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Seven Dog-Friendly Hikes

Great hiking experience for dogs and their owners

This list of seven great dog-friendly hikes throughout San Diego County provides a number of starting points for adventures with your canine companions.

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

If you think humans enjoy getting out of the city for a bit of fresh air and sunshine, then just imagine the explosions of joy your dog will experience when he or she gets out on the trail for a walk in open space. San Diego's mild climate and diverse array of habitats offer a number of great hiking experience for dogs and their owners, ranging from wide, sandy beaches to pine-rimmed meadows.

This list of seven great dog-friendly hikes provides a number of starting points for adventures with your canine companions.

Dog Friendly Hike Elfin

Elfin Forest

Difficulty: Moderate to Moderately Difficult - 3-7 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: 8:00 am to 30-45 minutes before sunset

Trails in San Diego County almost universally require dogs to be on leash while they hike, but the trails in the higher reaches of Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve from Monday through Friday, dogs under effective voice control are allowed to walk with their owners without a leash. Dogs must remain on leash on the Way Up Trail, which ascends a steep hill from Escondido Creek to the trail network around the Olivenhain Reservoir.

Dog Friendly Hike San Dieguito

San Dieguito Lagoon

Difficulty: Easy - 3-4 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

The initial stretch of the county's ambitious Coast-to-Crest Trail traverses the northern shores of the lagoon between the Del Mar's North Beach, commonly known as "Dog Beach" and a shopping center on Via De La Valle. From the trailhead on San Andres Drive, hikers and their dogs can walk toward the beach, first along a smooth dirt path and then along a boardwalk before following a trail along the lagoon's inlet to North Beach. North Beach allows dogs to play off-leash between Labor Day and June 15th.

Dog Friendly Hike Batiquitos Lagoon

Batiquitos Lagoon

Difficulty: Easy - 3 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

While this popular dog-walking spot requires dogs to remain on leash, this prohibition has not prevented the scenic trail along the lagoon's north shore from being one of the most popular dog-walking trails in the county. Bring your pup to join the daily parade of canines.

Dog Friendly Hike Tijuana River

Beach Trail, Tijuana River Trail

Difficulty: Easy - 1 mile
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Outside of dog-friendly Del Mar, this scenic stretch of coast south of Seacoast Drive in Imperial Beach is one of the few stretches of beach that allows hikers and their pups. Walk along crashing waves to the mouth of the Tijuana River.

Dog Friendly Hike Blue Sky

Blue Sky Ecological Preserve

Difficulty: Moderate to Moderately Strenuous - 3-6 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

This trail through a dense gallery forest of coast live oaks and, depending on your dog's fitness level, climbs either to Ramona Lake or up and around Lake Poway. Be aware that temperatures here routinely soar into the mid-80's during summer.

Dog Friendly Hike Sunset Trail

Sunset Trail, Laguna Mountains

Difficulty: Easy - 3 miles
Fee: Free
Hours: Dawn to Dusk

For a different kind of canine hiking experience, take your dog to this gentle loop that traverses broad meadows to a tranquil pond known as Water in the Woods. The cool shade of the forest and the variety of plant life provides a banquet of olfactory experiences for your pup's sensitive sniffer.

Dog Friendly Hike Rancho Penasquitos

Penasquitos Canyon

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate - 3-7 miles
Fee: West Trailhead - Free. East Trailhead - $3 Day Use
Hours: West Trailhead - Dawn to Dusk. East Trailhead - 8:00 AM to Sunset

Penasquito Canyon's perennially flowing creek, gentle terrain, and relatively cool coastal temperatures are a perfect habitat for dogs. If you have a water-loving dog, you may have a tough time keeping him or her out of the water at the various crossings, but for your dog, that is all part of the fun.

A FEW NOTES ABOUT HIKING WITH DOGS IN SAN DIEGO

Trail regulations for dogs vary according to which agency operates the open space. California State Parks, Beaches, and Reserves forbid dogs on all trails, as do National Monuments and Parks. Nearly all trails except those listed above require dogs to walk on leash. All trails require owners to clean up after their pets. San Diego's climate features very warm temperatures during the summer, and any trail west of the coast may be far too warm for your dog. Dogs suffer heat stroke much faster than humans due to their inability to sweat. If it feels warm to you, it will definitely be too warm for your dog.

THE SEVEN DOG-FRIENDLY HIKES MAP

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