Mark has trekked extensively in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. The Top Hiking Trails In San Diego Don’t start swearing at the switchbacks though, because these are the only ones you’ll get the whole trail. Along the way, you’ll find lovely, colorful patches of wildflowers, rock pathways, and lovely views. Cowles Mountain is the highest peak in San Diego County, and the trail here takes you all the way up to the top. The trail begins as a straight descent, therefore leaving you to struggle your way back up. This hilly trail through Cleveland National Forest has three stream crossings, which can be higher than knee-deep depending on how wet the area is from recent weather. Millions of years ago this place used to be underwater. Byron Hetrick Roughly an hour northwest of San Diego is one of the best waterfall hikes in the region. Ho Chi Minh Trail. The views at the top are absolutely fantastic. Yes, this trail is home to an actual desert oasis, featuring towering palm trees, glimmering streams, and eerie rock formations. Most of the trail is relatively easy, but there are a few tough uphill sections that may limit the beginner hiker. San Diego's Greatest Hikes for Every Skill Level Iron Mountain Trail. Note that this trail is quite exposed, so hiking in mid-afternoon direct sunlight is not recommended. The best hikes in San Diego, California have been chosen for a number of reasons – the scenic beauty of the trails, the physical challenge imposed by the climbs, and their unique hiking experience. Best Hikes Near San Diego Batiquitos Lagoon Trail. The 5-Peak Challenge will provide you the opportunity to discover some of the less-visited areas of Mission Trails. The coastal scenery provides an idyllic backdrop to motivate you to go on a casual afternoon stroll for as long or as short as you please. Much of the rest of the hike is a straight up steep ascent to the top. Much of the trail is exposed so be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen. The Best North County San Diego Hikes. by Carissa Stanz. You’ll find unique-looking waterfalls that flow through the surrounding rocks, and you can also take a dip in the pools as a reward for hiking. Located in a wide canyon, the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is one of the absolute best places for hiking in San Diego. Maybe it’s because it’s tucked into an unassuming location, but I rarely ever hear people talking about this hike. Cowles Mountain is the highest point in San Diego, and as such is also one of its most popular hikes. It’s also flat the whole way, so it’s great for beginners as well as more experienced hikers. With its beautiful, old trees, sweeping valley views, and gentle incline, this is one of the most accessible and worthwhile hikes in San Diego for all levels. Note that this hike can get extremely hot in midday, summertime, so avoid walking at this time. 14 Best Hikes in San Diego – Explore The Great Outdoors of California. The trail starts at Discovery Lake, crosses through a housing development, winds along a roadside and eventually takes you up the peak itself. 3,734 reviews. Bring trekking poles if you think you’ll want extra support for the descent! Razor Point boasts strange rock formations and panoramic vistas of the coastline and ocean beyond. Part of the trail will take you through manzanita forests, boulder fields, and desert brush. It’s one of the most challenging and beautiful ocean bluff hikes. Because of the raucous parties and numerous rescue missions (resulting from overheating and generally irresponsible behaviour), the Forest Service has imposed a permit requirement. As with many of the San Diego hikes, the weather can get dangerously hot so ensure that you plan your excursion on a cool afternoon and pack plenty of water – more than you think you’ll need. Many locals can even play “spot my house” using the viewfinder. From the summit, you will soak in the view of the Santa Ana Mountains, Camp Pendleton, the Palomar Mountains and the surrounding suburbs. After completing the challenge, not only will you have seen San Diego from different perspectives, but you may also adopt a new favorite hiking trail along the way. Work With Us It plunges down 80 feet into a deep swimming hole known as the Devil's Punchbowl. The Lake Hodges Overlook is a moderate, accessible hike for all levels that brings you to a panoramic view of Lake Hodges and the Escondido area. On the east of San Diego County, the Borrego Palm Canyon is one of the last natural Californian palm groves and features cacti and colourful flowers. While burritos, beer, and beaches may be San Diego’s claim to fame, you won’t want to pass up the trails. No hiking guide for San Diego would be complete without mention of Anza-Borrego, and Borrego Palm Canyon is the state park’s quintessential adventure. This short, but steep route up to the highest peak within city limits receives an impressive volume of hiker traffic. These trails are famous for being some of the easiest but most rewarding hiking experiences in the region. This 7,220-acre preserve offers many hiking trails for a quick nature fix from the urban hustle, and its 65-mile trail system makes it a popular destination for hikes in San Diego and mountain bikers of all levels. When not writing for Mountain IQ, Mark is out exploring the outdoors with his wife! There are endless options to choose from, and one of the most well-loved is the Oak Canyon Trail which follows the banks of a ravine snaking north of the Old Mission Dam. This multi-use trail runs through wooded areas, vast meadows, and culminates in a quaint waterfall. Known for its beaches and laid-back vibes, San Diego is a heavenly city for outdoor lovers. This trail is best hiked in the cooler months, between October and May. You’ll hike through the Hellhole Canyon trail, which, as its name implies, is very hot and has no shade. Three Sisters Falls hike is known as one of the hardest hikes in San Diego County. If you’re in the mood for an adventure, there are less crowded routes that can be taken to its summit to avoid the worst of the crowds. Known for being one of the more popular hikes in San Diego, Cowles Mountain is located within Mission Trails Regional Park, just 13 miles northeast of San Diego. Towering, old oak trees provide a cool canopy over the trail, which boasts a view of Lake Ramona if you hike all the way in. The reserve also offers a variety of programming for visitors, like guided docent tours and frequent nature education events. The unique scenery here definitely puts it on the radar as one of the top hikes in San Diego – it’s a pocket of paradise in the otherwise parched terrain of the Palm Springs desert. Located just across the highway from the Cuyamaca Peak trail head, the Stonewall Peak trail offers stunning views of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. This trail ends in a pretty waterfall that is best visited after periods of rain (sometimes the flow trickles in drier weather). For multiple waterfalls on one single trail, the Three Sisters Falls trail is a fantastic, moderate hike with a lot of picturesque cascades. The Mission Trails are an expansive weave of over 60 km of pathway over this urban national park. Photo by Liz Thomas. Although it is only 4 miles long it is very steep on your hike out. Here are the best hikes you’ll find in North County San Diego! Because of the elevation of the region, the vegetation and atmosphere of the park resemble those of the northwest, including pine trees, gentle mists and verdant plant life. Required fields are marked, Privacy | Terms | DMCA | Affiliate Disclosure | Site Map. Locals absolutely love the Big Laguna Trail, and many cite it as one of their absolute favorite hikes in San Diego. In other words, don’t go there expecting to have the place to yourself. 20 Absolutely Spectacular Hikes in San Diego for All Levels Easy Hikes in San Diego. Moreover, although the route is immediately steep and challenging, it offers stunning views of the surrounding city all along the way. At other points in the trail you can walk through Californian desert or snow-covered mountains – there is really something here for everyone. The name probably doesn’t sell you on the hike, but trust us, this is one worth doing! Elevations are given when the hike is predominantly uphill, such as for summiting a mountain. El Cajon Mountain is one of the most strenuous, least-used hikes in San Diego County. Skiing vs Snowboarding: Which One Should You Choose? Difficulty: 6 Just outside Poway, Iron Mountain can -- fittingly -- feel a lot like a hot iron... Torrey Pines Beach Trail. We do, however, recommend that you go for a refreshing dip in the glorious swimming hole. Be sure to wear long pants and a long shirt since the brush can get very dense in some parts. This trail is a serious challenge and a must for anyone looking for challenging hikes near San Diego. We recommend going in the Winter and early Spring due to the heat. You’ll pass several false summits and eventually climb a scramble up to the true summit. As always, we only link to products that we recommend, and that we have tried and tested ourselves. The trail is wide and you’ll often see Jeeps and other sport utility vehicles tackle the terrain alongside hikers. Privacy Policy Even so, this hike is not one for beginners, and should not be undertaken without a fair amount of preparation. Cabrillo Tide Pools. According to locals, the Iron Mountain trail ranks among the top mountain hikes in San Diego for its views alone. It is also a particularly dog-friendly hike, which may or may not be a bonus for you. Designed by ThemeSphere. If it’s a more forested hiking trail you’re seeking, the Blue Sky Ecological Reserve is one of the shadier hikes in San Diego that’s perfect for hikers of all levels. Beware of wildlife as bobcats have been known to wander through the area! Its popularity is also only second to that of Cowles Mountain, so don’t expect peace and quiet along the way. Oak Canyon Trail. In addition to ample sunshine, hiking San Diego offers hikes for everyone. The trail itself is a fairly moderate 4.2-mile round trip excursion that passes through exposed, dry, and sunny stretches of land and eventually leads to … Avoid hiking in the intense heat, pack plenty of snacks and water, make sure your hiking boots are of good quality. She's also the writer and photographer behind Jetfarer. This marshy area is home to many local species of birds, marine life, and plants, which you can learn more about on this 3.1 mile trail. Hiking San Diego. Along with Cowles Mountain, Iron Mountain and Mount Woodson, Cedar Creek Falls is one of San Diego’s hiking greats. As one of the highest peaks in San Diego County, there’s no … 10 best hikes in San Diego 1 - Torrey Pines State Park. Attempt this trail in the cooler months. About The area offers a diverse array of hiking trails: you’ll find ocean cliffs covered with Torrey pines, rolling mountain ranges, and the incredible Anza Borrego desert. 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