Giacomo and Gelsomina’s mountain paradise

By: DogTrekker Staff
Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever stands on log in forest
Photo by Jamie Street.
Giacomo in the Mount Laguna Recreation Area
Giacomo enjoying the Agua Dulce Equestrian Trail. Photo by Jill M.

Jill M. wrote in to tell us about a place she and her dog Giacomo love to visit. Thank you Jill for this wonderful account of your travels through Mount Laguna Recreation Area:

Hi, our names are Giacomo and Gelsomina (Italian, just call us Jack and Jill). We love and regularly hike in the Mount Laguna Recreation Area located inside the Cleveland National Forest. Dogs are allowed off-leash!

Although Mount Laguna is about 50 miles from central San Diego, the spectacular scenery and climate are well worth the drive. This 6,000-foot altitude alpine area is an evergreen tree mountain paradise, nothing like the desert climate of San Diego. Expect significantly cooler temperatures. It actually receives snow in the winter.

There are miles and miles of easy and moderate trails from which to choose. You can purchase a map at the old-timey Mount Laguna General Store.

Dogs are allowed off-leash as long as they are not aggressive or destructive and recall on command. Bring water; no fresh water is available on the trails. At this altitude, you’d be surprised how quickly you and your dog get thirsty. If you plan on visiting after a significant snowfall and prefer solitude, plan on getting there early to avoid the once-a-year crowd.

Giacomo on the Water-of-the-Woods Trail. Photo by Jill M.

Portions of the trails are shared with mountain bikers, so leash as appropriate if your dog doesn’t do well with bikers. Portions of the trail are also open to horses. Rarely do I see them on the trail, but dogs tend to make the horses nervous. So even if your dog is good with horses, it is customary to at least hold your dog while horses pass so the horses are not spooked.

There’s a herd of cattle that grazes in the mountain meadow every once in a while. Because it is a wilderness area, the cattle are accustomed to defending themselves from predators. If there is any chance your dog may approach the cattle, your dog could be chased and injured. The cattle are massive and move surprisingly fast if they feel threatened. 

U.S. Forest Service statement: “Visitors to the Forest are required to display the Adventure Pass in their vehicles when using the forest for recreation purposes. These are available at all Forest Service District offices and a variety of vendors throughout southern California.” You can buy an Adventure Pass at the Mount Laguna General Store, REI, etc.; it’s a good way to support our leash-free National Forests.

There is strong cell phone reception along most of the trails. (Example: capable of uploading high resolution photos to Facebook from the trail.) This is nice if you hike the trails alone–you can make phone contact if necessary.

Please do not leave poop bags on the side of the trail, even if you intend to pick them up on your way out. It gives dogs and their owners a very bad reputation. No littering whatsoever; no orange peels, apple cores, etc.

Afterwards, we usually have lunch at the Alpine Beer Company Pub. They have covered outdoor seating and love dogs. (The old location was much smaller and did not allow dogs.) The food is delicious and they brew really good beer.

Originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I love to escape the dry, hot desert of San Diego for this magnificent mountain oasis of evergreens, solitude, and snow. I’m constantly homesick for the Northwoods.


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