Lawson Peak: Hiking, Scrambling and Climbing to the Summit

Lawson Peak Hike

Distance: 4.5 miles | Hiking time: 3 hours | Difficulty: 7/10 | More info.

The hike to Lawson Peak is the type of hike you do for the challenge, not because you’re looking to get out in nature. Unless you happen to be a practiced rock climber, the scramble to the summit will test your nerve. It’s a little dicey in places, but certainly an achievable goal for the determined peak bagger.

Located at mile marker 13 on Lyon’s Valley Road near the base of the valley is the gated trailhead for Lawson Peak. It’s plain and non-threatening with no signage telling you where you’re at.

Neither Lawson Peak, nor Gaskill Peak (Lawson’s sister peak) are visible from the trailhead, and there’s no sign of the challenging adventure that awaits.

Hike Lawson Peak - Trailhead
The trailhead at mile marker 13 below Lawson Peak

After leaving your car, set out past the gate and begin your 2 mile hike up the hill. The trail is little more than a weather-beaten fire road. It’s an obstacle course of rocks, ruts and loose sand that requires your undivided attention most of the way to the top as it winds its way across the hillside.

Just a minute or two after setting foot on the trail, Gaskill Peak comes into view to the northwest. At around the one mile mark you get your first glimpse of Lawson Peak. The boulders that make up the peak are unmistakable and stand out from the green backdrop of California chaparral that surrounds you.

Hiking Lawson Peak first look
A first look at Lawson Peak from the trail

Take a Detour

If you’re up for a short detour, start looking for the wash in this picture on the left side of the trail just before you reach the point where the trail crosses over the top of the hill. Follow the wash up and to the southwest for a couple hundred yards. It will take you to a small peak where you can get your first 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains.

Hike Lawson Peak - wash detour
Follow the wash to the left of the trail for a quick detour and 360 degree views

On the north side of the trail is a large granite boulder that is as flat as a pancake, aptly named Pancake Rock. It’s an easy climb to the top, where you will get an up close view of Lawson Peak to the west, Gaskill Peak to the northwest and the valley and mountains behind you to the east.

Hiking Lawson Peak - Pancake Rock
Looking at Gaskill Peak from Pancake Rock

The trail to Lawson Peak continues over the top of the hill and skirts its way along the western edge of Pancake Rock. If you’ve detoured to Pancake Rock, you can access the trail again without having to backtrack by making your way to the southwest edge of the rock. There you’ll find a slope gentle enough to carefully walk down, where you will meet up again with the trail below.

Follow the trail north along the edge of Pancake Rock until it opens up to the Wisecarver Road crossing at the base of Lawson Peak. At this point you have the option of following the trail north another 1.5 miles to Gaskill Peak or continuing to Lawson Peak.

Hike Lawson Peak - summit trail
Looking at Lawson Peak summit trail from Wisecarver Road

Head west toward Lawson Peak and you will see a small trail diving into the brush at the base of the peak leading towards the mountain. Step into the brush and continue following the trail up the peak’s hillside. The trail gradually gets steeper and soon you’re spending less time hiking and more time climbing up, around and over boulders.

The scrambling at this point is still relatively easy, and shouldn’t be too difficult to traverse for most hikers.

Quick tip: Wear long pants if you don’t want to get your legs all scratched up, especially if you will be attempting to summit the peak. If the trees and brush don’t get you, the ascent to the summit certainly will.

Summiting Lawson Peak

As you reach the top of the mountain, follow the trail over and around towards the northwest side of the granite peak. Keep working your way south towards the westernmost face of the peak until you reach the crack seen in the photo below.

Hike Lawson Peak - summit access
Accessing the summit here is actually a lot hairier than it looks

There are supposedly several ways to reach the summit, but according to most reports I’ve read and people I’ve spoken with, climbing to the cave at the top of this crack is the safest route.

Get your bouldering game face on and grab hold of anything you can as you make your way up the each of the three stone steps leading to the cave above.

Towards the back of the cave there is an opening in the roof. Climb up to the next level and you will be standing at the base of your last scramble to the summit. Just pick a direction and start climbing.

Congratulations! You’ve just summited Lawson Peak.

The Reward

Take a break, relax and recuperate while you enjoy the rewarding views of the countryside around you.

Hike Lawson Peak - summit view
Looking southeast from Lawson Peak’s summit. The detour summit can be seen close by.

On a clear day, Gaskill Peak is clearly visible to the immediate north and Palomar Mountain is in the distance. El Cajon Mountain is visible to the northwest and in the distance are Iron Mountain and Mt. Woodson. On the coast I could make out Point Loma and Mount Soledad to the west. To the east is Corte Madera and Los Pinos Mountains. And to the South, Tecate Peak and Otay Mountain stand tall against the Mexican border.

Lawson Peak Hike Retrospective

I really enjoyed this hike, despite the fact that it took me twice to summit Lawson Peak.

I was unprepared for the difficult last ascent on my first visit. I didn’t know about the cave entrance to the summit and I’m no expert at bouldering. Despite giving it my all, I failed to find a safe way to make it to the top. Little did I know the solution was just a few steps further down the trail than I had ventured.

After returning from my first hike, I sat down to lick my wounds and do some more research. A week later I returned with a fire in my belly. I was going to succeed this time, come hell or high water.

When I arrived at the base of the peak one week later, I crossed paths with another hiker. He gave me a clear idea of the direction I needed to head and exactly how far to go to find access to the summit.

His personal recommendation was to scale a slope that’s about 15 feet back up the trail from the cave entrance. The cave was so intimidating, that I decided to give the slope a try first. There were good enough holds on the slope that if I were more experienced in bouldering I probably could have made it up. As it was, I couldn’t find enough grip and my shoes just wouldn’t stay stuck long enough for me to get up the side of that rock.

I wasn’t about to turn away empty-handed from Lawson Peak a second time, so I went back to the cave entrance and started working my way up the stairs. With a little luck and a lot of determination, I finally found myself standing on top of the summit.

I always enjoy a good challenge, and the view from the summit was more than worth the effort to get there.

Hike Lawson Peak and take a selfie
When you’re slightly terrified of climbing back down, take a selfie and buy yourself some time

Where the hike left me wanting was the trail leading up from the road. It’s steep and you’ll get a good workout climbing it, but it’s really kind of a boring hike. Aside from the valley and the views of the surrounding mountains to the east, there’s not much to look at until you reach the top of the hill.

All in all, it was a fun hike and one that I definitely recommend you take. Just be ready to get a few bumps and scratches along the way, especially if you want to bag yourself a peak.

Conclusion

The hike to Lawson Peak is the type of hike you do for the challenge, not because you’re looking to get out in nature. Unless you happen to be a practiced rock climber, the scramble to the summit will test your nerve. It’s a little dicey in places, but certainly an achievable goal for the determined peak bagger.

The trail to the top of the hill and beyond to Gaskill Peak is dog and kid friendly. Most of it is accessible to mountain bikes, though with the rough terrain, the climb up probably wouldn’t be that fun.

I haven’t done much mountain biking though, so don’t take my word for it. If you get out there and find differently, I’d love to hear about it.

Trail running is also a little rough. I did some myself, but found that I often had to stop to traverse the terrain slowly for fear of rolling an ankle or slipping on a sand covered ridge.

This is no ordinary hike. If you’


re looking for a little adventure, head out to Lawson Peak and be sure to wear a good pair of hiking shoes or trail runners. You’ll need the extra traction you get for the ascent up the peak. And be sure to take at least two liters of water. There’s very little shade on the mountain, so you’re going to need it.

My Runkeeper Stats

  • Miles: 4.53
  • Time hiking: 1:32:45
  • Calories burned: 692

Tips

  • Parking is located at Mile Marker 13
  • There are no facilities or trail signage at this location
  • Bring at least 2 liters of water, there’s very little shade
  • Remember to bring sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Wear a good pair of hiking shoes or trail runners
  • Wear long pants to contend with trees, brush and rocks

Photos


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Robb Keele

Robb Keele

Robb is a native San Diegan and avid hiker, backpacker, picture taker and 52 Hike Challenger. He created Getgo Outdoors with the goal of giving back to the outdoor community and inspiring others to get outdoors.
Robb Keele

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