Monday, January 4, 2016

Bell Bluff

Hiked: 1/3/2016
Distance: 7.2 miles round trip on road and use trail
Summit Elevation: 3409'
Prominence: 429'
Elevation Gain: 1800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.44
Round trip time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Calle Colina Roca or Via Dieguenos
Difficulty: Moderate

Bell Bluff is in the Cleveland National Forest and #66 on the San Diego Peak List. The trail begins on the south side of Via Dieguenos near Alpine, CA. The roads are paved all the way. There is only room for a couple of cars at the trailhead so we parked a short distance away on Calle Colina Roca. No fees or passes are required since these are public roads. Leisa and I started down the Spanish Bit Road trail that ran between houses. It was a single track for a good distance before widening out to a somewhat rutted road, then returning to a single track. More than a mile along the gently rising trail, Bell Bluff came into view. It is an impressive rock structure with giant boulders jutting out the sides and along the top. We continued along the trail for just over three miles, with the scenery not changing much, before reaching double cairns on the right marking the west side use trail.

Horse near the trailhead

Trail start, fence is bypassed on the left

Just past the dry Sweetwater River crossing

First look at Bell Bluff

Getting closer, west use trail path

Double cairns marking the start of west use trail

The west use trail was in good shape and well maintained, but very steep in places. I knocked one tick off my pants from casual contact with brush. Leisa didn't get any, but we were vigilant checking for ticks after that. The final half mile gains about 700' and requires one class 3 move up an outcrop. There are multiple route options for this move. Small cairns marked the trail in the few places where it was not obvious. The summit area had an intact benchmark and a register in the trademark red cans. Views were very good in all directions including the north sides of Lawson and Gaskill. There were two other parties on the trail, but no one else ventured up Bell Bluff while we were there.

The one class 3 move

Looking down

Bell Bluff benchmark, 1938

Summit and a random can of anchovies (that something pooped on)

Gaskill, Lawson, and Lyons from Bell Bluff

Looking west, El Cajon far right

Viejas Mountain dominating the north. I didn't recognize it during the hike.

Looking east, massive Sunrise Powerlink station, run by SDG&E


  1. Someone pooped on the summit or on the anchovies?

    Good decision taking Leisa along instead of Cucamonga Man. More pleasant scenery. LOL.

    1. Madison,

      Something pooped on the can of anchovies. See the dark spot on the can in the photo. You are right on the scenery :)

  2. How do you know how much bushwhacking is involved?

    1. Nathan,

      Following the west use trail, there is only light bushwhacking in a few places where you might make incidental contact with brush in a narrow part of the trail. It has been pretty well groomed. Near the top, there are a couple of different paths you can take but none involve heavy brush. For example, Mt. Gower is much worse and involves some moderate bashing. I don't know about the use trail on the east side.

  3. It's nice that the trail is better groomed than when I went. It was a bushwhack fest back then.

    1. Derek,

      Yeah, I read your report and someone has done a lot of maintenance since then. I'm not complaining! The Sunrise Powerlink is built now, too.