Many don’t realize the fact that San Diego County has the largest variety of plant and animal life of any other county in the United States. This is one reason why there are so many organizations dedicated to preserving the area’s habitats and wildlife while providing its residents the opportunity to get outdoors and experience the diversity first hand.
Below is a list of trails ranging from easy to strenuous that highlight what San Diego County has to offer.
Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve West
This easy to moderate 3.6 mile hike is perfect for beginners. It gains slight elevation around half a mile in and then descends down to Santa Ysabel Creek where hikers can see Engleman and California Oaks, rolling hills, and wildflowers. Hikers will experience elevation gain on the way back up as well. If hikers desire to continue on for a longer trek, simply cross the Santa Ysabel Creek and continue onto the Ridge Trail and/or High Creek Trail for a total hike of 5.7 miles roundtrip. Click here to view the trail map.
Piedras Pintadas and Bernardo Bay
This is an easy-to-moderate 5.2 mile hike with an elevation gain of approximately 400 ft. The best time to hike this is during the Fall, Winter, or Spring months. The trails are well-maintained and easy to follow for beginners. However, it is best to download a trail map just in case. This combined loop trail features great views of Lake Hodges. Hikers will get close up views of the lake on the Bernardo Bay Trail while the Piedras Pintadas features a small waterfall and an introduction to the Kumeyaay culture. Even though the rock art has been closed off due to vandalism, educational signs have been posted to show who the Kumeyaay were and why they chose to live in this area.
Annie’s Canyon Trail
This trail is a must-see. Once known as “The Mushroom Caves,” it was closed off to the public. Yet, many people frequented the area and tended to deface the delicate sandstone walls. Thanks to a Solana Beach donor by the name of “Annie,” it has been restored and opened to the public in the hopes that making it public area will reduce or stop those who vandalize it. Since the opening in June 2016, the trail has become very popular and the amount of vandalism has decreased.
On this moderately difficult trail, hikers will experience a few steep switchbacks but gorgeous canyon, ocean, and lagoon views. Trail length depends on what route you want to take and where you begin your hike. Annie’s Canyon Trail is 0.25 mile one-way, adding on 0.6 miles starting from Rios Avenue Trailhead, 0.6 miles from Solana Hills Trailhead, and 2.1 miles from La Orilla Trailhead. It will be difficult for dogs to traverse through the canyon. Click here to view the trail map.
Three Sisters Falls Trail
If you are looking for a challenging hike, Three Sisters Falls offers steep inclines, rocky terrain, and a 1,000 ft elevation gain. It is an extremely difficult, 4-mile, hike meant for intermediate hikers. The trailhead is located at the intersection of Boulder Creek and Cedar Creek Road, about two hours away from Rancho Santa Fe.
Bring plenty of water for this hike and it is best to hike this trail during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Hiking boots are highly recommended for this hike as it is easy to twist an ankle in tennis shoes. There is poison oak near the falls, so be on the look out and wear long pants and long sleeves if possible.
Hiking Tips for All Treks
It is best to wear long pants and hiking boots. It makes your hike easier and safer if you encounter rattlesnakes, ticks, or heavy brush. As always, take plenty of water for you and your pets! While it might be cool on the coastal trails, temperatures in inland trails will be hot.