Spotlight: The Sunset Trail

Release Date: Oct 19, 2015

Spotlight: the Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail

Elevation Gain



4.6 miles one way (or 3.25 mile loop)

Pets Allowed




Hike Time

3 to 6 hours



Best Seasons

All Seasons


Mile Marker 19.1 off Sunrise Hwy

Ranger District

Descanso Ranger District - (619) 445-6235

Truly a Gem of the Laguna Mountain and the Cleveland National Forest, the Sunset trail takes hikers traversing on a winding trail past dense forests, vast meadows, grazing cattle, gorgeous viewpoints and during a wet year, a pond and several large lakes. On a clear day, this trail offers impressive panoramic views of mountain ranges, the Pacific Ocean and downtown San Diego. Listed as easy, this trail can range in distance from a 3.25 mile loop or a 9.2 mile loop (conntecting with the Big Laguna Trail). Located off of Sunrise Highway (SR-1) at mile marker 19.1, parking is located on the shoulder on either side. This trail is for hikers only (though connecting trails can be used for bikers and equestrian) and is great for families, kids, couples, or even solo! If you are planning a trip to hike the Sunset Trail, here are a couple of notable facts to get you started:


Special Features:Although this trail is great for year round recreation, the fall, winter, and spring seasons provide unique outdoor experiences. During the fall, cooler temperatures boast crisp, mountain fresh air and gorgeous autumn colors, while winter provides snow covered mountains that span great distances, and once the heavy rain has subsided and the snow has melted, spring arouses wildlife as the ponds and lakes are full of bird activities and flowering water plants.


Sunset Trail Fall Colors

Difficulty: At 6,000 feet elevation, Sunset trail is listed as easy with little incline, good signage for junctions, and well-groomed conditions. It is recommended that hikers wear sturdy hiking boots to prevent slipping on some of the narrow cliffs and wear light colored to deter ticks, which are prominent in the area.


Fees: Currently, no fees are being assessed if parking on the south end of the trail alongside Sunset Highway. It should be noted that there are no amenities usually accompanied with Adventure Pass permit areas, such as a parking lot, bathrooms, trash cans, or running water. The north end of the trail does provide amenities at the Laguna Campground area and a Forest Adventure Pass will be required


Camping: Laguna Campground is located at the north end of Sunset Trail and offers a variety of amenities for both tent and RV camping such as drinking water, grills, trash cans, showers, campfire rings, and a flush toilet, while hiking, biking, equestrian, and picnicking can be found nearby. Also nearby is the Burnt Rancheria site, a half mile from the visitor center. Access to the Sunset trail and many others are convenient to both sites, with connecting trails nearby. Campsites cost $22 per night depending on size, and reservations are highly encouraged. Remote camping is not permitted since the trail lies within the boundaries of the Laguna Recreation area. To book your camping trip, visit site and reserve your spot today.


Views from the Trail
Sunset Trail Views




Grazing Cattle

Grazing Cattle Sunset Trail


Points of Interest: During the spring or after heavy rains, this trail features several bodies of water including "Water of the Woods," a small spring fed pond surrounded by large oak and pine trees, a popular spot for hikers to take in the view. Staying on the trail past Water of the Woods will take you to the Big Laguna Lake, which is a larger depression in the land that usually holds water year round. Both lakes are currently dry due to the extreme drought, but a predicted heavy rain season should produce great spring conditions, encouraging the arrival of new plants, flowers and wildlife. The trail parallels the Laguna Meadow, where free-range cattle can be found grazing and scenic vistas that span from the mountains to the Pacific Ocean and downtown San Diego provide a “Big Country” feel.



Sunset Trail Lake


Big Laguna Lake runs alongside the Sunset Trail; During a wet year it is full of water and wildlife activity


Directions: Located off the I-8 on Sunrise Highway the drive from Downtown San Diego is about 1 to 1.5 hours. Both the north and south end of the trail can be reached from Sunrise Hwy (SR-1), with the mile marker 19.1 signaling the south end at the Meadows Information Station and the Penny Pines trailhead at mile market 27.3 at the north end.


>Sunset Trail Map


For a list of more trails to explore in your area, please see our Recreation Trail Guide. You can also visit the The Sunset Trail Recreation Page