This post goes from the South Boundary of Burnt Rancheria Campground at mile 41.6 to where the the GATR road at Penny Pines where there is water at the Noble Canyon Trailhead at mile 48.9. I did it in two out-and-back hikes, stopping and then starting again at mile 44.7, where the PCT meets the Big Laguna Trail. If you take the turn-off for the Big Laguna Trail, it's 0.5 mi to a parking lot on Sunrise Highway. There's no water or anything else useful there, just a parking lot. The Big Laguna Trail parking is not listed in the PCT Guidebook I'm using but if you're a day-hiker looking to do a part of the trail or a thru-hiker who might need to get to the highway to hitch a ride somewhere, it's useful to know.
This post will go from south to north (a.k.a. NOBO) beginning just north of the southern boundary of Burnt Rancheria Campground. The trail here overlaps with the Desert View Trail, which has numerical markers along the way:
About mile 41.8
It's a pretty stretch of trail at sunset:
Well, it's a pretty stretch of trail all the time. The leaves in the photo above, by the way, are Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii. You saw a lot of live oaks at lower elevations, but up here on Mt. Laguna and at mid elevations throughout the state, you'll see black oaks. You might also see a granary tree, a tree where an Acorn Woodpecker has stored the acorns of the Black Oak:
You come to the water at Burnt Rancheria campground, which has a spur trail to the campground itself. But the water is right on the trail. It is at PCT Mile 42.3 and it is only available when the campground is open, May to October. Here is what it looks like:
If you take the spur trail to Burnt Rancheria, it lets out at campsite #76... which isn't useful info necessarily if you are a PCT thru-hiker, but if you are looking to do a day hike or section hike on the PCT starting at Burnt Rancheria, it's good to know.
Keep going along, and you hit the spot where the Desert View trail leaves the PCT. It's well-marked with signs.
You can see the huge drop down into the desert:
At mile 43, you come to the Mt. Laguna resupply at a paved road to Stephenson Peak, near Desert View Picnic Area. It is marked with signs:
You're at an unnamed, unmarked paved road, which is just off of Sunrise Highway:
If you are looking for this spot from Sunrise Highway, it's near address 703.
You can see this thing that looks like Epcot Center:
Once you get back on the trail, keep going to another paved road at mile 43.6. This is also unnamed and unmarked. From Sunrise Highway, it is blocked off to cars:
It has this thing (not quite a sign) to the north:
And to the south:
And it is nearest to this address:
Walk past the gate and there is a nice sign telling you the PCT is here:
The trail is marked at either side of the road:
Just over a mile up the trail, you hit the junction with the Big Laguna Trail at PCT mile 44.7:
If you need to get back to Sunrise Highway, take the turn-off for the Big Laguna Trail (leaving the PCT), and you'll reach a parking lot at Sunrise Highway half a mile away.
I passed a Coulter Pine with its huge cones:
I took this photo of a Coulter Pine cone next to my hiking boot, so you can see the size of it:
Yeah. Seriously. The size of pineapples.
Here's the trailhead for the Big Laguna Trail:
And some nice maps:
Big Laguna Trail is near Mile 25 of Sunrise Highway, and you can see where it hits the PCT just northeast of the highway. The "You Are Here" arrow is pointing to the Big Laguna Trail trailhead.
Here is another map, for the rest of this section of the trail covered here:
The "You Are Here" arrow points to the Penny Pines parking area.
As you can see, the PCT remains east of the highway, toward the desert. It goes away from Sunrise Highway for a ways, and then comes back toward it and goes alongside it for a bit, until it reaches Penny Pines.
This was not my favorite section of trail. As you continue on past the Big Laguna Trail turnoff, you walk through a lovely area shaded by oaks and pines and protected from wind. You don't see it until you are past it, but you are walking around this peak to your east, and it is doing a great service shielding you from the wind. I think it's Monument Peak.
Lovely, shady woods.
A view of Monument Peak once you've hiked past it heading NOBO.
After you reach the other side of the peak, there are a few turnoffs toward the desert but you keep going straight. Now, and until you reach Penny Pines, there is nothing shielding you from the wind. And boy is it windy. The vegetation is all short, and you can see that it burned in the past and it once was a bit taller. It seems like a catch-22: there's no shielding from the wind because the vegetation is short, and the vegetation remains short because of the dang wind.
The wildflowers change too. There's no more Diamond Clarkia, no more Chinese Houses, and no more Grand Collomia here. I saw gorgeous early June flower displays, and it made me sad that few thru-hikers would get to see some of my favorites, like Scarlet Larkspur. Then - right after I thought that, a thru-hiker came past me. He started on June 11. Well... it's not how I'd go about thru-hiking the PCT but at least he got to see the scarlet larkspurs that way.
By the way, this is not cool:
Leave our beautiful manzanitas alone if you are lucky enough to hike among them, please.
I see Giant Four O'Clocks, a flower that grows above 3000 feet in desert transition ecosystems here:
And short-lobe phacelia:
You'll notice you're in an area that burned relatively recently:
You pass a turn-off to Foster Point:
A cute little California Kingsnake crossed the trail:
And there's a nice view of the desert:
On the trail, there's Yerba Santa growing:
And this little flower:
You are still in an area that has obviously burned:
As you continue to hike back toward the road, you see this observation point from a distance:
You can't walk straight there, without going steep down and back up. If you look at the highway just south of there, you can see where you're headed. The trail kind of switchbacks around this area where the elevation drops off steeply, before bringing you to the road:
From there you go past the observation point, which I don't think is marked on any maps I've seen:
The trail has a cement bench there, and there's also a trail from the PCT to the observation point (and the highway).
From here on out, the trail basically hugs the road. Due to the steep drop-off however, the trail goes below the highway and you can't even see the road from the trail. But it's just above you. And... now you start to pass several of my favorite flowers.
Scarlet Larkspur, which typically bloom in early June:
And a purple variety of Larkspur:
Turn around and you'll see the burned area you just switchbacked through:
When you are about to Penny Pines, here's your view of the desert:
If you look south to the area of the mountains you just came from, you see this:
The gorgeous fuchsia blooms of the wild peas are now giving way to peas themselves:
And more scarlet larkspur:
(If you can't tell, I really like this flower.)
During this last bit of this section, you'll see blooming ceanothus during much of the spring, but they are done blooming by now. Now there are lots of California thistles, Yerba Santa, and morning glories, which grow on vines have white flowers and leaves shaped like arrowheads.
When you reach the Penny Pines turnoff, the guidebook says there is a "GATR road." Well, whatever that is, it just looks like trail. Not even a very long trail. You're practically at the road already. And it is delightfully well-marked. You'll want to follow this sign, to your left:
Were you to skip the water and continue forward, you'd follow this sign toward Garnet Peak:
Assuming you want water, hang that left and go to the road. There are actually two trailheads at the Penny Pines parking area that get you to the PCT.
Which is near this thing:
And this one:
The trail sign marked "Water" send you to the latter. You can still see the radio tower and the Epcot looking thing from the road.
Not that you'll have any serious land nav situations here, but those are nice landmarks to have if you did. Or, if you're a newbie to land nav, those are good to use for compass and map practice.
In any case, look across the street for the water. There's a large board with signs and a map, and the faucet is nearby, very low to the ground. I've seen thru-hikers camped here. It's a nice place to camp, and certainly a handy spot to be after a stretch without much water when the campgrounds aren't open and before the next bit, which has a water cache at Pioneer Mall (mile 52.7) followed by 24.9 miles without water. When I was there in March the ground was covered in Baby Blue Eyes and California Buttercups. Now this were Common Goldenstars all over:
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