Palomar Divide Truck Trail - Jake Grove Photo

Palomar Divide Truck Trail


        As much as I wish every weekend was spent camping, some adventures are best crammed into a single afternoon… my Jeep XJ build has recently stepped up with its 3.5” Rubicon Express lift and now 32”x11.5” Cooper M/T’s, and has had me eager to hit more trails. Without traveling as far to the desert, we made plans for the local mountains; this time scaling along the backside of Palomar Mountain from just outside of the La Jolla Indian reservation on the Palomar Divide Truck Trail. As bad as I like to challenge the xj, my buddy Nathan was coming along with his newly-purchased stock Ford Ranger, so we took these truck trails to test it stock.


The journey out to the trails is always where the trouble begins. It’s a far too well known saying to me that with jeeps “you finish one project, to break something else and start another”. In this case, after picking up my passengers for the day, the Jeep pushed itself through the scorching weather to scale the windy and steep grade from Pala to Palomar, and if the 17 year old vehicle with a worn down cooling system wasn’t struggling up enough, the added load of the 32” tires likely pushed it over the top. Three miles back from the S-6 entrance to Palomar, it gave and the temp gauge shot from a casual 215° straight to the endmark - 260° and the dreaded “Check Gauges” flashing light. This jeep has had occasional overheating issues since purchasing the “XJ V2”, and is so far the only major problem in the build- yet a proven dangerous one.


... So we pulled off to the soonest driveway and let the engine idle to a cool (in most cases I would kill it, but with this specific jeep I’ve found the moment the aux fans shut down with the engine, the engine heats worse and more likely to cause further damages). We waited for my buddy nathan to arrive to the palomar grade with the “Danger Ranger”, and after cooling back to 210° spec, topping off with water, and moving slowly along in third gear we pushed on through palomar to santa ysabel for the Palomar Divide Truck Trail entrance. I was watchful of the temp gauge, but after the last few miles of the steep grade to the S-6 we maintained pace, and the cooling air proved no difficulty.


Initially finding the first gate locked off, we moved up a half mile to find the S907 trail-head to be open and empty, except a single 4runner making its way out. We pushed up with no hustle, and found the trail to be a moderate 2wd capable trail. The jeep stayed in 2wd the complete duration of the Palomar Divide Truck Trail, and the bone-stock 2wd ranger kept on my tail through the most difficult areas of bumps and ridges; in all honesty with a little strategy and willingness to bottom out a few times any small car could make it through.


The trail was too easy for my taste; it made the lift and tires comfy, yet unnecessary  in my opinion. That said, the views of the Palomar Divide Truck Trail were like few-other. Just an hour out of San Diego, this landscape seemed as if it was much further from civilization; the backside of the trail looks out of a golden and green landscape through Santa Ysabel to the desert mountain ranges, and as approaching the top the palomar observatory is directly across the valley of mountain peaks. Definitely a prime photo backdrop for portraits, landscapes, and especially engagements!


We reached the top of the first few peaks just as the sunlight dwindled between them and turned the distant observatory into a vague silhouette. The trails split and continued on to what looked like the S6 side, but with a limited day and a lack of directions, we turned back and hauled butt down - hitting every turn with just enough speed to maintain control yet keep a fast pace - unsure if the gates would be closed at sundown and we’d need a detour around. 


Overall Rating:

Difficulty: 2/10                                            Length: 4/10                                        Scenery/View: 9/10


The Palomar Divide Truck Trail would serve as a great day drive, photo location, or camping spot with its amazing views and open terrain. The Trail wraps from the far end of Warner Springs and also has access points through Anza Aguanga, just inland of Temecula. Fire dangers are high so be mindful of open fires and vehicle hazards. For a weekend getaway, highly recommended. for a challenging offroad trail, move on down the road to Ocotillo... 

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