Palomar Mountain is notably the highest point in all of San Diego at approximately 6,140 feet above the sea. It is filled with dense pine, big cone Douglas fir forest and ferny meadows which contribute to its Sierra- Nevada like atmosphere.
The town’s name is said to have originated from a timber cutting troop on a mission to gather lumber for Mission San Luis Rey. A large number of pigeons inhabited the town; thus, the group named the place Palomar meaning ‘pigeon house.’
Historically, Palomar was first cited in 1840 in the designs for John Warner's Rancho Agua Caliente. However, the two native Indian communities inhabiting the region referred to their town differently. The Cahuilla termed it ‘Pompauvo,’ believing it was home to their mist maiden while the Luiseno named it ‘Paouw’ meaning mountain. It was their summer paradise offering plenty of berries, seeds, deers, and bulbs all season. In the late 19th century, however, the pioneer residents referred to it as ‘Smith Mountain’ after a famous rancher John Smith in the 1840's.
Initially, the peak point of the region was the HPS Peak List of 1946. However, today it is best known for its dome-shaped Palomar Mountain Observatory, estimated to be the size of Pantheon, Rome, and its 200-inch telescope.
Having been awarded a grant for the construction of the instrument by Rockefeller Foundation’s International Education Board, the California Institute of Technology chose Palomar Mountain to be its home. The device has been instrumental in the cosmological research undertakings making the observatory an astronomical observatory.
Strategically located on the mountain, the Observatory is accessible through various routes. You can either drive to the Observatory or take a 4-mile round trip trail from the Observatory Campground. The path is 900 feet ascend characterized by beautiful wildflowers during Spring and a wide range of wildlife all year round. You can also decide to use the 1-mile trail that grants you a 200 feet climb towards the High Point of Palomar Mountain.
Whichever route you choose to use, atop Palomar Mountain offers a magnificent view of the Pacific Oceans and the gorgeous Mount San Jacinto on any bright day.
Here is our list of reasons:
Reason 1: Campground
Palomar Mountain offers a myriad of options for campsites at the Observatory Campgrounds and the Palomar Mountain State Park. Whether you intend to visit as individuals, single, and double families, there are different sites tailored for each group setup.
The Observatory Campground has 42 campsites to choose from as per visitors' composition. The single-family site accommodates eight persons while the double- family sites host a total of 12 persons alongside two and three vehicles, respectively. Due to the number of reservation requests for the ground, the sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Thirteen of the sites have an allowance for 27 RVs without hookups or dumpsites.
The Palomar Mountain State Park comprises of two separate sites- the Doane Campground and the Cedar Grove Group Camp. The two camps offer 31 units of camping sites, each furnished with a picnic table, fire ring, and stand-up barbecue. There also have flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers but lack RV hookups and dumpsites. For health and safety, it is prohibited to bring your firewood, but you can purchase the from Palomar Mountain Store.
Reason 2: Hiking
Palomar Mountain offers the best hiking trails for everyone, whatever the weather. The beautiful forests, the mountain meadow, the wildflowers and the spectacular trail views make the expedition a memorable experience. Some of the trails covered are Boucher Hill Trail, Adams Trail, Baptist Trail, Weir Trail, Upper French Valley Trail, Doan Valley Campground, Thunder Spring Trail, Chimney Flat Trail, and Silvercrest Trail.
The hike trails vary in their level of challenge from a steep climb to a wide pathway enabling you to exert yourself yet have a timely rest before you overdo it. Starting at the Silvercrest Picnic Area, you can head down the road to Boucher Hill, which offers a relaxed warm-up for the hike. The trail is also filled with historic spots, which is a nice twist to the overall experience.
Reason 3: Stargazing
Palomar Mountain is a popular spot for stargazing enthusiasts- experts and amateurs alike. With minimal light interference from city lights, the expansive dark skies atop the Cleveland National Forest present ‘just the right’ spot for stargazing.
According to U.S. Forest Service, on clear nights, dozen of people flock the Observatory Campground on Palomar Mountain for stargazing during the monthly ‘Explore the Stars’ event. These events are offered freely to the public one weekend a month from April through October, a rare opportunity to explore the galaxies and the billions of stars within them.
Palomar College offers a similar stargazing experience every Friday of the month- ‘The Sky Today.’ These experiences recreate childhood memories of amusement from exploring the prominent wonders of the universe.
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Reason 4: Whale Watching
Palomar Mountain is a one-stop-shop for fun and exciting activities all year round for you and your loved ones- whale watching is one of them. Whatever the season, whale watching is a splendid pleasure for the entire family. The two-and-a-half tour happens daily using boats of utmost safety and stability for an up-close experience.
The Davey’s Locker whale watching tour gives you a treat of the various picturesque sea creatures such as the dolphins and the whales. The ship is perfect for deck viewing when there are no crowds with daily whale and dolphin excursions leaving daily.
Reason 5: Eat Out
Palomar Mountain is home to several eating spots that cater to different tastes and preferences. Whether Italian, Mexican, of vegetarian, the restaurants in the area will have your mouth watering at the mention of food. With specialty dishes made from Mother’s Kitchen, The Café, The Buffet, and the rest, residents and tourists always have their needs met.
What do you think?
Let me know in the comments below – or, text/call me at (760) 297-4539
Your Palomar Mountain Insider,
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