forest. The single track trail was well maintained but dusty. This section of the trail had a steep hill to the left and canyon to the right. With little to no breeze, we made our way up to Penny Pines parking area where the PCT breaks off and the Noble Canyon Trail intersects with the Big Laguna Trail. This must have been an aid station for the race as they were finished tearing it down. After another quick break to cool down, we crossed Sunrise Hwy and headed into a sun-baked area that had burned long ago. Crossing through a cattle gate, I began to look for the cows but none were to be found. Soon, the meadow came into view and it felt like a scene from the old movie classic “The Wizard of Oz” as they passed out of the haunted forest. At this point, I could have used a nap.
The trail meandered on the edge of the meadow and through the forest with large pines that survived the fires. Some newer pines were about 10-15 years old. There was a vernal pond at the north end of the meadow; it would probably be dry by the end of summer. Across the meadow, we could see the Sunset Trail, a decent trail that runs along the western ridge of the meadow, with good views of the Laguna area. Big Laguna Lake varies in size and has probably peaked this time of year.
We took a wrong turn at the south end of the lake. I’m entitled to one per hike ya know. After a few minutes on the boggy shores of the lake, we headed east toward our final legs of the BLT. We would cross more meadows, a few streams and enter another forest which seemed to go on forever. My GPS showed us farther south than I had wanted to be, but eventually the trail turned north, increased in elevation a few hundred feet and crossed Los Huecos Rd. The final leg was a hot, dusty jaunt over an old fire road, onto an almost overgrown path with a welcomed trail marker for the BLT to the PCT.
The map I was using from the Laguna Mtn Recreation Area website did not seem to scale, but the lesson here was to bring better topos. All in all the 10.5 mile trek was confirmation of the diversity of terrain around here. Deserts, alpine, meadows, lakes – a neat area to hike. During the week, I imagine that you would have it all to yourself. Enjoy life friends – “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” Ps 118:24