Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir in Baja, Mexico

Bare branches of a tree in the foreground and mountains in the distance.

Baja Mexico Sur landscape by Ana Rodrigruez Carrington licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

For true wilderness seekers, the highest mountain range on the Baja Peninsula offers a dramatic change from the desert and coastal scenery below. Lodgepole pines, quaking aspens, and the endemic San Pedro Mártir cypress are just a few of the unusual trees that have attached themselves to the slopes and canyons of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir.

The rare borregón (bighorn sheep) lives on the range, and the California condor was recently reintroduced.
The best hiking seasons are mid-April–mid-June, when the wildflowers are in bloom and freshwater is plentiful, and late September–early November, before the snows begin.

At 3,095 meters, the tallest peak in the range, Picacho del Diablo (Devil’s Peak), also goes by the names Cerro de la Encantada (Enchanted Mountain) and La Providencia (Providence). Its two granite peaks are often capped with snow in winter. Experienced backpackers typically approach the summit from the eastern side on a three-day trip.

Founded by a presidential decree in 1974, the 68,796-hectare (170,000-acre) Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir (7 A.M.–7 P.M. daily, US$7.50 per vehicle) centers around the San Pedro Mártir Plateau (elev. 1,800 m), which covers approximately 70 kilometers by 15 kilometers at the north end of the range.

Given its remote location, it is one of the least visited national parks in all of Mexico, which can make a trip here all the more enjoyable.

Backcountry hikes and self-contained camping are permitted within the park, but infrastructure and services are limited. Few trails are marked, so you’ll need to bring a GPS and topo maps (San Rafael H11B45 and Santa Cruz H11B55), which Santa Barbara, California-based Mexico Maps (U.S. tel. 805/687-1011) sells for US$15.95 per map.

The easiest trails to follow are located along the northeastern edge of the park, near the observatory. If you’re not confident that you can navigate the wilderness environment on your own, you can hire a guide through Meling Ranch (646/179-4106) or EcoTur.

Hunting and the possession of firearms (even with a Mexican permit) are prohibited, as is off-road driving. You can build campfires in fire rings at a few sites in the park. As with any wilderness environment, let the local rangers know the details of your trip before you head off on the trail.

Summer temps hover around 26°C during the day, dropping to 4.5°C at night. July and August also bring heavy rains and afternoon thunderstorms to the sierra. In winter temperatures range 4.5°C–12°C, and snowfall is common above 2,000 meters. Days are pleasantly warm in spring and fall, but night can dip below freezing. Accordingly, the best hiking seasons are mid-April–mid-June, when the wildflowers are in bloom and freshwater is plentiful, and late September–early November, before the snows begin.

The park entrance is located 78 kilometers from Mexico 1 via a paved road that heads west from Mexico 1 at San Telmo; follow signs marked Observatorio. Another way to access the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir is via a rough dirt road (high clearance required) through the farming town of Valle de la Trinidad, off Mexico 3 (Km. 121). This route is 48-kilometers long and takes you to the northern boundary of the national park.


Sights: Places of Interest

Observatorio Astronómico Nacional
Clear air and nonexistent light pollution led the Mexican government to choose Cerro de la Cúpula (elev. 2,830 m) as the location for a world-class observatory, called the Observatorio Astronómico Nacional (Ensenada, 646/174-4580, 11 A.M.–1 P.M. Sat., by reservation).

Built in 1975, its three telescopes (2.1 meters, 1.5 meters, and 84 centimeters) assess the brightness of the sky, the state of the atmosphere, and a long list of meteorological data. This facility is regarded as one of the best places on the planet to observe the stars and planets above. It’s open to the public, but hours are limited and vary by season.

The observatory is located at the end of the park access road, also called the San Telmo de Abajo road (20 km past the park entrance). Park before the locked gate and walk the final two kilometers to the buildings.

Misión San Pedro Mártir de Verona

Dominican Padre José Loriente established a mountain mission (1794–1824) high in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir to serve a small population of indigenous people, but the rugged terrain and cold winter climate made for a challenging mission environment. Its 20-hectare orchard grew wheat, corn, and beans primarily. Only the faint ruins of a few walls survive today, and access is difficult: from the observatory, it’s a two-day guided horseback ride to reach the site.

Guided Trips

Ensenada native Francisco Detrell has been organizing sierra tours since the 1980s through his company EcoTur (Costero 1094, Local 14, Ensenada, ecoturbc@ens.com.mx, tours US$12–150). Guided trips include waterfall hikes, Picacho del Diablo summits, and observatory tours. Francisco speaks English and Spanish.

Rancho Meling (646/179-4106) also offers guided hikes into the sierra.


Additional Area Information

Accommodations

Rancho Meling

Between Km. 140 and 141, a newly paved road goes east to the settlement of San Telmo and then climbs into the Sierra San Pedro Mártir. Along the way, 50 kilometers from the highway, the historic Rancho Meling has been entertaining and feeding adventurous guests since the turn of the 20th century.

Owned and operated by the Johnson/Meling families since 1910, Rancho Meling (also known as Rancho San José, tel. 646/179-4106, US$50 pp) was born as a base for gold-mining operations and then destroyed by bandits in the Mexican Revolution. It was rebuilt as a 4,000-hectare cattle ranch, and today it is a haven for motorcyclists, eco-tourists, fly-in guests, and anyone seeking the solitude of a rustic getaway in the mountains.

The working cattle ranch sits at an elevation of 670 meters in a stand of pines at the base of the sierra. Its 12 rooms all have private baths, hot water, and a fireplace or wood stove for heat. For larger groups or families, there is a four-bedroom/three-bath cabin. Hearty meals (US$6 breakfast, US$8 lunch, US$11 dinner) are cooked over a wood-fired stove and served at a long wooden table beside a large stone fireplace in the main house. The generator goes off at 10 P.M., but you can read by the light of a kerosene lamp after that.

The road to San Telmo comes 13.9 kilometers south of Colonet, just past a Pemex on the left. (Fill up before you head into the sierra.) Alternatively, you can fly your own plane and land on the ranch’s dirt landing strip. Baja Bush Pilots members receive 10 percent off daily rates.

Mike’s Sky Ranch

Just beyond Km. 138 on Mexico 3, a dirt road heads 35.5 kilometers south to Mike’s Sky Ranch (tel. 664/681-5514), a rustic resort in the sierra foothills (elev. 1,200 m) at the northwestern edge of the national park. Popular with off-road bikers, the ranch has been a checkpoint on the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 races for many years.

Accommodations are in 27 basic cabins (US$60 pp), and the rates include family-style meals and use of the swimming pool. Campsites cost US$5 per vehicle per night (water and shower use only). Campers can pay US$12 additional for dinner and US$7 for breakfast (served 6–10 A.M.) and lunch.

The road to Mike’s is rough in spots and can change drasti-cally with recent rains. Be-yond the ranch, this road con-tinues southwestward to join the newly paved road between Mexico 1 and Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir.


Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon Baja.


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