Distance (round-trip)

6.4 mi

Time

4 hrs

Elevation Gain

980 ft

Season

Spring
Fall
Winter

Weather

Out in the hinterlands near Warner Springs, the Pacific Crest Trail traverses some wild and lonely country before coming upon one of the most blatantly anthropomorphizable (is that a word?) natural features in the state, if not the country. The large granite rock pile known as Eagle Rock looks so ridiculously and obviously like an eagle that none of the usual squinting, debating, head-tilting, and skepticism that accompanies an anthropomorphized rock formation applies in the slightest. There is absolutely no doubt that the thing looks exactly like an eagle.

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PCT marker

In addition to such a remarkable formation, the hike to Eagle Rock also provides a chance to enjoy some easy hiking on the PCT through rolling grasslands straight out of Lord of the Rings (muster the Rohirrim!) and gnarled old oaks in an expansive woodland. The period between March and May usually provides a diverse wildflower show, depending on recent precipitation, and the views of the surrounding mountains, including Hot Springs Mountain, Bucksnort Mountain, the Palomar Mountains, Mesa Grande, and the Volcan Mountains all combine to make for a satisfying afternoon in the backcountry.

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Moss on oak

Starting out from the fire station, you will follow the trail down and across the seasonal creek bed where it will begin a gently-undulating stretch through a woodland full of often magnificently gnarled old oak trees. This is a wonderfully pleasant stretch of trail on a cool day following a rain storm, but might be uncomfortably warm during a summer afternoon. For the next mile to mile and a half, the trail will follow the creek on its western bank through oak trees and through occasional meadows dotted with more cacti and sagebrush. You’ll see occasional flat spots used for backpacker sites that might beckon should you be taking this stretch as a backpacking trip.

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Ouch

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On the way to Eagle Rock

The trail will begin to climb up onto a ridge clothed in chaparral. From here, views open up of the grasslands rolling away toward Lake Henshaw, Mesa Grande, and the south end of the Palomar Mountains. After crossing this ridge, the trail will begin a bit of a roller-coaster as it enters the grasslands. Like the section between the two parts of Highway 79, this grassland area is criss-crossed by a number of man-made and cow-made trails that can cause some confusion. The GPS track may come in handy, but if you’re doing this on a cool spring weekend, you’re likely to encounter a number of other hikers and equestrians heading in either direction who will help you find your way if the trails get confusing.

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Rain clouds over San Felipe Valley

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The trail will soon gain a nice vantage point after dipping in and out of a few ravines. Looking to the south, you’ll see a number of boulder piles. Scattered among those is Eagle Rock. Don’t expect to see the eagle formation from a distance, as it actually faces away from the trail. However, as you continue on, you will see a pretty obvious side trail branching toward one of the largest rock piles. Follow the side trail up a short slope and bear right to emerge directly in front of Eagle Rock. You’re likely to share the spot with some other adventurers who are also marveling at how much the rock pile resembles an eagle. This is a great spot to eat a picnic lunch while enjoying the views of the valley around you in all directions.

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Eagle Rock

Once you’ve had your fill of the rock formation and the surrounding views, you will retrace your steps on the PCT over the grasslands, up and over the chaparral-covered ridge, through the gnarly old oak woodland, and to your parking spot near the fire station. If you opted for the longer version, you’ll cross back over Highway 79, over the seasonal creek, through the other grassland section, bend back to the right, and re-emerge at the trees near Agua Caliente Creek before coming back to the other side of Highway 79 where your car awaits your return.

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This creek is usually dry, unless there has been heavy rain

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Cottonwoods along Agua Caliente Creek

Whether it is the 7 mile or the 10 mile version, you will have enjoyed a unique destination through a variety of ecotones on a brief stretch of one of the greatest trails in the country. This is a fine way to spend a day during the spring, as the hike may also come with a great wildflower display and mild temperatures. You also have the option of turning this into a brief backpacking trip that will allow you to branch out and explore some of the other nearby areas, including Agua Caliente Creek/Canyon.

Scott is an L.A. native and San Diego transplant who pulls every trick in the book to get out on the trail. His first book, a revision of Afoot and Afield San Diego County, is now out.





Dog-Friendly

Trail Map

9 Comments

bmnguyen12 Apr 4, 2017 12:04In reply to: Scott Turner

Whoops saw that my other post went through! Sorry for spamming!

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bmnguyen12 Apr 4, 2017 11:04

I'm thinking about doing this hike and making a very short backpacking trip with a couple friends out of it. Does anyone know if there are any permits, adventure passes, fire permits, etc. that are required? Looking to sleep along the PCT for dispersed camping. Any information will help! Thanks!

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Scott Turner

Scott Turner Apr 4, 2017 11:04In reply to: bmnguyen12

To my knowledge, this route occurs on private property through which an easement has been granted. There is a campsite about half a mile east of CA-79 that you might be able to use, but right now might not be the best time. PCT through hikers will be moving through the area all month, and there's a good chance you'll be competing with them for space.

For local backpacking trips that aren't too long, you might want to check out Horsethief Canyon. We have a write-up in the works for that, but it's not up yet. Instead, refer to Afoot and Afield San Diego County. You'll need a permit from Cleveland National Forest. Call the Descanso District phone number, and they'll walk you through the process. (619) 445-6235

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bmnguyen12 Apr 4, 2017 10:04

I'm looking to do this hike with a couple friends and turning it into a really short overnight backpacking trip. It's one my friend's first backpacking trips! Does anyone know if there are any permits involved for camping, camping stoves, adventure passes, etc.? Any info will help! Thanks!

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Dustin Jun 3, 2015 22:06

I did this hike last weekend - great hike and the eagle is pretty cool. Only saw 1 other person with her dog on the trail, which ended up taking about 5 hours.

I did the longer of the two options here and honestly did not think it was worth it. The trees along the creek after the fire station were more impressive than that first 3 mile section. If I went back I'd choose the 7 miles. It's still a decent hike and most of it is pretty open and without shade, so check the weather in warmer months!

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John Graham Feb 8, 2015 10:02

Just did this hike yesterday on 2-7-15 and loved it! As another commenter here noted, the route around the 79 bridge is much less confusing now.

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Michael Schuchhardt Dec 9, 2014 09:12

Just completed this hike on Sunday the 7th of Dec. Started at the campsite in the early morning. Was a great hike with brisk weather. The creek bed was dry in most places but Eagle rock was well worth the walk. Great hike to a cool destination.

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Scott Sep 29, 2014 20:09In reply to: Cassie

Awesome! Thanks for the update.

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Cassie Sep 29, 2014 15:09

Just as a note to everyone,

A coworker and I just made this venture on 9/28/14 and the barbed wire is still there preventing passage underneath Hwy 79. However, the misleading arrows on either side which pointed downwards, have been painted over and new arrows have been painted which point sideways toward the corresponding gates on either side of the highway. Yay! No more misleading arrows!

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