Pictograph Trailhead to Smuggler Canyon, San Diego County, CA, USA trail only
After parking at the Pictograph Trail trailhead, begin your hike by heading east up the well-marked Pictograph Trail. Be sure to take a moment to read the informational kiosk so you understand the importance and the sensitivity of this location. At just under a mile of mostly sandy wash, you will come to a massive, rectangular-shaped boulder on your right. Here you will find a collection of fading pictographs on its vertical surface. This particular site has been designated as CA-SDI-31 in the California Historic Resources system, which means it is one of the earliest archaeological locations recorded in San Diego County.
The rock art found here is in the form of diamond chains, zigzags, rays, and dots. The materials used to create the red-colored pigments, such as red iron oxides, were gathered locally, and combined with oils from plants or fat from animals. These particular pictographs are considered to be of the San Luis Rey style of rock art. This site is the southernmost example of this style found in Southern California. While the actual meaning of these pictures is lost to us now, it is thought by some experts that they may have been used as part of female initiation ceremonies. The age of this rock art is also unknown but is estimated to be anywhere from 200 to 1000 years old.
If time or difficulty is a concern, this is a good point to turn around. If you are in the mood for a bit more of a challenge, then continue east on the same trail as it bends off to the right (south), walking through a wash towards the nearby gorge. The trail continues on into the boulders of the gorge known as Smugglers Canyon. On your way, take a few moments to wander off to the right side, through a large boulder pile, to find an ancient Indian village mortero site.
As you arrive at the gorge, you will encounter a bit of mild bouldering. Be careful, as this trail comes to an abrupt end at the precipice of the 70-foot Smugglers Canyon drop off dry waterfall.
The view to the south is spectacular, giving an overview of the Vallecitos Valley and Stagecoach County Park on S-2. To continue the hike, return back up the wash, but now on the east side, along the edge of the mountains.
Difficulty: Easy, then becoming intermediate at Smugglers Canyon. Elevation gain/loss 400 feet. Be careful of sensitive areas, stay in the sandy parts of the wash to avoid disturbing plant life. Avoid the steep canyon areas with no trails, abrupt drop offs, loose boulders, etc.
Other: Like most desert hikes, this one is best done in late fall, winter, and early spring due to the summer heat.