Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 33.36300°N / 116.835°W
Additional Information County: San Diego
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Elevation: 6140 ft / 1871 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Palomar Mountain in northern San Diego County is notable for several reasons. It is one of the highest peaks in San Diego County at 6,140 feet. It has been described as "Sierra-like" and has dense pine and big cone Douglas fir forest as well as lush ferny meadows, which is a wonderful contrast with the surrounding arid landscape. From the top on a clear day you can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean and there are also gorgeous views of Mount San Jacinto. The High Point of Palomar Mountain was on the original 1946 HPS Peak List. But today its best known for the world famous Palomar Observatory, with its 200 inch reflecting telescope which was completed in 1947. The observatory dome is the size of the Pantheon in Rome and is definitely worth a visit when it's open!

You can do the easy drive and short stroll to the Observatory. Or you can take a nice 4 mile round-trip trail from Observatory Campground to the Observatory. This trail climbs 900 feet and exhibits nice wildflowers in the springtime and abundant wildlife year-round. One other option involves a different approach and a 1 mile trail with 200 feet elevation gain to the actual High Point of Palomar Mountain. Click here to see the directions from the HPS Peak list. Please note that you can't get to the high point from the Observatory (legally, anyway!)

Getting There

From Interstate 15, near Fallbrook, drive twenty-one miles east on Highway 76. Turn north on Road S6 (South Grade Road), continue 6.5 miles to the junction with Road S7, then continue three miles north along Road S6 to the Observatory Campground (located across from the Forest Service Sign on the right side of the road). The parking area for the trailhead and the amphitheatre is located toward the back of the campground "loop" and is signed.

Stay on Road S6 all the way to the top to reach the Observatory Parking Lot.

Link to a good road map from Cal-Tech

Red Tape

Parking at the Observatory Parking Lot is free. There is a picnic area next to the parking lot with wonderful old live oak trees and incense cedar trees and big granite boulders. The Observatory is just a short walk (1/4 mile) from the parking lot and is open daily from 9:00am to 4:00pm. (closed December 24th and 25th). Palomar Observatory Gift Shop is open on weekends and during the summer from July 1st to August 31st. Of interest to me and to maybe some of you are the planted Giant Sequoia Trees that are growing near the gift shop that are probably 80 years old and are already becoming quite large!

If you wish to hike the trail starting at the Observatory Campground you will need an Adventure Pass.

Please practice Leave No Trace ethics!

Safety Considerations: Many high-speed motorcyclists love the South Grade Road and can be a safety hazard to those driving at slower speeds.

Poison oak and rattlesnakes are often spotted along area trails.


Observatory Campground

This campsite has 42 sites, 13 of which can accommodate up to 27-foot RVs, without hook up or dump site. Single and double-family sites are available for $15 and $20 per night, respectively. Single-family sites hold up to eight people and allow two vehicles, while double-family sites hold up to 12 people and allow three vehicles. Campsites are available on a first come first serve basis.

For more info:
Palomar Ranger District
1634 Black Canyon Rd.
Ramona, CA 92065
(760) 788-0250

Palomar Mountain State Park, Doane Valley Campground and Cedar Grove Group Camp

This campsite has 31 units, each with a picnic table, fire ring and stand-up barbecue. Ten of the 31 sites are suitable for small trailers. This camp has flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers but no RV camper hookups and no sanitary dump. Drinking water spigots are located throughout the camp, but firewood gathering is prohibited, so bring your own or purchase some at Palomar Mountain General Store. $12 per night, eight people max, two vehicles per site (offsite parking nearby).

Group Camp 1 - 25 people 10 cars $96 Per night
2,3 - 15 people 5 cars $60
For reservations call (800) 444-7275
Online reservations:

External Links - more info on camping, lodging, trails, etc.

Early history of the Palomar Observatory from CalTech

Cleveland National Forest

Palomar Mountain Weather Forecast from the National Weather Service


The name Palomar originates from a timber cutting party that was impressed by an abundance of pigeons in the area while seeking lumber for Mission San Luis Rey. They named it "Palomár" which means "pigeon house" (from palóma, or dove).

Palomar is first mentioned in the diseño for the John Warner's Rancho Agua Caliente (1840). The Cauhilla Indians called it "Pompauvo", which they believed was the home of their mist maiden. The Luiseño Indians called it "Paouw" which is believed to simply mean "mountain". It was a summer rancheria for them with plentiful berries, seeds, acorns, deer, and bulbs.

Local pioneers in the late Nineteenth Century called it "Smith Mountain", after Joseph Smith (n.d.) who operated a sheep and cattle ranch here from 1859 (according to Phil Townsend Hanna), or 1868 (according to Lou Stein). Smith met a violent death and is believed to be buried somewhere near High Point.

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