Garnet Peak

5 Scenic & Dog-Friendly Hikes in Southern California

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5 scenic dog friendly hikes in southern california
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Andrew and I have been lucky enough to call Southern California our home the past few years. From the beautiful beaches to the snowy mountains and the sandy desert, California really does have it all. And with all those different climates come different outdoor activities, like four-wheeling in Glamis, snowboarding in Big Bear and surfing in San Diego.

Without a doubt, one of our favorite outdoor activities is hiking. With Amelia arriving in 2019, hiking seems to be our go-to family adventure since she’s not quite ready for a surfboard. We hope that with all the fresh air, she loves the outdoors as much as we do. Plus, with our Lillebaby carrier, it’s easy enough to throw Amelia on Andrew’s back, and away we go! There is also nothing cuter than seeing a baby falling asleep on her father’s back (or chest when she was younger). 

Volcan Mountain Julian California

Another very important member of the California Schloe household is our curly golden retriever, Samson. We just hate seeing his sad little face when we close the door knowing we are hiking without him. He loves the outdoors just as much as us (maybe more), so we tend to find hikes (and beaches!) that are dog-friendly! Most times, Sam is so exhausted we don’t hear a peep from him the entire ride home. 

In the past few years, we’ve done so many beautiful hikes in Southern California. However, with some debating between Andrew and I, I’ve ultimately narrowed down the 5 most scenic and dog-friendly hikes in Southern California. 

Whitewater Canyon View Loop Trail 

Whitewater Preserve is located off the I-10 just 25 minutes west of Palm Springs. Without a doubt, this is one of our favorite scenic and dog-friendly hikes in Southern California! The beauty of the desert really surprised us. 

Whitewater Preserve, named for the Whitewater River that runs through, is 2,851 acres and home to bighorn sheep, deer and bear. Within the Preserve are several trails hikers and runners can venture. The Preserve is also a beautiful place to picnic, birdwatch and camp. We completed the Whitewater Canyon View Loop Trail which is a moderate 3.7 mile loop.

Top of Whitewater Preserve

Due to coronavirus limitations, the parking lot was closed. So instead of beginning at the usual Preserve trailhead, we began at a trailhead that’s accessible off Whitewater Canyon Road before you reach the bridge. After completing the hike, Andrew and I both agreed that starting at the trailhead off the road was actually a better start!

From the road, you begin with a steep incline with zero shade (I promise it gets better…), and then you reach the summit. Andrew, Amelia, Samson and I enjoyed a packed lunch up here while enjoying the mountains, foothills and valley below. The hike levels out for a while, and then you begin your descent through some narrow switchbacks. Be careful if you bring kids! 

Once we reached the valley, we noticed quite a difference in temperature as we approached a really beautiful creek!  This creek, part of Whitewater River, was by far this biggest surprise to us. The stream was so relaxing and picturesque. Although the water was freezing, Samson liked playing in it. The next time we do this hike on a warmer day, we plan on letting Amelia splash around.

If you want to add an extra 3 miles to this hike, you can also hike to Red Dome which is an easy to moderate out and back trail.  We would’ve done this had there not been a sleepy Amelia on Andrew’s back!

Whitewater Preserve trails are accessible to hikers (and dogs!) only. Although not listed on their website, there are signs prohibiting biking and horses. There is a visitor center with restrooms and picnic areas, as well as really beautiful campgrounds.  However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both were not accessible. We also recommend you hike Whitewater Preserve in the cooler months as it can get extremely hot in the desert.

We did a whole post on the Whitewater Preserve, check it out here!

Cowles Mountain

Located in Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego County, Cowles Mountain is a popular, 3 mile out and back trail. This moderate trail is favored by hikers, runners and mountain bikers (although we’ve gone several times and never seen any bikers). At the top of Cowles Mountain, you’ll see panoramic views of the City of San Diego, San Diego beaches, North County, Orange County and Mexico. You’ll only see North and Orange County on a clear day! If leashed, Fido is welcome to join.

Cowles Mountain is accessible all year round, and there are restrooms before you head on up the mountain. If visiting in the summer, keep in mind this trail offers zero shade. You’ll also notice the many signs warning you of hiking with your dog in the California heat. We’ve seen both tiny dogs and large dogs on this trail, so if your dog loves to be outside and hike, they should be okay on Cowles Mountain.

Because of Cowles Mountains’ popularity, the trail itself is sometimes heavily trafficked and crowded. Despite this, we still love Cowles Mountain for its views and still recommend it!

Garnet Peak via Pacific Coast Trail (PCT)

Garnett Peak

Located in the Laguna Mountains, Garnet Peak is a moderate out and back hike you’ll want to do again and again for its scenic views at the 6,000 feet summit! Garnet Peak via PCT is actually my most favorite scenic and dog-friendly hike in Southern California.

There are actually two ways you could do this hike, one being a longer 4 mile trek (the one we recommend!) and the other being a shorter 2.3 mile trip. We 100% recommend the longer adventure for more beautiful views and more of a workout. 

For both treks, once you reach the last 0.20 mile of the hike, there will be a very steep and rocky incline to the summit. But once, you’ve reached the summit, woah! It’s a really incredible view of the Cleveland National Forest, Anza Borrego State Park, and more. The Garnet Peak trail is never really crowded, so you will likely have the peak to yourself.

Due to snow and rain on the mountain, the trail is best traveled from April-September. If you’re brave enough to go during the colder season, you’ll want to check with the Cleveland National Forest in case they’re issuing road and trail closures due to weather.  Keep in mind that, even if you go after the snow and rain, the trail may be very muddy.

Garnet Peak trail is not recommended for kids due to loose gravel and rocky conditions towards the summit. Leashed dogs are allowed.  

Garnet Peak has such stunning views, and the trail itself is really such a great workout if you make it all the way to the top!

Volcan Mountain

Volcan Mountain

The Volcan Mountain trail, part of the Volcan Mountain Wilderness Preserve, is a 5 mile out and back hike located in Julian. This moderate-difficult trail certainly took my breath away many times due to the very steep incline for most of the hike. Other than that, the trail is well-maintained and wide. Perfect for when you’re trying to avoid others during a pandemic!

When hiking to the summit, you’ll start along the main trail. On your ascent, you’ll see the Five Oaks Trail which is a single track loop that eventually meets back up with the main trail. This side trail has some really beautiful views as well. You can do this trail either on your ascent or descent. 

Once you’ve ascended beyond the forest (2,900 acres of mixed conifer trees!), you’ve reached the summit. The summit itself is quite large and spacious for you to relax and picnic. The rolling hills and valleys actually reminded us a lot of our time in San Luis Obispo

Volcan Mountain

Like Cowles Mountain and Garnet Peak, at the top, you’ll have panoramic views.  At Volcan Mountain on a clear day, you can see the desert to the east and downtown San Diego to your west. We packed a lunch and stayed at the top for quite a while. 

The main trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horses. The Five Oaks side trail is only open to hikers. There are also portapotties at the beginning of the trail.

This trail is also dog-friendly, and I can assure your pup will sleep for DAYS after this grueling hike. Bring A TON of water! Although there is a good amount of shade on this trail until you reach the summit, we did not bring enough water and ended up sacrificing ours for Samson.

Given its proximity to Julian (a popular town to escape the heat and experience fall in Southern California), this hike is popular on the weekends. However, given its wide trail, crowds shouldn’t be a problem. If you want to make a day out of it, start off with the Volcan Mountain hike, and then get a slice of Julian’s famous apple pie at Julian Pie Company

Glamis Sand Dunes

Dog at Glamis Sand Dunes

So, the Glamis Sand Dunes are a bit less like hiking and a lot more like wandering. We have gone several times, and Samson always has the most fun out of all of us.  He loves sprinting up and down the dunes with his tongue out.

Located in Imperial County, California the sand dunes are an absolutely beautiful and breathtaking place to explore, especially at sunset! While there are no specific trails or “sites” for you to visit, you can run (or roll!) up and down the mountains of sand.  North of the Glamis Sand Dunes you’ll also get a glimpse of the Chocolate Mountains.

Off-road vehicles are allowed almost everywhere in Glamis except north of State Route 76. People are allowed on both sides of 76; however, the safest place to wander is north of 76. Park at the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout and cross the highway. If you want to watch the four wheelers, you and your pup can stay near the Hugh T. Osborne Lookout. Just be careful to avoid a collision!

Glamis Sand Dunes Polaris Rzr

The rules state that dogs are allowed on-leash. However, we let Samson off every time (and so does everyone else with their dogs). To be extra safe, make sure you’re north of 76, so your dog doesn’t encounter a 4 wheeler. Also, bring lots of water for Fido!

There are so many other things to do in the Glamis Sand Dunes including photography, off-road vehicles, and sandboarding.  If you want to spend a few hours in Glamis, check out our own post here!

We have been so lucky to call Southern California home the past few years. With so many trails and hikes in Southern California it is easy to get out and explore! We hope you enjoy some of our favorites!

Kate Schloe

I’m a mom and speech pathologist. I love reading to my baby girl, watching Netflix and drinking vanilla chai tea lattes! Favorite destination: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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