Vien R. Guenther
Iron Mountain Loop Trail – Poway, San Diego, California
Updated: Jan 6
One of the two favorite hiking trails that we go to regularly in Poway is Iron Mountain, the second highest peak in Poway with an elevation of 2,684 feet (Mt. Woodson, another popular trail is the highest). Iron Mountain trail became so popular probably because of its easy access from the city. Also because of its wonderful 360 degree view at the summit. But not many hikers take a loop trail to the summit. It's longer but in a way more relaxing since you avoid the constant stream of hikers along the main trail.
Commuters driving along Highway 67 and Poway Road will appreciate the landscape around Iron Mountain. Indeed you will find it irresistible not to climb. This trail is so popular that, even though the trailhead has a fair amount of parking space, it is typical to see parked cars lined up along the road on weekends.
TO GET HERE
Coming from downtown San Diego, it's about a 38-minute drive via 163 North and I-15 North. Then take exit 17 to Scripps Poway Parkway following it all the way to the intersection of State Highway 67, then turn left. After about 1.8 miles you will reach the trailhead, at the intersection of Poway Road and State Highway 67.
Another trailhead is about 0.8 miles from Iron Mountain Trailhead, the Ellie Lane Trailhead, also located along State Highway 67 heading north.
- THE HIKE -
There are different variations and loops to do this hike. You can make it shorter, or longer, easy to strenuous, depending on your mood and hiking capabilities. The most popular route is the 5.9 miles out-and-back Iron Mountain trail. It’s the shortest route to the summit. However, the trail has a steady stream of hikers, at least on weekends. If you want to get away from the crowd, and a longer hike is not an issue, then you can take a loop via Wild Horse Trail. That’s what we do. It’s a bit strenuous on some sections but you only get to meet few hikers on the trail.
IRON MOUNTAIN LOOP TRAIL via Wild Horse Trail & Ellie Lane Trail – 9 miles
We always begin our hike at the Iron Mountain Trailhead, passing under this beautiful avenue of oak trees. Then, after about half a mile we veer off to the left and follow the Wild Horse Trail heading north. After about 0.3 miles on this trail you will find a pond, which most of the time is dry, Then just around the corner, the Wild Horse Trail connects to Ellie Lane Trail which passes below Ellie Lane Peak.
Hiking on this long route you will get rewarded with different views of the surrounding landscape. Don't hurry to reach the summit, the big rocks and chaparral along the trail is interesting if you care enough to notice them. This chaparral is adapted to hot and dry weather conditions, but is also vulnerable to wildfire.
Some sections of the trail are not well maintained, so wearing hiking boots and using hiking sticks is very useful, especially hiking downhill. We don't hike without hiking sticks and have used them even before they became popular. If you are in a hurry to reach the summit, then this trail is not for you. This is the kind of trail that you enjoy at leisure. It's best if the weather is cool and the sky is clear with some puffy clouds for good photo ops.
The trail starts to meander downhill below the Ellie Lane Peak, that means there is also an uphill trek before connecting to the main trail. But before that, you can take a very short detour to Ramona Overlook if you wish. Though you can see the same view from the main trail, it is a quiet place to have a snack, or rest, before tackling the rest of the hike. An energy boost is a must, at least for us, for an easier ascent all the way to the summit.
As you reach the junction that connects to the main trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, your solitary hike ends and you get to share the trail with the majority of hikers from here onwards. The view gets spectacular as you get higher.
From the junction, there is a series of switchbacks to reach the summit, but it's worth huffing and puffing to the top. At the summit, you will see a stunning 360-degree view of the surrounding landscapes. Looking towards southeast you will see San Vicente Reservoir, the largest reservoir in the City of San Diego, popular for fishing and water sports. To the east are the Cuyamaca Mountains where some great hikes can be found such as Cuyamaca Peak, the second highest mountain in San Diego County and Stonewall Peak.
On a clear day, looking towards the west, you will see all the way to the coast. (There are great coastal hikes there as well.) To have lunch at the summit with a view of your choice is not bad at all. That's why we keep coming back here. I just wish hikers would be mindful of taking their trash with them.
So, to complete the loop, you can follow the Iron Mountain Trail all the way down to the trailhead or, at a junction, less than a mile from the trailhead, veer off to the left and follow the Wild Horse Trail. It connects back to the main trail eventually, but it's a more interesting trail. It's cooler hiking on this trail as well since the surrounding vegetation provides shade part of the way.
The best time to hike here is in winter and Spring when the weather is cool. If you are retired, then you have a big advantage to hike here on weekdays. Bring plenty of water, snacks and lunch and make it an enjoyable day.
Iron Mountain Trail captured from GPS and downloaded to Google Earth