Backcountry hidden pleasures: our guide to unique lodging and adventures in San Diego’s beautiful backcountry
By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor
Photos by Miriam Raftery and Paul Kruze
June 24, 2018 (Julian) -- Nestled at the end of a series of winding roads shaded by pines and oak trees minutes from downtown Julian is William Heise County Park, a comfortable getaway just over an hour away from the bustle of downtown San Diego. This park is the jewel of the San Diego County Park system in our inland region.
Located near the junction of California state highways 78 and 79, William Heise County Park’s is named for a San Diego-area resident who sold his 134-acres of land to the County in 1967.
The Kumeyaay Indians first inhabited the area, which drew settlers far and wide after gold was found in 1870 at two mines located on the park’s property.
Nearly 150 years later, the park offers recreational areas with tent camping (42 sites), in addition to 20 partial hookup and 37 non-hookup sites for recreational vehicles (RVs), trailers, and tents. (View park brochure and map.)
What makes Heise even more beckoning as a getaway is that it has 14 wooden cabins for rent which feature propane heaters and indoor lighting. Each of the cabins has full amenities including an outdoor picnic table, a tent or RV pad and a parking space. (Important to note: you’ll need to leave Fido at home, as dogs are not allowed in the park.) Bundled firewood is available for purchase at the ranger station.
The indoor design of the rustic cabins vary. Some have two sets of bunk beds and a small table area, while other cabin spaces have a master bedroom which is separated from the bunk beds, plus a sitting area with a small table.
Should you be take advantage of the indoor sleeping arrangements, be sure to take along an air mattress, since no mattresses or bedding are included with the bunk beds. (Some say that an air mattress combined with a sleeping bag make for a very comfy way to sleep. Or opt to bring a blanket and sheets. If you just can’t live without your cell phone, electrical outlets are available.)
The park features a very clean communal bathroom with coin-operated showers. (You’ll need two quarters to make it work).
William Heise County Park is located 4200 feet above sea level, and is one of the very few San Diego county parks to be blanketed with snow at times during the winter months. When the warm spring sun awakens the dormant plants, the melted snow turns to spring wildflowers.
Some 19 miles of developed trails are available within Heise County Park for self-guided nature walks, equestrian, biking and hiking activities. Wildlife includes mountain lions, so don’t hike alone and keep children close by. More likely, you are apt to see deer, squirrels, wild turkeys, blue jays
Nearby, you can spend time on Lake Cuyamaca which has fishing and boating (about 20-30 minutes away) or take a hike up Stonewall Peak (four miles one way up, no dogs or bikes allowed) and use Heise County Park as your base camp. Volcan Mountain preserve also has hiking at occasional guided hikes through the Volcan Mountain Foundation.
Also nearby is the California Wolf Center located at 570 K Q Ranch Rd, Julian, CA 92036.
In historic downtown Julian, you can shop at quaint stores, enjoy the town’s famous apple pies, take a horsedrawn carriage ride, or venture down into the Eagle Peak gold mine just east of town. Julian also has many restaurants and seasonal festivals; see www.visitjulian.com.
The town of Wynola is just a couple of miles west on highway 78. You can pan for gold at Julian Mining Company, taste local wines, beers and cider at Julian Station, or dine at Jeremy’s On the Hill restaurant, founded by a chef trained at the famed Cordon Bleau culinary institute.
So how do you get to the outdoor splendor of William Heise Park? From the junction of Highway 79 and Pine Hills Road (one mile west of the town of Julian), head two miles south on Pine Hills Road to Frisius Road, then head east for two miles.
William Heise County Park
4945 Heise Park Road
Julian, CA 92036
Park telephone: (760) 765-0650
Reservations: (858) 565-3600, (877) 565-3600
Camping Hours: Camping, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week
Day use Hours: 9:30 a.m. to sunset, daily
East County Magazine gratefully acknowledges the County of San Diego for providing a Community Enhancement Grant to support our “Backcountry Hidden Pleasures” weekend getaways coverage.
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