Gently sloping from about 2,000 feet elevation in the south to 4,000 feet in the north, Pine Creek and its numerous tributaries drain this Wilderness in a north-south direction. With the exception of the creek itself, home to rainbow trout and bass, most of the streams dry up part of the year. Chaparral and scrub oak entirely dominate the vegetation, with some riparian and oak woodlands emerging from the stream bottoms. You may see deer, coyotes, mountain lions, gray foxes, hawks, owls, and several species of reptiles. You might also encounter small herds of private livestock grazing because their owners were issued permits prior to designation. Several trails provide access, and receive only light human use. The Espinosa Trail leaves the Horsethief Trailhead on the west side of the Wilderness and switchbacks down into Horsethief Canyon taking you to the waters of Pine Creek. From the pools and falls of Pine Creek the Espinosa Trail continues to the junction with the Secret Canyon Trail, a north / south trail that leads 13 miles to the northern boundary of the Wilderness. Groups are limited to 15 people. Campfires are not permitted. Non-conforming uses (e.g. drug trafficking, nonsystem trails, litter and undocumented immigration) have negatively impacted the wilderness character in the past, though these uses have decreased in recent years. Please call the District Office (619-445-6235) for current conditions and remote camping information.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Pine Creek Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.