Honey of a Drive: Beautiful Vistas, Challenging Driving in East County

In a region that has some of the most challenging and beautiful highways anywhere, the roads in and around Jamul have to rank near the top of the list.

Take today’s drive, for example. Each of its four main roads has spectacular branches that we’re not even visiting. We’re taking Highway 94/Campo Road, Honey Springs Road, Lyons Valley Road and Japatul Road. Driven those too much? Then how about taking Jamul Drive, the full length of Lyons Valley Road and Japatul Valley Road. It’s a golden triangle of great roads bordered by Jamul, El Cajon and Descanso.

Right from the start of this San Diego day trip, check out the auto history: just as Campo Road narrows, drivers pass the old Sweetwater Road bridge, a classic girder structure that’s been preserved. Hikers and horses go where cars used to squeeze. As you head farther east, look for Steele Canyon Produce, a grown-up roadside veggie stand, the feed stores and the former Simpson’s Nursery, now open only for special events.

Then wind through the hills towards Honey Springs Road, where there are still working ranches and stables. This is the country.

honey31-87-sign
Loveland Resevoir is along the route.

While Highway 94 does rise in the miles since the freeway ended, the region’s rugged terrain really takes off north on Honey Springs Road. As it heads into the tiny community of Deerhorn Valley, drivers really need to pay attention or they’ll end up hitting the “Welcome to Deerhorn Valley” sign. This will continue almost until you end the drive where Interstate 8 crosses Greenfield Drive.

Over the years, I’ve had several emails from readers that live in the area complaining about the risky driving on these twisty byways. These roads can test the best drivers and vehicles, so pay attention and be gentle on the accelerator.

My drive for the day was the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn With Navigation (it’s a package all its own). Good handling is what’s expected from a Volkswagen, meaning a quick flick of the wrist and the car was easily able to handle the curves. The Autobahn edition is equipped with the 200 horsepower/207 ft.-lbs., turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic. The sport mode of the transmission allows for higher revs and a bit of engine braking. Paddle shifters are there for those who enjoy them, but I still haven’t gotten the hang of them. For 2013, the Jetta GLI gets “launch control” on the DSG six-speed automatic transmission, plus new trim and other goodies.

Wilderness area is edge of Cleveland National Forest.
Wilderness area is edge of Cleveland National Forest.

The Jetta enjoyed the drive about as much as I did. There’s plenty of need for acceleration, braking and handling, otherwise you might end up flying off the edge of a cliff into a ravine or hitting the rocky side of a hill. Much of the road is just that: one side 50 feet down, the other 50 feet up.

Although a bit de-contented when it debuted in 2011, the Autobahn edition includes navigation, the turbocharged gasoline engine and a number of other trim goodies. It was a hot day when I drove so I left the sunroof closed and cranked up the air conditioning. The price as tested is $28,565.

North of the Lyons Valley community, Lyons Valley Road marks the western edge of the Cleveland National Forest. Much of the spectacular view is of a wilderness area.

Along Honey Springs Road.
Along Honey Springs Road.

Heading west on Japatul Road, we twist by the southern edge of Alpine and through Dehesa, past the Loveland Reservoir and the Sycuan Casino. Then it’s on to Harbison Canyon, Crest and the freeway.

True to form, I did see a few other sport drives on my trip: a ‘67 Mustang, a Porsche 911 and even a Ferrari, along with a couple of folks on sport bikes. Heed the warnings of the neighbors and don’t end up in their living rooms, but enjoy these roads. slippery

Lyons Valley Road is spectacular through the hills.
Lyons Valley Road is spectacular through the hills.

 

Route and Info

Difficulty

  • Challenging

Distance

  • About 48 miles.

Directions

  • SR-94 east to Rancho San Diego. Freeway ends at Avocado Boulevard; continue onto Campo Road.
  • Follow signs as Campo Road and SR-94 turn southwest at second intersection with Jamacha Road.
  • Left at Honey Springs Road.
  • Right at Lyons Valley Road.
  • Left at Japatul Road. Continue onto Dehesa Road.
  • Right at Harbison Canyon Road.
  • Left (sharp) at Frances Drive. Continue onto Mountain View Road.
  • Right at La Cresta Road.
  • Right at Greenfield Road to Interstate 8.

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