McCain Valley lies within the Peninsular Mountain ranges of eastern San Diego County. The valley is characterized by chaparral hills dotted with granitic boulders. Large oak trees provide shady hideaways at two campgrounds off McCain Valley Road. East of the valley, in several steep canyons, oasis of native fan palms are found. These islands of vegetation provide habitat for many desert species, including a population of Peninsular bighorn sheep.
Established in 1963, the McCain Valley Resource Conservation Area is managed to provide for a variety of uses including wildlife conservation, livestock grazing, and recreation. Recreational activity in the area includes camping, hunting, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, photography, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) use. The area encompasses 38,692 acres of the In-Ko-Pah Mountains.
Two overlooks offer beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and desert. Sacatone Overlook offers spectacular views of Carrizo Gorge (the narrow southern section of Carrizo Canyon) and surrounding area. Carrizo Overlook is located a short distance east of McCain Valley Road, north of Lark Canyon. It offers views of the north end of Carrizo Canyon and the desert below.
Several trails can be found in McCain Valley. Remember to hike safe by bringing appropriate clothing, food, and a map. More information on safety can be found on the Desert Safety handout.
McCain Valley is a pleasant place to visit year round. Elevations range from 3,000 to 4,500 feet. This makes the area an excellent escape from the hot summer temperatures of lower elevations. Most precipitation is received from December-April. Winter temperatures range from below freezing to the 70s (F), with occasional snowfalls. Summer temperatures range from the 40s to 95 degrees (F).
Cottonwood and Lark Campgrounds offer vault toilets and picnic tables and costs $6.00 per night. A campfire permit may be required. Contact the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for regulations. Please remember: OHVs are not allowed in Cottonwood Campground, only street legal vehicles are allowed on McCain Valley Road, and target shooting and use of fireworks is prohibited.
- From Interstate 8, take the Boulevard exit.
- Proceed south to the stop sign at Old Highway 80.
- Turn east (left) on Old Highway 80.
- At approximately two miles, turn north (left) on McCain Valley Road.