Our City: Best Hikes in San Diego
Hiking in San Diego means having a lot of options. There’s something for everyone here, which may sound cliche, but it’s true – from urban hikes to backcountry adventures, San Diego is an all-inclusive outdoor buffet year-round.
Think of these five treks as appetizers to a wonderful, broad feast of trails inside San Diego County for the adventurer in all of us, whether the mood calls for a classic coastline exploration, a desert journey, or a desire for mountainous terrain.
South Fortuna Mountain, Mission Trails Regional Park
Distance: 5.5 miles
Duration: 3 hours
Difficulty: moderate to challenging
Sweat seekers need not to look further than the South Fortuna Mountain trail located within Mission Trails Regional Park, which is considered one of the largest urban parks in the country. Driving north from San Diego, you can be on the trail in just 20 minutes. Challenge your stamina with a 600ft vertical climb up a wooden staircase before the ascent to the summit. From the top, observe the park’s other major peaks, including Kwaay Paay, and Pyles peaks. Then, backtrack the way you came up, or opt to head down via the Saddle Trail. Begin at the Visitors Center trailhead, take the footbridge to cross the San Diego River, and follow the signs for Suycott Wash, then Suycott Wash/South Fortuna. Stay alert: Parts of the trail are shared with mountain bikers.
The South Fortuna Mountain trail is less-trafficked than the switchbacks of Cowles Mountain trail, a local favorite. Beyond hiking, the park offers camping sites, equestrian areas, places to picnic, as well as an interpretive center. The Indigenous Kumeyaay, and Luiseño people have been connected to this area (and most parts of present-day San Diego County) since before Spanish Missionaries arrived in the late 18th century.
Daley Ranch, Escondido
Distance: 4 miles
Duration: 2 hours
What was once inhabited by the Kumeyaay, and Luiseño people, later to become a working ranch during the late 19th century, is now a network of more than 20 recreational trails for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders of all levels.
Daley Ranch spans 3,000 acres and inspires multiple ways to plan a day trip outside, 30 miles northeast of San Diego proper. Hike through natural habitats like oak woodlands, chaparral (a family of shrubs most commonly found in the western US and northern parts of Baja, Mexico), and coastal sage scrub.
The 4-mile Boulder Loop, suitable for most fitness levels, is one of its most popular hikes. Half of the loop is an uphill climb to a panoramic view of hills and valleys, and the Pacific Ocean out west on a clear day. Wildflower peeping happens between November and July. As far as etiquette goes, hikers should yield to horseback riders, while bikers should yield to hikers. Dogs are welcome too – just keep furry friends leashed, and bring lots of water for both humans and pets in the summer months, which almost always brings dry heat that can dehydrate you quickly/
Seven Bridges Trail, San Diego
Distance: 5.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Opt for the easy to moderately difficult Seven Bridges Trail, referred to as an urban hike, for an up-close and personal perspective of San Diego and its unique neighborhoods. Start from Balboa Park’s Rose Garden off Park Boulevard and cross the first pedestrian bridge to continue through the park, along El Prado, before crossing Cabrillo Bridge (sometimes called Laurel Street Bridge). It was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.
Subsequent bridges include the steel-arch First Ave. bridge; Quince Street Bridge, a wooden trestle bridge built in 1905 that hovers over Maple Canyon; Spruce St. suspension bridge; Vermont Street Bridge, and Georgia Street Bridge.
Parts of this 5.5-mile loop include city sidewalks that run through residential and commercial areas, so expect the hustle and bustle of increased car and foot traffic at times.
Garnet Peak via Penny Pines Trailhead
Distance: 4.4 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours
Garnet Peak in the Laguna Mountains, within Cleveland National Forest, offers arguably the best all-around views of San Diego County’s diverse geographical features. Plus, there’s even an opportunity to hike part of the famous Pacific Crest Trail on the way. Start at Penny Pines Trailhead located off the Sunrise Scenic Byway, which runs through the Laguna Mountains. This route is a moderate 4.4-mile hike, with loose rocks and a bit of a scramble to reach the peak.
Your reward: views of Monument peak to the south, Cuyamaca Peak to the west, Anza-Borrego to the east, and Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Gorgonio to the north.
Note that Poodle Dog Bush, a plant that causes mild to severe skin irritation and respiratory issues on contact can be found along the trail. Its purple flowers and pungent smell help identify this plant, but the easiest thing to do to preserve your safety (and nature) is to follow Leave No Trace Principles and avoid picking any flowers, and sticking to marked trails.
Annie’s Canyon Trail, Solana Beach
Distance: 1.4 miles
Duration: 45 minutes
Difficulty: easy (with some strenuous areas)
On Annie’s Canyon trail, kids will enjoy shimmying through a narrow sandstone canyon before engaging all limbs to climb a ladder to the top of the canyon, which thousands of years of coastal rains have shaped. Infinite views of the Pacific Ocean, and the Central Basin of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve make an ideal backdrop for photos. The trailhead is located at the end of North Rios Avenue, in a cul-de-sac. This easy 1.4-mile loop is easy, and packs a burst of excitement through and up the canyon in less than an hour. Have the family empty their bladders before arriving – there are no bathroom facilities on site.
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