Observatory Trail

Area Status: Open
This area is Open

Trail Views

Elevation Gain

900 ft


4.4 miles round trip

Pets Allowed



Adventure pass required. Trailhead fee is not required for campers staying at the Observatory Campground

Hike Time

2.5 hours



Best Seasons

Fall, Spring, Summer


South Grade Road, Cleveland National Forest, Palomar Mountain, CA 92060

Ranger District

Palomar Ranger District - (760) 788-0250

This rare San Diego gem may be under the radar, even to those living and recreating in the nearby areas. With an abundance of large pine, fir and cedar trees, this trail feels more like a trek through the Sierra Nevada’s than almost any other in Southern California. Offering sweeping views of the Mendenhall Valley, large meadows, grazing cattle, gleaming ponds, and sprouting wildflowers, this robustly unique hike has something for almost any level of outdoor enthusiast. Listed as one of only four National Recreational trails in San Diego County, this shaded 4.4 mile hike is touted as the perfect summer option, providing good aerobic activity on a well maintained trail, with access to a world-famous observatory, an easy to find trailhead, and spectacular views. Great for families, beginners, or those looking to take in the scenic outdoors. 

For more information on hiking or camping on this trail, please read our Spotlight: The Observatory Trail. For a list of more trails to explore in your area, please see our Recreation Trail Guide

At a Glance

Fees Adventure Pass Required: To purchase a pass for this location visit a Cleveland National Forest office, find a local Adventure Pass vendor or purchase online at https://www.recreation.gov/.
Closest Towns: Santa Ysabel, CA
Operated By: Forest Service

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information



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Day Hiking

Areas & Activities


  Area/Length : 
4.4 miles

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