Palomar Mountain

Palomar Mountain is one of the highest peaks in San Diego County, rising to 6,140 feet within sight of the Pacific Ocean. Its South Grade Road offers 4,700 feet of spectacular climbing over 13 miles. The upper section contains 21 switchbacks, making it a popular destination for both cyclists and motorcyclists.

According to the California Highway Patrol, there is an average of two motorcycle crashes on the South Grade Road any weekend the weather is nice. Of course, these are just the crashes that require medical assistance.

Did you know that the South Grade Road is listed as the 17th best climb in the U.S. in John Summerson’s The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike)?

Palomar Mountain Elevation Profile

The Queen Stage of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California has the pro peloton climbing Palomar at mile 43. What do you think it’s going to be like to be on the mountain? My personal record for climbing the South Grade is 1:26:21. I suppose the pros will easily beat an hour to the top.

Although I’ve never tried any, you can get a slice of pie at “Mother’s” near the summit. I hear they make good pie. After pie, you can head north to the Observatory for 3 miles of bonus climbing. Head back to Mothers then decide whether to take the South Grade back down or the longer, but less steep East Grade. Descending the South Grade is a blast, unless it’s cold. Then it’s just a nightmare of switchbacks, shivering, numb hands and muttered prayers.

Route Variations

  • Direct – Park near the taco shop at the junction of Hwy 76 and Valley Center Rd. This is the shortest route up the South Grade
  • With Lake Wohlford – Park in Valley Center and ride over Lake Wohlford before heading up South Grade Road.
  • Add the observatory – Add going to the Palomar Observatory on any trip. Just head north from Mother’s on Canfield Rd. You’ll descend for two miles and then climb for 3 miles.
  • The Trifecta – Park in Santa Ysabel. Go over Mesa Grande and climb the East Grade Road. Then descend the South Grade and climb it. Head to the observatory to make it three and then suffer your way home over Mesa Grande again.

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