Things to do in the San Diego Backcountry

Santa Ysabel valley in San Diego County

San Diego’s east country is often overlooked thanks to its reputation for being a beach community. The backcountry is full of microclimates. Those who do venture east experience beautiful mountains, lakes, canyons, and desert ecosystems. In a little less than three hours, you can drive from the beach through the mountains and end up in the desert. This mostly untouched region is a hub for outdoor recreation, entertainment, and history. Let’s discover the San Diego Backcountry.

Lions, Tigers, and Bears

Lions, Tigers, and Bears is a 93-acre animal sanctuary for rescued big cats, bears, and other exotic animals. The San Diego County community of Alpine has a spectacular landscape that just happens to offer the perfect habitat for the more than 60 animals that now reside here. They offer a variety of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Reservations are required.

Ramona H.E.A.R.T. Mural Project

Ramona is located in the geographical center of San Diego County. Most visitors pass through on their way to other destinations, but Ramona has a lot to offer. One attraction is the Ramona H.E.A.R.T. Mural Project. Local artisans are working together to display the local heritage, history, and industries for all to enjoy. There are over 20 murals throughout the community. The murals are easily visible from inside the car. If you get out for a closer look, see if you can spot the hidden heart(s) in each painting.

Oasis Camel Dairy (Witch Creek, 13 miles west of Julian)

Camels in San Diego? Yes, that's right! Once a month, Oasis Camel Dairy holds open farm days. You can feed, pet, and ride the camels. How cool is that? The camels even have their own skincare line made right on the farm. You can buy milk soap, camel milk lotion, camel milk bath bombs, camel milk lip balms, and camel milk serum. Check their website for more details.

Sky Sailing

Have you ever dreamt of flying? At Sky Sailing in Warner Springs, this dream can come true. Here adventurers can soar, riding the air currents with the birds in a sailplane (also called a glider). Passengers will have a birds-eye view of Palomar Mountain and Observatory, Warner Springs Ranch, Lake Henshaw, and the edge of Borrego Springs.

La Jolla Indian Campground

Just north of Julian and South of Palomar Mountain is Pauma Valley, and there sits the La Jolla Indian Reservation and Campground. From the campground, visitors can easily make a day-trip to the greater Julian area, Anza-Borrego Desert, and the northern part of San Diego County. The reservation’s main attraction is tubing down the San Luis Rey River. Additionally, there is a camp store nearby.

Palomar Mountain and Observatory

Palomar Mountain sits at about 5,000 feet above sea level in northern San Diego County. As visitors drive up the mountain, they can pause at a number of vista points that offer spectacular panoramic views. Its world-famous Palomar Observatory has been a vital contribution to astronomy. Tours are offered when weather conditions allow. Visitors can also explore the Palomar Mountain State Park and the national park.

Julian Backcountry Quilt Trail (JBQT)