Nature
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San Diego

Cuyamaca Rancho SP

Cuyamaca Rancho State Park makes a great daytrip from San Diego. It has miles of hiking trails among some woodsy forests, which is a nice change of scenery from most of San Diego’s desert-y brown hiking terrain.

I’m not a big hiker, did you guess? So I need my hikes to have some gorgeous vistas, flowing streams or waterfalls, maybe some unexpected wildlife to keep things interesting.

This was tough in San Diego! I went on quite a few hikes over drab brown hills, to get views of more drab brown hills. The coast is spectacular, for sure, but inland, the terrain left my camera wanting, until I discovered Cuyamaca Rancho SP.

The Nitty Gritty

Best time of dayDawn until dusk. Day use visitors pay $10 per vehicle.
More information here.
Best versatile gearI'd take my favorite walkaround lens to shoot both vistas and details.
Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II
Specialty gear
A wide angle could provide some interesting angles.
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 EX DC HSM Super Wide Angle Lens for Nikon
Useful AppsHyperFocal Pro - Android App
Field Tools on the App Store

Park Fun

The park is about a 2 hr drive from most locations in San Diego. It’s long and windy but the second-half of the drive is quite pretty.

I’m lazy and did I mention not much of a hiker? So when I visited, we got there in the mid-afternoon and the sun set a few hours later.

Next time, I’d pack a lunch and leave early! It’s a huge park with lots to see.

There’s oak forests, campgrounds, Lake Cuyamaca, mountain peaks, and some seasonal waterfalls even.

Fair warning, due to southern California’s fires and droughts, these features change every time you go, and I didn’t get to see any waterfalls myself.

Woodsy Scenes

The oak forests and meadows of grasses and flowers make some great landscape scenes.

It’s a great place to practice shooting using the hyperfocal distance.

Do you shoot using hyperfocal distance? It’s the closest focusing distance that allows objects at infinity to be sharp and in focus.

It’s really valuable for shooting landscapes as it allows you to have interesting foregrounds but still capture the depth of a beautiful landscapes in full focus.

I still need to work on this technique. You can see below, the grass in the foreground is in focus, but the trees and hill in the background are hazy and out of focus.

You can learn more about hyperfocal distance from photographer Spencer Cox here and see some beautiful examples of getting it right.

Photography Cuyamaca Rancho

Exposure
1/125s ƒ/11 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 6:12 pm

Cuyamaca Rancho Photo Location

Exposure
1/200s ƒ/8 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 6:42 pm

California Wildlife

The park also has some pretty birds and cute squirrels. As you explore, see if you can get some shots of them.

Zooming in and shooting wide open will bring them into better focus here, like this little acorn woodpecker.

Bird at Cuyamaca

Exposure
1/200s ƒ/6.3 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
200mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 6:04 pm

Wildlife Squirrel Photo

Exposure
1/20s ƒ/6.3 @ ISO 200
Focal Length
200mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 6:28 pm

Hiking for Vistas

You can hike up to Cuyamaca or Stonewall Peak for some views. As we were late, we took a little hike but didn’t quite make it to the peak.

If you do, be sure to take a flashlight as it can get very dark on the way down.

There are still some great shots available, although you will probably see signs of the big forest fires that San Diego has experienced over the last few years.

Cuyamaca Hiking Trail

Exposure
1/50s ƒ/4 @ ISO 400
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 7:29 pm

Hiking Trail Photo

Exposure
1/125s ƒ/8 @ ISO 400
Focal Length
42mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 7:15 pm

Vista Rancho Cuyamaca

Exposure
1/60s ƒ/5 @ ISO 400
Focal Length
18mm
Camera
Canon EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTi
Date & Time
August 15, 2009, 7:23 pm

Even if you don’t make it to the peak, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park can be a beautiful place to shoot, and practice some techniques.

The oak forests are a pleasant change of pace from San Diego’s usual scenery, and the vistas from the peaks are supposed to be quite beautiful.

Have you been to Cuyamaca Rancho SP? Share some photos!

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Shimona Carvalho
Photographer, Engineer, Traveler who wants to help you take incredible photographs on your next trip.
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