HIKE TO: Lawson Peak TRAILHEAD: Lawson Peak Trailhead ROUTE: Carveacre Road MILES: 4.3 miles out and back TIME: 2 hrs DATE I WENT: 12/18/22 DIFFICULTY: moderate ELEVATION: 3,606 ft ELEVATION GAIN: 1,443 ft HIKE PERMIT: no PARKING PERMIT: yes, adventure pass LOCATION: San Diego, Southern California
Lawson Peak is a short and moderate-level hike in the San Diego region of Cleveland National Forest. It’s one of those ‘the journey is better than the destination’ hikes for me since you get to play around on the rocks. We made the hike more adventurous by playing around on the boulders, but it’s not hard hiking and is family-friendly if you stick with the trail. The trailhead is off Lyons Valley Road and there is a pullout for parking that fits about four cars with more roadside parking across the road.
The Lawson Peak trail starts off on the wide, unpaved dirt Carveacre Road with a gradual elevation gain of roughly 1,145 ft in about 2 miles. The trail is fully exposed and offers little-to-no shade, depending on what time of day you go. There are a lot of large boulders on the trail you will have to maneuver around but it’s overall easy hiking for this section of the hike.
If you’re a beginner hiker, the final 0.22 miles might be an exciting challenge for you; but if you’re an experienced hiker, the last section keeps it interesting and fun.
When you reach the unmarked junction for Lawson Peak and Gaskill Peak, make sure you continue straight to reach the summit of Lawson Peak. This is where the fun begins. The last quarter mile of the hike goes up 300 ft and is not a standard hiking trail – it is a little uphill scramble through some overgrown trees and many large boulders. The trail can be a little hard to spot at times but it’s always somewhat clear when you are on it. The trail does require walking through some overgrown bushes so be mindful of loose clothing so you do not snag anything, and of the loose dirt on rocks. Regular hiking shoes with good grip will suffice but if you want to climb through our chimney variation at the end, you may want grippier approach shoes (keep reading for details).
There are some cool rocks to play on along the trail, like this little slot canyon-like feature between two large boulders below – makes for a fun photo op. You will have to keep an eye out for these areas as it is not too obvious as you’re hiking, but look for the Pacman-like rock below and explore that area. We also saw some bolts here and there seem to be quite a few rock climbing routes out along this trail.
Summit Scramble Variation
Once you’re almost to the top and the trail wraps around to the left with a direct view of Lawson Peak, there are large boulders you hike through and then a narrow dirt trail on the right side of the large boulders. The hiking trail is slightly tucked under/along more overgrown trees. Instead of hiking the trail the final few feet to the summit, climb up between the ginormous boulders with about a 3 ft gap in between, and you can take the fun way through the boulders to end up at the base of the summit like we did! It’s a tight narrow squeeze through a chimney-like feature that you may have to shimmy and climb through, but if you’re a climber, this was fun!
Lawson Peak Summit Views
From the top of Lawson Peak, you get 360 views of Cleveland National Forest, the valleys below, Barrett Lake, and even the ocean on a clear day. Take it all in before you head back down.