A great way to enjoy San Diego's canyons, mountains and deserts
With an abundance of fresh air, balmy temperatures throughout the year, and plenty of well-groomed and gorgeous trails, San Diego is truly a hiker's paradise. Trek through pristine pines, explore wildlife preserves and blooming desert landscapes. Head for the summit and be rewarded by expansive, breathtaking views of the Pacific. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find a hiking trail that is perfect for you among the 4,000 square miles of canyons, mountains and deserts.
Some of the top 10 hiking trails in San Diego include:
- Lake Poway to Mount Woodson: A 6.4-mile hike that is fairly strenuous, but with a view at the top that is worth all the effort. The trail is well-maintained, but narrow in places. Although the hike can be completed year-round, the heat can be fairly extreme during the summer months so stick to early mornings and late afternoons. Remember to bring plenty of water and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.
- Sunset Cliffs Beach Walk: An easy walk along the cliffs starting at the south end of Ocean Beach. The rugged coastline and crashing waves are breathtaking, especially during winter. Pathways along the walk provide beach access at low tide for those willing to do a little scrambling. The walk can be crowded during weekends and summer days.
- Torrey Pines State Reserve: Eight miles of trails along the bluffs at the north end of La Jolla. Most trails offer exceptional views up and down the coastline and are relatively short in length (less than 1.5 miles) with varying difficulties. One trail takes hikers down to Torrey Pines beach. Cool ocean breezes in summer make the reserve a year-round hiking option.
- Palomar Mountain Observatory Trail: A moderate hike, 4 miles in length, that ends near the Observatory, which is open year-round between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Bring $5 to purchase the Forest Service Adventure Pass, which is necessary to park at the Observatory campground where the trail starts. The coniferous and oak-lined trail is clean and well-maintained, with stunning vistas.
- Cowles Mountain: A very popular 3-mile vertical climb to the highest point within the city of San Diego. Located within Mission Trails Regional Park, the trail is narrow and crowded, but rewards with panoramic views at the top. Steep switchbacks make for a heart-pounding excursion. For those in need of a further challenge, a trail at the top of Cowles Mountain leads an additional 2 miles to the top of nearby Pyle's Peak.
- Daley Ranch: Located in northeast Escondido, Daley Ranch offers 20 miles of multi-use trails, which are shared by hikers, bikers and horses. Trails range from easy to moderately difficult with lengths in the 2.5 mile range. Scenery includes lush oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub and chaparral, grasslands, and riparian areas. Avoid during summer months when the heat can be intense.
- William Heise County Park: A beautiful 929-acre park in Julian with 7 miles of meandering trails amid oak, pine and cedar trees. Camping is also available.
- Iron Mountain Trail: Located in Poway, the main trail is 5.8 miles long, well-maintained and of medium difficulty. Additional trails along the way lead to other peaks, which can be appealing on crowded weekend days. A good year-round hike, although summer heat can be excessive except first thing in the morning or late in the day. Don't forget to bring plenty of water.
- Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail: An easy 4.7-mile walk that makes for an ideal family outing. Multiple creek crossings along the trail offer turn around points for making the trip shorter. Deer can be seen along the path and about 3 miles in, there's a waterfall to enjoy. The shade from oak trees makes this trail a year-round option.
- Mission Trails Regional Park: The park contains 42 miles of trials for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing, including the hike up Cowles Mountain. Trails are available for all levels of difficulty and distance. A Visitor & Interpretive Center offers state-of-the-art exhibits and films on the history and culture of the Kumeyaay Indians who lived in the area that is now the park. Free guided nature walks are offered every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m.
Browse the articles below to create the perfect vacation for hiking the coast, canyons, mountains and deserts of San Diego!