Within 10 miles of Julian are numerous hiking trails that traverse rolling meadows, high chaparral, and oak and pine forests. Fire damage is visible -- oaks have recovered, but pine trees have not; hiking here makes for a fascinating look at how Mother Nature works, and the additional good news is that you can actually see more of the vistas than you could before. The most spectacular hike is at Volcan Mountain Preserve, an area not affected by the 2003 or 2007 fires. It's located north of town along Farmers Road; the trail to the top is a moderately challenging hike of about 5 miles round-trip, with a 1,400-foot elevation gain. From the top, hikers have a panoramic view of the desert, mountains, and sea. Free ranger-led hikes are offered monthly, spring through fall; for a schedule, call tel. 760/765-4098, or check www.volcanmt.org.
The 26,000-acre Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, along Hwy. 79 between Julian and I-8, was badly burned during the October 2003 forest fires. It is regenerating nicely, but if you're looking for a conifer forest here you may be disappointed. There are creeks and wildflower-enhanced meadows, and more than 100 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. For a map and further information about park status, stop in at the park headquarters (tel. 760/765-3020; www.parks.ca.gov) or check in with the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park Interpretive Association (tel. 619/756-5354; www.cuyamaca.us). Outside of Pine Hills is 900-acre William Heise County Park (tel. 760/765-0650; www.co.san-diego.ca.us/parks), which has an easy .5-mile loop trail.
Eight miles south of Julian (and not part of the state park), Lake Cuyamaca has a tiny community at the 4,600-foot elevation that centers on lake activities -- primarily boating and fishing for trout (stocked year-round), plus bass, catfish, bluegill, and sturgeon. There's a general store and restaurant at the lake's edge. The fishing fee is $6 per day, $3.50 per day for kids 8 to 15, free for children 7 and under; rods and reels are also available ($10). A California state fishing license is required for those over 16 ($14 for the day); as of this writing, Lake Cuyamaca has received the state's new automated licensing equipment but it's not operational yet. Call ahead to make sure the system is up and running, otherwise purchase a license online (www.dfg.ca.gov). Rowboats are $15 per day, motorboat rentals run $45 for the day ($35 after 1pm), and pontoon boats are $150. In the summer, canoes and paddle-boats can be rented by the hour for $15. For boat rental, fishing information, and RV or tent sites, call tel. 877/581-9904 or 760/765-0515, or visit www.lakecuyamaca.org.
For a different way to tour, try Llama Treks (tel. 800/694-5487; www.wikiupbnb.com). You'll lead the llama, which carries packs, for a variety of hikes that include a visit to a winery or a historic gold mine. Rates for a 4- to 5-hour trip run $95 per person ($75 for children 10 and under) and include a picnic lunch.