arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up play-button plus tab-indicator dots close menu search facebook google-plus instagram pinterest rss twitter youtube rss-two heart Check FeaturedBadge linkedin minus apps placeholder linkedin

Hiking Safely in San Diego

Safety helps assure a great hiking experience

While San Diego County's environments are generally safe, there are some safety considerations that all hikers should be aware of while out on the trails.

By: Scott Turner, Co-author of the 5th Edition of Afoot and Afield in San Diego County

While San Diego County's environments are generally gentle and safe, there are some common safety considerations that all hikers should be aware of while out on the trails. As with all recreation activities, preparation is a crucial element to ensure not just safety, but the most enjoyable experience possible. To that end, your choices regarding clothing, footwear, hydration, sun protection, and encountering wildlife will go a long way to assuring a great experience.


Although the climate in San Diego is considered among the best in the world, temperatures extremes do occasionally occur, especially in the inland regions. Summertime temperatures routinely exceed 90 degrees in the inland valleys and mountains, and have been known to exceed 120 degrees in the deserts! Even if it seems relatively cool, bring more water than you think you can drink. In addition, sweating causes your body to lose electrolytes, which can impair muscle function and other important body functions. Drinking electrolyte-rich beverages and consuming salty snacks along with water can help your body remain hydrated.

Sun protection

Many of the county's trails offer little to no shade, which can lead to sunburns and other heat-related injuries. Hikers can stave off the sun’s harmful rays by wearing wide-brimmed hats, light-colored, loose fitting clothing, and sunscreen.


Most of the trails presented here are well-maintained with few physical hazards. However, even on well-traveled trails, you may encounter rocky, sandy, or loose soils on steep terrain that can create treacherous footing. We recommend sturdy hiking shoes, trail-runners, or hiking boots instead of tennis shoes or other casual footwear with minimal tread. We also suggest the use of trekking poles, which can improve balance and help hikers navigate difficult terrain.

Dangerous Plants

While most of the plants in San Diego are harmless, there are a few special exceptions:

  • Poison Oak, a deciduous vine that prefers cool shade along watercourses and north-facing hillsides, can cause severe allergic reactions when touched. Poison oak leaves grow in clusters of three, range in color from bright green to dull red, and they have a waxy, glossy surface. Remember the adage: Leaves of three, let it be!
  • Desert hiking may bring you in close contact with a variety of plants whose thorns can puncture skin, clothing, and sometimes even footwear! If you plan to hike in the desert, be especially cautious to avoid contact with cacti, ocotillo, cholla, catclaw, and mesquite.
  • Although rare, stinging nettle occurs on some of the San Diego mountain hikes. This stream-side plant contains many hollow, stinging hairs along its leaves and stems. If you brush against this plant, you will know it!
  • Poodle dog bush, an even rarer semi-succulent plant, is a fire-following species that has a rank, musky odor similar to skunk spray. Like poison oak, poodle dog secretes a severe skin irritant that causes painful rashes and sores. You'll find it at high elevations where recent fires have occurred.

Wild Animals

Animal encounters are a thrilling experience. Few things are more memorable than crossing paths with a mule deer or a flock of wild turkeys. However, San Diego's environs do contain a few creatures you will want to watch out for:

  • Rattlesnakes live in all parts of the county from the coast to the desert. Rattlesnakes are shy, retiring creatures that want to avoid you even more than you want to avoid them. Their rattles will warn you when you get to close, and they generally only attack when cornered. Rattlers do become more aggressive during the spring when their long hibernation leaves them hungry and irritable, but if you give them a wide berth, you will have no trouble.
  • Mountain lions are a very rare predator that are present throughout the county as well. Most hikers spend their entire life in the backcountry without ever encountering one, but there is always a slim chance that you may see one. If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run, as this triggers a predatory response. Keep your children close and do your best to appear as large and as loud as possible. Like a common house cat, mountain lions hate noise and aggression and will usually retreat to a quiet, safe space. Traveling in groups also reduces the chances that you will encounter a lion.
  • You may encounter other predatory mammals such as bobcats, foxes, and coyotes, but these animals are equally shy and want very little to do with humans.

Find a place to stay

Book online or call 1-800-350-6205 to speak with a local expert

Related Articles and Features

Deals just for you


Western Wednesdays & Thirsty Thursdays!

Smokey & the Brisket
Valid: Nov 18, 2022 - ongoing

On Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6pm-close, enjoy a Small Pizza or Smokey's Burger PLUS a Beer for only $15. Plus, enjoy Rotisserie Chicken and Fries for only $12 (this special is to-go only).


$45 Prix-Fixe Menu

LAVO Italian Restaurant
Valid: Nov 9, 2022 - ongoing

Enjoy a three-course menu of LAVO favorites. Available all night every Monday-Wednesday. Visit our website to view the menu and make a reservation.


50% Off - Show Your Badge Offer

Currency Exchange International
Valid: Jul 1, 2022 - ongoing

50% off the change fee for any currency exchange or foreign traveler's check transaction.

Events to check out


Museum Month

San Diego Museum Council
Feb 1 - Feb 28, 2023

February remains the perfect month to discover (or re-discover) the story of San Diego during Museum Month with 50% off admission to more than 60 San Diego County museums, historic sites,...



San Diego Photography Tours
Aug 16, 2022 - ongoing

Learn how to capture the essence of the late-day light and magical nighttime beauty of America’s finest city, on an Instagrammable private photography tour. Whether mastering how to shoot our...



San Diego Photography Tours
Jan 24 - ongoing

Journey with award winning tour guide Julie around San Diego’s cultural and historic sites—on a private tour of fun and informative must-see sightseeing hotspots. OLD TOWN: ...

Stay in touch

Sign up to receive the latest news, events, and updates about San Diego. Our monthly and weekly newsletters will keep you informed about the latest and greatest happenings in the destination.

Sign Up





Follow Us


English | Change Language

Select your country or region

China FlagChinaGermany FlagGermanyGreat Britain FlagGreat BritainJapan FlagJapanMexico FlagMexicoKorea FlagKoreaSwitzerland FlagSwitzerlandBrazil FlagBrazilFrance FlagFranceAustralia FlagAustraliaCanada FlagCanada USA

Or use Google Translate

Afrikaans Albanian Arabic Belarusian Bulgarian Catalan Croatian Czech Danish Deutsch Español Estonian Filipino Finnish Francais Galician Greek Haitian-Creole Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Icelandic Indonesian Irish Italian Japanese Korean Latvian Lithuanian Macedonian Malay Maltese Nederlands Norwegian Persian Polish Portuguese Romanian Russian Serbian Slovak Slovenian Swahili Swedish Telugu Thai Turkish Ukranian Vietnamese Welsh Yiddish