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What Are the Best Places for Hiking in San Diego?

Author 12-12-2015

San Diego’s natural beauty and literally ancient history can be experienced best while hiking. Whether it’s pristine nature with Native American ruins or clifftop sunsets or stunning views or secluded gems you prefer to see, you can have it all when you go hiking in San Diego.

Miles of trails are tucked away in various city parks and nature preserves, but venturing out slightly opens up a whole new array of options. With a mind-boggling array of hiking opportunities, you’ll never run out of trails. Here, though, are some of the best places for hiking in San Diego:

Balboa Park Trails

Balboa Park is a city staple, a cultural and natural hub. This enormous park features 19 trails at varying levels of difficulty. All told, you can hike a total of 65mi through the park, without ever leaving the city. The routes are clearly marked with color coded, numbered signs. The park’s 19 trails are accessible from the following gateways: Golden Hill, Marston Point, Morley Field, Park Boulevard, and Sixth and Upas.

Click here for an overview of each of the gateways and trails.

Location: Park Boulevard. MAP 

Cowles Mountain

Cowles Mountain is the highest point in the city of San Diego. Again, you can go hiking in San Diego proper and still experience outstanding views and impressive natural features. Located in the San Carlos neighborhood, the summit is 1,593-feet high.

Location: Parking lot on Golfcrest Drive. MAP 

Iron Mountain Trail

If an out-and-back trail strikes your fancy, then the Iron Mountain Summit Trail could be the right hike for you. This 6.4 mile out and back trail features beautiful wild flowers. Because of it’s length, it’s rated as moderate, but you can customize your hike’s difficulty by adjusting the length to suit you. Iron Mountain is not just for hiking in San Diego; it’s also popular for trail running.

Location: Highway 67 and Poway Road. There is a small gravel parking area on the side of the highway. MAP 

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

If you want to experience wildlife as much as getting a good workout, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve fits the bill. The oceanside trails are primed for spotting occasional dolphins or bobcats. Be aware that steep trails like Broken Hill, Razor Point, and Beach Trails, are generally closed in the event of rain to prevent soil erosion. Torrey Pines is well worth exploring, but weather conditions do determine how much you can experience while preserving the natural features, so keep that in mind.

Location: on Camino Del Mar; reserve entrance at the foot of the hill. MAP 

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trail

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is one of the places you can go hiking in San Diego and really experience some of the region’s Native American history. The Preserve’s trails meander over steep slopes, stream corridors, flat mesas, grassy hillsides, all within an area with Native history dating back as far as 7,000 years ago. With more than 14 habitat types–comprised of a waterfall, volcanic rock, California live oaks, sycamores, streams, marshes, and more–this trail is a naturalist’s dream.

Location: parking available on Canyonside Rd. MAP 

Mission Trails Regional Park: Oak Canyon Trail

Called the third Jewel in the City of San Diego Park System (along with Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park), Mission Trails is another crossroads of culture, history, and recreation. This is another place to go hiking in San Diego with about 60 miles of trails, including educational hikes. Thestate-of-the-art Visitor and Interpretive Center is well worth a visit before setting out, so you can really get the most out of your hike.

The Oak Canyon Trail is one of the more tucked away hikes, with the most naturally rewarding hikes of the trail from November to May.

Location: Accessible from the Old Mission Dam parking lot. MAP 

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Hiking in San Diego

Hiking in San Diego

If you’re as interested in romance as hiking in San Diego, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park just might be the place for you. With it’s 68 acres of ocean overlook, you’ll be awed by the beauty–a perfect setting for a proposal, for instance, which isn’t unheard of. (Naturally, the best time to hike here is at sunset.) Still, there’s more to the park than rose-colored skies: the 50-acre hillside section is a conservation area linking to the 640-acre Point Loma Ecological Reserve. Keep an eye out for the annual migration of the California Gray Whale, which are seasonally visible.

Location: western edge of Point Loma. MAP