One of Most Intense and Beautiful Hiking Trails in San Diego
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” -John Muir
This morning my fiancé Patrick, my friend Sam Guillen, and I hiked to the summit of Iron Mountain in Poway. This hike is deemed “moderate” by most hikers in online reviews, but being the unfit person that I am, I had a bit of a different take on Iron Mountain. Check out this video showing the hike to the summit:
We planned to hike this mountain today in preparation for our big hike to Potato Chip Rock, a pretty tough trail I’ve heard a lot about since moving to San Diego. As the date of the Potato Chip Rock hike gets closer, I get more and more nervous, so hiking these “training hikes” is really helping. Iron Mountain is a hike that’s pretty close to the Mt. Woodson trail (where Potato Chip Rock is) and as we were getting our water backpacks on this morning, we heard other hikers comparing the two hikes, so we were happy to hear that. (If they were comparing them in any format, then Potato Chip couldn’t be THAT much harder, right?!) We set off on foot from the Iron Mountain Staging Area, and it wasn’t long before we were at the turn off for the Ramona Outlook, and the trail that leads to the summit. Here’s my takeaway of this hike:
It’s a LONG walk.
No matter what anyone tells you online about the steep climbing, the rocky trail, or the popularity, keep one thing in mind. You will be walking for a long time. I have only hiked Torrey Pines and South Fortuna before this, and those are both shorter hikes. This one seemed to last forever, especially on the way back, which if you love hiking, is a great thing! It is about 3.5 miles to the top, and then don’t forget, another 3.5 miles back down. I was out of breath after 5 minutes walking, and I have been working out quite a bit the past few months. Take your time.
It is quite popular.
I would suggest getting there early, and by early, I mean no later than 6am. We showed up and started the hike around 6:30, and the parking lot was already halfway full! By the time we finished, there were several cars lined up on both sides of the road outside of the parking lot!
You will not get lost.
This is one of the best hikes in all of San Diego for trying not to get lost while hiking. When we went to South Fortuna, Sam was our guide since he had hiked it before, and I was grateful to have him with us. There were several turn offs leading to other random trails, and I really needed his direction. Iron Mountain is not like that at all. There is a big parking lot, trail head (with an Iron Mountain arch) and the trails are very well groomed and marked. There is a Helipad landing area in case anything were to happen to need use of that. There are a few other trails you can take to other spots, but the trail to Iron Mountain summit is easy to follow!
Bring actual hiking boots.
I did not listen to my own advice on this one today, and I regret it. Make sure you have really sturdy shoes, as this hike gets pretty rocky. I saw people today wearing casual shoes, tennis shoes, and hiking boots, so it’s possible to wear whatever, but I am certain that those who were wearing hiking boots had a much better experience. I was lucky I didn’t twist my ankle. If you’re looking to add balance training to your Iron Mountain hike, tennis shoes would be a good option.
The views are incredible!!
Ok, now for the absolute best part of this hike, the views! On the way up, it’s really fun to see the mountain right in front of you, as it’s steep and intimidating yet exhilarating. In the middle of the hike, you can already start to get really great views of Ramona and Poway. Climbing over and through rocks is my favorite part, but looking out at the landscape once you do have good footing here is even more fun. As you get closer and closer to the summit it gets more exciting, as you’re never really sure how much farther you have left, but you can feel the top getting so close! You can see lakes, mountains, towns, and today, the fog layer, which we were above. It was magical.
Plan at least 2 1/2 hours to hike this trail.
All the reviews online said people were making it to the top in less than an hour. Those people must have been serious hikers, and/or runners. If you’re just looking for a good walking workout to get your heart rate up, and you’re not an avid hiker, this hike will take you over an hour to get to the top. It took us 1 hour and 40 minutes to climb all the way up, and another hour to get back down. We did not take many breaks at all, and my heart rate was definitely up the whole time.
Overall, Iron Mountain was my favorite hike in San Diego so far, and I will be back very soon to hike it again! Have you hiked it before? Did you wear hiking boots, and how was it? Let me know, I can’t wait to go back with real hiking boots!