If you are looking for a hike that will test your skills and thrill your senses, look no further than Bell Bluff Trail in Alpine, CA, east of San Diego. This hike takes you to the top of a rocky peak in Cleveland National Forest, but the adventure starts before you even get there. The trailhead is in a residential area just outside the forest boundary, and the hike involves off-trail navigation through brush and scrambling up rocks.
Hiking Bell Bluff Trail
From a quaint neighborhood trailhead, the hike to Bell Bluff begins on the California Riding and Hiking Trail and quickly descends to the Sweetwater River. After crossing the stream, the trail gradually ascends out of the valley and then turns east, where you will pick up Bell Bluff Trail. Along the way, you can take in the views of the surrounding hills and valleys. During the spring, you can enjoy the sights and smells of wildflowers in the springtime along the way.
Scramble to the Summit
Bell Bluff Trail has gained popularity among hikers who like a challenge, and there is now a faint path that goes up the west side of the peak. Look for cairns other hikers have placed to mark the way, and you will know you are on the right path. The climb through the bushes is steady but not too steep. The final scramble to the summit may require some handholds, so bring gloves to protect your hands.
NOTE: If you decide not to attempt the climb, but are enjoying the hike, skip the path to the summit and continue hiking on Bell Bluff Trail. You can follow the trail for another mile or so for a similar round-trip distance. This is also a popular mountain biking route.
Views from the Peak
A rewarding panoramic view of San Diego County awaits you once you reach the summit of Bell Bluff. You can see Cuyamaca Peak to the northeast, Lawson and Gaskill Peaks to the south, and El Cajon Mountain to the northwest. And on a clear day, you can even see Downtown San Diego to the west.
When to Go
What to Bring & Wear
- Adventure Pass is required in most areas around Cleveland National Forest
- At least two liters of water
- Hiking shoes or boots with plenty of traction