Natural San Diego: 5 Hiking Destinations

Natural San Diego: 5 Hiking Destinations

San Diego’s diverse geographies provide a backdrop of beauty to our city, but also present a canvas to the outdoor enthusiast. Minimal investment is required to become an amateur hiker: a solid pair of shoes, a researched destination, and a willingness to adventure.

Since summer is prime hiking season, dust, noise, and crowds can be troublesome to those looking for solace on the trails. To further enjoyment, start your hike before or shortly after sunrise, or in late afternoon before sundown. If hiking at dusk, make sure to bring a headlamp in case of darkness.

From the coast to the high desert, hikers should be adequately prepared with electrolyte enhanced water (a few granules of himalayan pink salt per liter of water should suffice) and sun protection (hat, sunscreen, long sleeves, tights). It’s also a good idea to bring hiking poles or a hiking staff in case of overgrown trails, tight squeezes, or the occasional rattlesnake sighting. 

San Diego is home to five off-beaten paths with minimal foot traffic, extraordinary views, and instagram worthy features. 

1. Ellie Lane Staging Area – Poway

Ellie Lane Staging Area is an alternate trailhead to the ever-busy, Iron Mountain trailhead. Located a few miles north of Iron Mountain from Highway 67, Ellie lane totals 7 miles roundtrip, with rocky terrain, steep ascents, and gorgeous views of the Ramona valley, Mt. Woodson, and the ocean on clear days.

Length: 7 miles Difficulty: Expert

2. Palm Canyon – Borrego Springs

Featuring an oasis hidden by palm trees at the trail’s end, Palm Canyon is a worthy hike for those of all experiences. The trail features sandy, boulder strewn terrain with many species of cacti and wild animals. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few mountain goats as you scramble from boulder to boulder. Be prepared for extreme temperatures in Borrego Springs. Hikes should be done as early in the morning as possible. 

Length: 3 miles Difficulty: Intermediate to Expert

3. South Clevenger Trail – Escondido

The South Clevenger Trail is a lightly traveled path with a trail head directly from Highway 78. It’s a steep, but manageable, climb to a lookout point with views of the San Pasqual Valley and surrounding avocado farms. This is a dry, mostly exposed trail that is best done with leg protection due to overgrowth.

Length: 4.3 miles Difficulty: Intermediate

4. San Clemente Canyon – Clairemont

The trailhead from Marian. R. Bear Park is one of my favorite trials within the City of San Diego. Located parallel to Highway 52, San Clemente Canyon is perfect for nature walks, trails runs, or picnics. There is abundant coverage, wide trails, and some light hills.

Length: 2.7 miles Difficulty: Easy

5. Fry Koegel Trail – Ramona/Mount Woodson

Potato Chip Rock has become iconic with San Diego outdoor enthusiasts. With its popularity, Mt. Woodson’s trails have become crowded, noisy, and dusty. The Fry Kegel trail begins with the Mt. Woodson Golf Course community, traverses the North side of Mt. Woodson, and finishes at the Potato Chip Rock. It is home to massive boulders, large oak trees, and an empty trail.

Length: 6.4 miles Difficulty: Easy to Intermediate. 

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