Hiking San Diego County is all about hiking trails in and around San Diego County. The blog tries to provide very detailed descriptions of the trails, the author visits so you can get a full sense of what you will find.
I hope everyone had a good 4th of July, and stayed safe during the recent heat wave and fires. It looks like things should cool down a bit this week, but its still going to be pretty warm out. Plus there are thunderstorms in the forecast. Be safe out there folks! Here’s a list of tips for safe summer hiking from the Sierra Club.
When the temperature starts to rise, we like to find shorter, easier trails we can do in the evenings once it starts to cool down. The San Diego River Trail offers some great options for easy hikes that are perfect for warm summer evenings. This 2.1 mile loop along the river in the Mission Valley area is a nice spot to bring the dog or to enjoy some nice views of the river as the sun sets.
While this is more of an urban hike – passing by trolley tracks, condos, and shopping centers – it is still a relaxing and scenic path along the San Diego River with some good opportunities for bird watching. Be aware you are pretty much guaranteed to pass by some homeless folks while walking along the river here. While we didn’t encounter any problems and the vast majority of homeless are perfectly nice people who are just trying to get by, if it makes you uncomfortable you will want to make sure you do this trail with a buddy.
We were looking for an easy hike we could bring the dog on at the end of a hot day, and this route fit the bill perfectly. We parked on the street along Hazard Center Drive, then headed east.
We crossed Mission Center Drive and picked up the trail on the corner. (Note that the trail also heads west from this intersection, we plan to come back and explore that direction in the future).
The trail went through a parking lot, and on the other side we found a kiosk with some information about the area.
It was a nice, paved path through lush vegetation. On our left a row of houses was mostly hidden by the brush, and on our right was the river, also largely obscured by trees and bushes. It was nice and cool in the shade.
Around .6 miles we came to a road – Camino Del Este. We could see the continuation of the trail just across the street, but turned left to walk a short way up to stop light and crosswalk to cross there.
We came back down the other side of the road and picked up the trail again heading east. There were picnic tables and trash cans all along the trail, which is especially nice when you’ve got your dog with you.
We continued east until we came to another road – Qualcomm Way – at approximately 1 mile. We turned right to cross the river and head back along the trail on the south side of the river.
As we crossed over the river, we finally got some unobstructed views of the water.
On the south side of the river, we made a right turn onto the path and began heading west.
There were condos on our left and the river on our right.
Around 1.3 miles we reached Camino del Este again, and turned left to make our way to the nearest crosswalk.
We made our way to the continuation of the trail on the other side of the road which passed behind a shopping center, and under the trolley tracks.
It was getting close to sunset, and the sky was putting on a beautiful show to the west.
We also spotted a handsome blue crowned night heron perched in dead tree near along the river.
Around 2 miles we reached Mission Center Road again.
We turned right, crossing back over the river, giving us another nice view of the water.
We continued up the road the corner of Mission Center Road and Hazard Center Drive where we had begun our loop, and headed back to the car.
From Highway 163 go east on Friars Road for approximately .3 mile. Turn right onto Frazee Road, then left onto Hazard Center Drive. Park on the street along Hazard Center Drive. Once parked, walk east on Hazard Center Drive and cross the road to the southeast corner of the intersection of Hazard Center Drive and Mission Center Drive. map
Who’s ready for a day off to hike in the middle of the week! Happy 4th of July to everyone, I hope you are able to hit the trails. It looks like temperatures should be fairly reasonable this week so enjoy!
The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy’s2018-2019 Coast to Crest Trail Challenge has officially commenced! Their website has been updated with the new set of hikes and selfie locations, so head over there for the details. You can check out our write-ups on the five hikes for some more information:
Mission Trails users take note: there’s a proposal to end street parking on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard outside the Tierrasanta entrance to Mission Trails. Some local residents are asking the Tierrasanta Community Council (TCC) to eliminate street parking due to noise and other disturbances. Park users, particularly those who live in the area, are encouraged to attend the upcoming July TCC Meeting on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 6:30pm, at the Tierrasanta Recreation Center, 11220 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. You can also email the TCC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With its ease of access and numerous beautiful trails, Mission Trails sees a LOT of hikers. While you’ll have a hard time finding any trail with complete solitude in the park, Mesa Trail in the eastern section isn’t as heavily traveled as some of the others. This hike combines the Mesa Service Road, Mesa Trail, and the Big Rock Trail for a nice little loop with a variety of habitats to explore. You can tack on a summit of Cowles Mountain if you’re feeling particularly ambitious, but on a warm day or if you’re just out for a quickie, this short hike is quite nice by itself.
Knowing this outing wouldn’t be too strenuous, we took our time getting up and didn’t reach the trailhead until mid-morning. It was a warm day, and this hike turned out to be just the right level of exertion considering out late start and the temperature. We found the trailhead at the end of the Lake Murray Boulevard and set off on our way.
The trail was a wide, dirt service road, surrounded by lush riparian vegetation. On our right, a creek was hidden by the dense brush.
Before long the trail crossed the creek, giving us a glimpse of the water course. There was still some water, but it stood still and stagnant.
Around .58 miles we turned left onto the Mesa Trail – a narrow single track.
A small, wooden footbridge spanned the narrow creek. Some lizards were lounging on the bridge, eyeing us warily as we crossed.
On the other side of the bridge, the trail began to ascend.
We wound our way up the rocky slopes, surrounded by buckwheat, laurel sumac, chamise, and manzanita.
It didn’t take long to get some nice views looking out towards Santee. We could see the staging area at the other end of the Mesa Service Road as well as Big Rock Park below us.
We continued climbing until we came to a “T” junction with the Big Rock Trail at 1.35 miles. You can turn left here and continue to the summit of Cowles Mountain if you’re so inclined, but we opted to just turn right and make our way downhill to Big Rock Park.
The trail switchbacked its way down the mountain side.
It was hot and dry, and there weren’t many flowers left along the trail, but we did spot a few, including a mariposa lily.
As we approached Big Rock Park, we passed through a small section that burned last year (2017). The area was still heavily scarred from the fire, but there was new growth showing, including a few bright flowers.
Towards the edge of the burn area, around 1.9 miles, we came to a “Y” junction. We took the right fork heading towards Big Rock Park.
We passed behind Big Rock Park and reached Mesa Road around 2.4 miles. (There are restrooms and water at the park if you need a break).
Upon reaching Mesa Road, we turned right and walked along the shoulder.
We followed the road to the end where we found another trailhead at approximately 2.8 miles. We continued straight along the Mesa Service Road, heading back towards our starting point.
Around 3 miles we passed the turn-off for the single-track Mesa Trail we had taken earlier, and continued straight along the service road to get back to our car.
From Highway 125, take the Navajo Road exit and head west on Navajo Road. Turn right onto Lake Murray Boulevard and continue to the end (approximately .9 miles). Park along the street, the trailhead is at the end of the road. map
Leashed dogs allowed
None at trailhead; Restrooms and water at Big Rock Park (at approximately 2.3 miles)
The San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy (SDRVC) has announced its second Coast to Crest Trail Challenge to explore some of San Dieguito River Valley’s most iconic spots along the Coast to Crest Trail. The new Challenge will run from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, in which time challengers must complete the following five hikes and take selfies in designated spots:
Santa Ysabel Preserve East Kanaka Loop Trail
Raptor Ridge Segment of the Coast to Crest Trail
Ramona Grasslands Preserve Trail
Piedras Pintadas Trail
Santa Fe Valley Segment of the Coast to Crest Trail
Garnet Peak is one of our favorite hikes in San Diego. It’s a fairly easy hike with fantastic views, and during the right time of year there are plenty of wildflowers to enjoy. We like this hike so much, this is the third time we’ve written it up – documenting three different ways to get there. This particular route, starting from the Penny Pines trailhead along the Sunrise Highway, is probably the most popular route (likely because of the ample free parking – no Adventure Pass is required at Penny Pines). It travels north along the famous Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) before branching off to ascend Garnet Peak.
We got an early start, but the day was fairly warm. Fortunately it wasn’t too long of a hike, so we knew we’d be done before the worst of the heat hit. Arriving at the Penny Pines trailhead, we parked our car on the eastern side of the highway. We set off down the trail at the northern end of the parking area where there’s a sign describing the history of the “Penny Pines” reforestation program. There’s another path from the middle/southern edge of the parking area you can also take – they converge in a short distance.
We passed through fence and into a sparse stand of pines.
After about .1 mile we came to a 4-way junction and turned left onto the northbound PCT.
The trail took us northwest through a blanket of chaparral. There were some wildflowers in bloom, brightening up the trail.
More beautiful flower appeared along the sunny slopes alongside the trail.
As we hiked we noticed the occasional side trail leading off to some nice viewpoints along the way.
To the east of us was the barren-looking expanse of Anza-Borrego.
As we continued, our destination rose up in the distance ahead of us.
As it was a pretty warm day, there were lots of lizards on the trail, hanging out in the sunshine. We kept our eyes open for Horned Lizards and various snakes which can also be found in this area, but we didn’t spot any.
But there were some other critters to be found.
Around 1.6 miles we reached a 4-way junction – the turn-off for Garnet Peak was to the right, so we turned and began climbing uphill.
It was a pretty steady climb, with a fair amount of loose rocks, through the chaparral.
Right before the peak, there was a small amount of easy rock scrambling to navigate.
At 2.1 miles, we had reached the rocky peak. There was an old ammo can holding a summit register in the form of numerous worn (and full) notebooks).
To the south, we could see Monument Peak.
East was the expansive desert.
And looking north, we could see the PCT winding along, and Cuyamaca Peak, Middle Peak, and North Peak poking up in the distance.
We hung around at the top for quite a while, watching butterflies flit around and enjoying the views. Eventually, we headed back, retracing our route back to Penny Pines.
From I-8 east take the Sunrise Highway exit and turn left onto Sunrise Highway (S1). Follow Sunrise Highway for approximately 13.8 miles to the Penny Pines trailhead where you can park on either side of the road. The trail head is on the east side of the highway. map
Leashed dogs allowed
Bikes not allowed
Water on west side of road near Penny Pines; no restrooms
Be careful if you’re headed to Laguna, Cuyamaca, or other points east along I-8. Apparently someone has been deliberately placing concrete blocks and other objects in traffic lanes near Alpine and causing accidents, particularly late at night. If you have any information please contact the CHP El Cajon Office at 619-401-2000.
The Union-Tribune has an article discussing the low staffing levels currently plaguing Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and other California State Parks. There are currently only 4 rangers for the entire park, where there were previously 10 rangers, 2 supervising rangers, and a superintendent. A number of rangers have retired or recently transferred, leaving the park short-staffed, but four new rangers are scheduled to start in the fall.
Get up early next Saturday, June 23rd, for the West Vista Loop Dawn Patrol Hike at Santa Ysabel East County Preserve. Rise with the sun and stretch your legs on this moderate 4.5 mile hike around the West Vista Loop. Through grass meadows, wildflowers, Engelmann oak groves, and chaparral overlooking the Santa Ysabel valley below, take your time and enjoy watching this historic ranch land as its residents wake to greet the day. This hike has some hills and is considered moderately strenuous. Bring water and snacks. Meet at the Santa Ysabel East – 79 Gate. Park along highway 79 and meet at the kiosk. For more information, check out the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Program Guide.
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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park has a wonderful system of interconnected trails and fire roads, and we always enjoy cobbling together a new route and exploring sections of trail we haven’t been on before. This 10 mile loop combines the Dead Horse Trail, California Riding and Hiking Trail, South Boundary Fire Road, Blue Ribbon Trail, and Merigan Fire Road for a fun hike with a variety of scenery.
Ever since hiking the Sweetwater River Loop in the southwestern portion of the park a couple of years ago, I’d been itching to check out some of the other trails in that area. We also wanted a longer hike to prepare for some upcoming backpacking trips. A little time studying our topo map yielded this route. We picked a relatively cool, overcast morning, loaded up our big packs with extra weight, and headed out to the Merigan staging area.
After paying our $10 day use fee we set off down the gravel Merigan Fire Road.
The road passed what looked like a Ranger’s residence, then curved around along the edge of an open field. The gravel soon transitioned to hard-packed dirt.
We wound our way along the oak-lined road, which soon began to climb uphill.
Around .7 miles we came to a “Y” junction where the loop portion of our hike began. We turned left here, heading downhill on the Dead Horse Trail.
The Dead Horse Trail was a single track, which led us quickly downhill towards the Sweetwater River.
We came to a “Y” junction where there was a tiny little trail marker with an arrow pointing left, so that’s the way we went.
The trail led us to a water crossing. To the right were some partially submerged logs that made crossing without getting your feet wet possible. If this crossing is too gnarly for you, you can go back to the last junction (with the tiny arrow marker) and go right to find another crossable spot a little ways upstream.
We made it across the stream and continued along the trail as it turned left and began climbing back uphill.
The trail was beautifully rugged – narrow and a little bit overgrown, but not so bad as to make passage difficult.
There was purple ceanothus in bloom, and small wildflowers popping up along the trail.
We paralleled the Sweetwater River for a short distance before the trail made a few switchbacks uphill away from the water.
We hiked pretty steadily uphill, enjoying the expansive views.
A little under 2.5 miles the trail began to level out a bit. While there would be more uphills to come, the longest stretch of it was behind us.
Around 2.8 miles we came to a “T” junction where we met the California Riding and Hiking Trail and turned right.
The trail was fairly level, and we could relax and enjoy the scenery as we moved between dense clumps of vegetation and open grassy fields.
Around 3.65 miles the Saddleback Trail branched off on our right. If you want to cut things short, you can take this trail back to the Merigan Fire Road, but we were just getting warmed up and continued to the left along the California Riding and Hiking Trail.
The trail took us east through the chaparral. We could see Oakzanita Peak in the distance.
Around 4 miles we came to a “T” junction with the South Boundary Fire Road and turned right.
The road took us downhill while providing beautiful views.
Around 4.45 miles we turned right to stay on the South Boundary Fire Road.
The road took us through some beautiful oak forest. We found some fallen logs on the side of the trail and stopped for a quick lunch.
After refueling we continued on. Around 4.7 miles it was time to cross back over the Sweetwater River. Once again, some well-placed logs on the right helped us across with dry shoes.
Sad news to report this week, a hiker died last Tuesday at Three Sisters Falls. It appears the hiker, identified as 20 year-old Nathalie Reed became dehydrated and overheated before collapsing while on the return hike from the falls. Despite another hiker calling 911 and paramedics attempting to revive her, Reed died. Unfortunately Three Sisters is a hot spot for unprepared hikers and frequent rescues. Many inexperienced hikers attempt this hike without understanding how hot the area can get during the summer and how taxing the uphill hike out can be after playing at the falls all day. This is yet another reminder to check the weather of the area you’ll be hiking in before you set off, research every new hike thoroughly to make sure you understand the trail conditions, and always carry more water than you think you’ll need. Three Sisters isn’t a pleasant hike to do in the summer – wait until winter or early spring!
It looks like warm weather is going to continue to be warm for the next week, so plan accordingly. Hike early, hike late, keep it short, or stick to the coast. And please leave the dogs at home when its hot out!