Distance: 8 miles out and back or about 10 miles as a loop. Elevation Gain and loss : 1500 feet. Time to complete: 3-5 hours round-trip. moderately strenuous
To Get There: Exit Interstate 8 at Buckman Springs Road and proceed 4.7 miles south to Oak Drive. Turn right (west), and continue 2 miles into the village of Lake Morena. Just beyond (west of) the village, you enter Lake Morena County Park. Park in the small lot for the Pacific Crest Trail, on the left, at the county park entrance. Trailhead
Morena Butte’s three-peaked summit plateau presides over a diverse landscape of V-shaped canyons, rock-strewn ridges, and grassy depressions known as potreros (pastures). All three peaks are attractive photographically, as they consist of great slabs and boulders of pink-tinted granitic rock weathered into sometimes-surreal forms. You start the hike in the trail head for the Pacific Crest Trail, the trail starts just to the right of the parking lot. The part of the trial that follows the Pacific Crest Trail is nicely maintained and quite easy to follow. You will meander along the path for about 1.8 miles before you start to descend into the valley, cross the ravine at around 2.7 miles and then hit the real trail at about 3 miles. Around 3 miles is where you will find what I like to affectionately call a “goat trail”, this trail leave the Pacific Crest Trail and heads up the northwest ridge of Morena Butte. This should be about a mile or so to the top, but keep your eyes open for cairns along the way, the trail gets really sparse and hard to follow at times, and these markers can really help keep you on the right path, once in a while you may need to climb a boulder and scout the way to make sure you are still on a trail, but the view from the top once you get up there is definitely worth it. Once you get to the top you have three “peaks” to chose from all giving different vantage points from Morena Butte. The first peak you come across is the South Peak, the one you just spent a 1/2 hour climbing, this is a good spot and sit and have a little lunch, this spot also gives you a good view of what way you want to take to get to the other 2 peaks. The East peak looks back down onto Lake Morena and gives you a great view of the valley below and the Pacific Crest Trail that you started on, but I will say that we had a difficult time getting to that peak, we couldn’t find much of a trail. There is a huge slab of granite on this peak that has some neat formations in it and some vernal pools that will show up during the rainy season. Once you are done with that view make your way over to the West Peak, this peak has a commanding view of the valley leading to Barrett Lake and southwest towards Tecate Peak. Towards the top of the peak if you go towards the left you will get a great big flat rock that has an awesome view of the valley below, and the base of the rock is a plaque that was put there a few years ago, I would love to know the story behind the plaque. Once you are done you can make your way back several different ways. You can always retrace your steps and head back the way you came, you can head back the way you came but at the bottom of Morena Butte when you are back on the Pacific Crest trail you can look for a trial on your left that will take you along the base of the hill towards the lake and you can make your way around the lake towards the beginning of the hike, and the third way is to head north from the west peak following the carin’s and blue ribbons tied to the bush’s making your way down the northern slope towards the dam, I warn you though that this slope can get steep, it doesn’t seem to get much use so you need to keep your eyes peeled for the markers to make sure you are on the right track, but I must say that the view of the dam is unique and adds to the hike quite a bit. Once you make it down the hill towards the dam you will hit the Hauser Overlook Trail, it looks like it used to be a road back in the day, probably when they built the dam. Follow this trail back amongst the oaks until you get to a fork in the trail, if you go right it will take you back to the Pacific Crest Trail, and if you continue on the road as it wraps around to the left you will make your way back along the lake to the trailhead. This was more interesting then I thought it would be. You pass by an old foundation with a chimney that is still standing and make you wonder what was originally there, up behind the old foundation is a dilapidated old barn that the lake seems to be using for some storage, but I don’t know how much protection it really gives what every they put in there. Keep following the road along the lake for about 2 miles to get back to the trail head. You will pass through the Morena Lake Park and Campgrounds, don’t forget to take a gander at the Hatfield Plaque that sits near the entrance of the park.
The Story behind Charlie Hatfield and Morena Dam.
The current controversy between the San Diego City and San Diego County over Lake Morena
Weather forecast for the Morena Butte Hike: