This moderately strenuous hike is located off of HWY 79 just south of Julian, CA. It is a 7.1 mile loop with an elevation gain of 1100′. It should take approx 3.5 hours to hike the entire loop. This trail can have snow in the winter and be very hot in the summer.
A must see feature of this hike is taking the side trail to The Airplane Monument. In Memory of Col. F. C. Marshall and 1st Lt. C. L. Webber who fell at this spot on December 7, 1922. Their 12 cylinder engine is permanently mounted in stone.
After parking in the designated parking area on the HWY, cross over the HWY to access the trailhead. You will hike up an old fire road for approx 1/2 mile until you get to a junction. Go right to start your counterclockwise loop. The first few miles of this hike are nice with a view of Stonewall Peak to your right.
To stay on the loop, keep taking a left at each trail junction. The trail is also clearly marked, so you should not have any issues. You will go from the fire road to a single track that can be overgrown at times. We had quite a bit of overgrowth, so pants were the right choice for the day. There was also some deadfall. One in which, some extreme yoga moves were needed to get through.
Once you get to the top of your climb at 5200′, the views are amazing! You cross several open meadows and ravines. We found mountain lion tracks as well! They looked to be a few days old, so we were all good.
You then start your descent along Airplane Ridge. This is where you will find the sidetrail to Airplane Monument. You can continue on the Airplane Monument Trail to connect back to the West Mesa Loop Trail. In the winter, you will cross a few babbling brooks as you make your way back to the original first junction. There are many other trails in the area with potential for some overnight backpacking trips. If doing an overnight trip, check with the State Park Rangers to get the proper permit and parking arrangements. No permit is needed if doing a day hike.
We did this hike in the afternoon and enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the way home.