Highlights of The California Hiking and Riding Trail

Over sev­en­ty years ago, the Cal­i­for­nia State Park Com­mis­sion had a grand vision: three thou­sand miles of trail that would loop north­ward from San Ysidro, in San Diego Coun­ty, Cal­i­for­nia all the way to the Ore­gon bor­der before return­ing south along the Coastal Range to its point of ori­gin. Woven togeth­er from his­toric routes over which the Pony Express once trav­eled, the Cal­i­for­nia Hik­ing and Rid­ing Trail would have been a true mar­vel, a thruhike thor­ough­fare trav­el­ing much of the same mag­nif­i­cent coun­try vis­it­ed by the ever-pop­u­lar Pacif­ic Crest Trail. While bureau­crazy and fund­ing issues means they’ve yet to be linked into that sin­gle con­tin­u­ous loop first pro­posed in 1945, over a thou­sand miles of the CHRT have been com­plet­ed. Take a look at a few of the more well-trav­eled sec­tions below.

Joshua Tree National ParkJoshua Tree Nation­al Park
Total­ing 35 miles (56.3 km) from Black Rock Canyon to the park’s north­ern entrance, this stren­u­ous trail offers stun­ning views of all the best Joshua Tree has to offer, and is best done as a two—or three-day ven­ture if you intend the whole route. You can do short­er sec­tions between the mul­ti­ple access points to the trail: the sec­tion from Geol­o­gy Tour Road to Pin­to Basin Road is a great day­hike at 4.4 miles, for exam­ple. Desert tem­per­a­tures soar fatal­ly in the sum­mer­time, so this one’s best done in the chill of win­ter, or spring if you’re hope­ful for wild­flow­ers like the fiery mari­posa lily or roy­al blue Can­ter­bury bells. Either way, cache your water ahead of time—you’ll need it!

Cuyamaca Rancho State ParkCuyamaca Rancho State ParkCuya­maca Ran­cho State Park
Half of this pleas­ant lit­tle 5.6 mile loop belongs to the Anza Bor­rego Desert, which bor­ders Cuya­maca Ran­cho to the north­east, so the hike itself takes you through a habi­tat in tran­si­tion from desert chap­ar­ral to oak wood­land for­est. Begin at the Pedro Fages Mon­u­ment off the Sun­rise High­way and fol­low the Cal­i­for­nia Hik­ing and Rid­ing Trail to the south­west. Keep sparkling Lake Cuya­maca to your right, and con­tin­ue until you reach the junc­tion with the Soap­stone Grade Fire Road. Turn south­east, and fol­low the trail as it loops back on itself and heads north; where it hares off sud­den­ly south again, instead con­tin­ue north on the Upper Green Val­ley Trail. Keep your eyes peeled for the unmarked La Cima Trail, and fol­low it as it returns you to your start­ing point.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park, CaliforniaAnza-Bor­rego Desert State Park
This five-mile down­hill scram­ble starts at Culp Val­ley Camp­ground and makes its steep way along­side the invit­ing­ly-named Hell­hole Canyon to the same trail­head that most day hik­ers use to vis­it Maid­en­hair Falls. Expect typ­i­cal desert veg­e­ta­tion, includ­ing scrub­by bush­es and the spec­tac­u­lar­ly alien ocotil­lo, and plen­ty of rock to tough­en your path, along with stun­ning views of the moun­tains in which the indige­nous peo­ple once sum­mered before return­ing to over­win­ter in the desert. Giv­en the loca­tion, more favor­able con­di­tions present them­selves in win­ter and spring, and if you’re plan­ning a side spur to the falls, aim to fol­low recent rainfall.