OverviewSheephead Mountain is a rather prominent peak in the southern end of the Laguna Mountains of eastern San Diego County. Although its flanks are dominated by chapperal, manzanita and similar brush, the surrounding lands have mature stands of pine trees and nice grassy meadows.
Sheephead Mountain gets its name from the unusual boulder formation on its summit which, in my mind, resemble an entire sheep's body not just its head. Though it falls short of the San Diego 6000-footer list, it does make the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section List and its summit views are fantastic. With views far into Mexico and the eastern desert, and on the clearer days, you can also see Toro Peak and San Jacinto Peak to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Getting ThereThe main trail head for the peak is located off Highway S1 (Sunrise Highway).
From San Diego take I-8 East toward El Centro. Take the Sunrise Highway exit and head North for about 7 miles and turn right onto Kitchen Creek Road (paved), milepost 20.7. Continue another 1.5 miles to a gated dirt road on the right. Park in the wide area to the left.
From Points North go east on SR 78 through Escondido to the junction with SR 79 just past the town of Julian. Turn right (south) on SR 79. Go 6 miles and turn left onto Sunrise Highway (S1). Drive 17.1 miles to Kitchen Creek Road (paved) and turn left, milepost 20.7. Continue another 1.5 miles to a gated dirt road on the right. Park in the wide area to the left.
Standard Route DescriptionFrom the parking area pass over/under/through the gate and hike along a badly eroded, and sometimes overgrown, dirt road through a mature pine forest keeping left at a fork to where you find a private property sign just short of a junction with Kitchen Creek Road. Leave the road on the left side and hike cross-country a short distance until you meet Kitchen Creek Road where it exits the private property. You are skirting around the left side of the private property and you never really lose sight of the road.
Turn left on Kitchen Creek Road and follow it a short distance to a gate which is padlocked and posted Private Property - No Trespassing. Pass over/under/around this barbed-wire gate (contrary to the sign) and follow the road approximately 1/4 mile until you reach a prominent wash on the right which comes down the eastern side of Sheephead.
The road appears to cross the boundary between USFS and private property several times although it is mostly on public land. All of the ascent trail is on public land.
Turn into this wash and follow a ducked use trail up the wash. Soon a clipped use trail leaves the wash and winds its way up the slope to the summit. The clipped use trail is easy to follow so use it to avoid a gnarly bushwhack.
The route is rated class 1 with the summit boulder formation going at class 2. Total distance - 3.5 miles RT; ~1000 feet total elevation gain. If Kitchen Creek Road is closed due to snow or other reasons, this will add roughly 3 miles round-trip.
I suppose one could use another approach from the south or west, but one would likely encounter more private property and trying to blaze your own trail through the overgrown brush on Sheephead could be likened to flogging one's self.
Red TapeFor large sections of the Cleveland National Forest an USFS Adventure Pass is required to park and recreate. These passes run $5 per day or $30 per year. Details on this pass are located at the link above.
Several private properties exist in the area and the ranchers are very sensitive about hikers and hunters during the fall months likely due to the presence of cattle. It is best to plan trips to this peak at other times of the year, but if you don't just take precautions and don't be surprised if you are asked to leave.
CampingCamping is restricted to developed campgrounds in the Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. There are several developed campgrounds in the Laguna Mts including; Burnt Rancheria, Horse Heaven, Laguna, El Prado, and Yerba Santa.
When to ClimbSheephead can be climbed any time of year. Summer conditions are usually warm and sunny and winter storms frequently dust the Lagunas with snow resulting in closures of Kitchen Creek Road. Just ensure you pack the appropriate clothing, water and 10 essentials.
Current Weather in the Laguna Mountains
EtymologyName is derived from local tradition. This spot was once known locally as The Sheephead. San Diego historian John Fleming, recalls this name was used because of the similarity of the summit rocks to ram's homs when seen at a distance of about five miles from the South or Southwest.
The reference to sheep could have been given equally for the domestic herds that once grazed in the vicinity or for the Mountain Sheep that could then be found nearby.
The name could have been given by an early prospector, or perhaps a wandering wrangler from the old Crouch Ranch-1.5 miles north.
The name was first printed by the USFS to identify a rustic hunter's campground established along Kitchen Creek (1924).
This general area was once more densely forested and many high points were referenced for orientation-this changed after a disastrous blaze transformed this area to its present low shrubby condition (1970).
Called "Sheepshead Mtn" on original HPS Peak List.
Name first appears on USFS Cleveland National Forest (Descanso District) map (1926).
Peak was on the original 1946 HPS Peak List
-HPS Summit Signatures