First stop on the Utah road trip after 6 hours cooped up in the car, the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve rolled out their welcome trails. Not a bad stop to stretch the legs for hike or a mountain bike cruise. This picturesque reserve with expansive views out to the snow capped mountain range is right next to town and boasts 200 miles of non-motorized trails. (Yes, that’s 200 miles so you can stretch those legs of yours to your hearts content.)
The reserve was established in 1996 to protect critical desert tortoise habitat form being destroyed by development. It worked. You’ll notice tortoise scat on the rocks everywhere. And if you’re lucky, you might see one.
I only hiked a couple miles here, but look forward to coming back to explore more. Perhaps on 2-wheels next time…
Note: the trails can be hard to follow in this terrain so bring a good map or GPS if you venture out very far, and plenty of water, of course, as it’s all exposed.
Cruising the 21.8 mile Lakeview trail around Diamond Valley reservoir on mountain bike during the wildflower super bloom last weekend was a delight. It’s a flat, family-friendly fire-road with lake and snow -capped mountain views that don’t disappoint. Yes, this was seeing it dressed in its wildflower season best. And no, you probably won’t want to do it in the blazing heat of the summer as it’s all exposed. But it’s just right, right now – for running, hiking, biking, boating, and fishing. (It’s stocked with rainbow trout, large mouth bass, striped bass, bluegill, small mouth bass – catch and release only though.)
How many places can you take a scenic, peaceful 21 mile bike ride and have it virtually all to yourself on a weekend? Ok, Catalina, but where else? (Granted the little wildflower hike was much busier, but less by the time I was done with my mountain bike ride.)
Here’s your wildflower sampling: Poppies, Arroyo Lupine, California Goldfields, Brittlebush, Owl’s Clover, Canterbury Bells, Chia, Baby Blue Eyes, and more!
Did I mention to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes?
[Rattlesnake video courtesy of Ken Wells.]
Fee: $10 per car, $3 per person for trail entry – worth it.
The entrance to Diamond Valley Lake is off of Domenigoni Parkway, which connects with Highway 79 on the west side of the lake and State Street on the east. You can take State Street south from Highway 74 in Hemet.
Granted, I was lucky enough to hit this hike at its most beautiful, during the spring super bloom (poppies and native wildflowers galore), but year-round, on clear days , you can enjoy lovely views of Batiquitos Lagoon and the coastline from Camp Pendleton to La Jolla.
Denk Mountain is part of Rancho La Costa, a habitat conservation area in Carlsbad made up of several non-contiguous parcels of land, including Denk Mountain and Ridgeline Trail above Box Canyon. These are some of the most rugged in the area, which make it a local mountain bikers’ favorite.
Trail notes: You have choices on this loop trail. For surer footing sake, I recommend you go up the steeper, more rugged / rocky Mule Deer Trail and come down the more moderate, less rugged Switchback Trail. The hike is completely exposed so be prepared with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
Easy to moderate – depending on your fitness level
Leashed dogs allowed
FREE, along Corte Romero
Getting there: From the 5, take the La Costa Ave exit East and continue for 4 miles. Turn left onto Rancho Santa Fe Road and at .8 miles, turn right onto Camino Junipero, then in ~ .2 miles turn left onto Corte Romero. Park along the street. The trail head is on the right.
I was on (and off) a mountain bike for this wondrous single-track traverse through low-land forest and low-land river ecosystems. I’m not a very technical rider so I had to get off for the roots and rocks. Would love to come back to hike it sometime. Can’t provide much guidance about the trail as there was a major washout that I had to navigate with some detours. While the Elwha River Trail (ERT) spans the entire Elwha Valley, I was only able to make it up to the Glines Canyon Overlook before sunset.
Back in the day, the Elwha River ran wild from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and its valley supported many plants and animal species. As far back as ~ 2700 years ago (per radiocarbon dating), the Klallam people lived off the land, largely relying on fishing in the Elwha River. But that all changed 1913, when the Elwha Dam was built in 1913 to address demand for the lumber. To add insult to injury, the Glines Canyon Dam was built upstream in 1927.
Despite a state law that required accommodating for fish passage, neither dam did and fish runs were blocked. The consequences were devastating—impacting thousands of salmon per year and irrevocably changing the Klallam way of life.
Finally in 1992, Congress passed a law that required the removal of both dams and restoration of the Elwah River watershed. At 210 feet The Glines Canyon Dam is the tallest dam removed to date. It took 15 tons of explosives and 12,000 cubic feet of concrete were removed, Within months of the removal of the 2 dams, salmon were spawning and trout were returning for the first time in 100 years!
The Elwha River is one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in National Park Service history.
Educational Display Glines Canyon Overlook
Note: As of 12/4/2018 Elwha Road was closed to vehicles beyond Madison Falls parking lot due to washout. Side trip: Madison Falls
This lovely 60-foot waterfall is wheelchair accessible via a .01 mile paved trail.
Side trip: Colville MTB Trails
Sneaked in a quickie mountain bike right before dark at the Coleville bike park on the way back to Port Angeles. Currently under construction, the completed trails include a flowy, fun perimeter trail, a pump track, drop zone and several jump lines (whatever the last 3 are – nontechnical me, just enjoyed the 1st).
Side Trip: West Elwah Beach
So ends a gloriously full day that included a hike on Hurricane Ridge, 2 mountain bike rides, and a sunset stroll on the beach. Yes, I like to pack as much adventure and exploration into my days.
A popular spot for mountain bikers and hikers, the San Dieguito River Park in Escondido is squeezed between the I15 freeway and a couple housing developments. It’s not wilderness, but it still makes for a decent, suburban excursion and nature fix.
As I mentioned in my Cruising Lake Hodges post, the main mountain bike route on the Coast-to-Crest Trail is beginner friendly. The Bernardo Summit trail is not—it’s rated difficult due to loose rocks and steep technical sections. In other words, it’s way out of my mountain bike skill league so I left it undone on my last visit, vowing to come back and hike it. Note don’t let the words summit and mountain deter you. We’re only talking about a ~1k ft in elevation gain here. But that elevation is enough to deliver views that do not disappoint.
If you’re like me and want to bypass some concrete “hiking” and walking under the freeway, you may want to start your hike at the bicycle/pedestrian bridge (the world’s longest stressed ribbon bridge) which crosses the variably wet/dry section of Lake Hodges. After traversing the bridge, take the trail to the left heading towards the Lake. Before long, you’ll hopscotch on a couple rocks across Felicita Creek, a small perennial brook, and round the bend from there. Look for the summit trail splitting off to the right (the sign for it is facing the other direction). It’s a gradual, steady climb – mild to moderate and absolutely runnable – you just need to watch your footing on the loose rock sections. (I find it easier, more fun and less painful to run up vs. down.)
At the last and steepest section, you’ll encounter a fenced-in water tank – not very pretty, but don’t be discouraged. Your final ascent will be rewarded.
I highly recommend this hike for the best views in the park and a good workout. If you’re not up for incline, you can keep going straight along the North Shore trail to Del Dios Community Park and eventually, past the Lake Hodges Dam. Note it’s an out and back.
Hiking difficulty: Mild to moderate+ depending on your fitness level
Elevation change: ~1,000 ft
Distance: ~6.2-7.2 miles roundtrip, depending on where you start
I spent 3 incredibly fun days exploring the Prescott area and covered a fair amount of ground on foot and on bike sampling the local trails.
Downtown, historic Prescott, Arizona is charming, clean, friendly and fun. Lots of historic buildings, galleries, shops, restaurants, hotels and old-time saloons. I’m sure glad my road trip took me here. I had a blast exploring the area—hiking and mountain biking in the nearby Prescott National Forest by day and kicking up my heels on the saloon dance floors by night. As a solo woman traveler, I felt completely safe my entire trip. Nightlife – yes! Live music – yes! Dancing – yes!
Good night’s sleep on the “cheap” – basic, clean, quiet accommodations
Got into town late the first night and just needed a clean, quiet, safe place to stay. Here at the Rodeway Inn, I found friendly staff, a clean room, and comfy bed. Just basic was just right for that night for me. I left before the complimentary continental breakfast, but nice that they offer it.
Prescott Resort and Conference Center
Not quite on the same scale as a California “resort’, but nice enough. It certainly has stunning sunrise and sunset views across Prescott and a wonderful patio where you can enjoy them with a cocktail if you’re so inclined. The rooms were cozy, comfortable and clean and I’m guessing that most have great views too. I ate a decent, inexpensive meal in the casino and was pleasantly surprised by the quality. (The casino restaurant has daily specials so it’s worth checking out the restaurant there compared to the “resort restaurant” if you don’t care about ambiance.) I was traveling solo and had been hiking all day so it was just fine with me.
Hotel Saint Michael, Downtown/ Whiskey Row, Prescott, AZ
Location, location, location. On my final night in Prescott, I kicked up my heels and checked out the live music and saloon scene on Whiskey Row. If it’s a busy weekend you might need to pick your poison – some interior rooms with a super noisy generator or exterior room with rowdy crowds. Yes, the rooms and bathrooms are super dated – this is a historic (and word has it, haunted hotel – I expected that much. I didn’t expect the roar of the generator. Disclaimer, I’m a “sensitive sleeper”. But the noise was so LOUD, putting pillow over my head didn’t help. They should probably hand out earplugs here. Maybe they’re hoping you’ll come back from Whiskey Row so sloshed that you won’t hear a thing.
It’s a pleasant hike along the miniature creek under the shade of Ponderosa pines and Juniper and Manzanita trees. Some say it’s one of the prettiest trails in Prescott. Keep a lookout for the rock formations. If you’re lucky, and look carefully enough, you might see the “secret waterfall” hidden there. (No water was running when I went.) After a mellow climb, you’ll reach a crest that yields expansive views of the surrounding ranges— the Sierra Prietas, the Bradshaws, and the San Francisco peaks. Here you can retrace your steps or continue on trail 48 to the southwest or explore trail 94115 to the north east. I read some reports that there’s an 11-mile hike that takes you to Thumb Butte. (Sounds like a car shuttle might be in order for that one unless you’re mountain biking or up for a marathon hike.)
Prescott’s dedication to their extensive trail system is admirable. Over my 3 days here, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring a sampler of them by foot and wheel (Thumb Butte, Spruce Mountain, Granite Basin, Goldwater Lake, Petroglyph Trail, Constellation Trails, and the Peavine/ Iron King Trails .) Just beware that the disparate systems, naming conventions and maps can be confusing. People mistakenly refer to trails by the wrong numbers. Different city and national forest websites may provide conflicting information on hike mileage and other details. I couldn’t figure out what the mileage was for this one. Oh and it’s another double misnomer hike – there are no Aspen trees on this trail despite the name and the creek is only a dribble. Perhaps it’s more of a creek in the spring?
Trail details: The first mile of the trail is part of the Prescott Circle Trail – it takes you up to a junction for trail 48 to the southwest or trail 94115 to the northeast. I’d rate it as easy. The Prescott Circle Trail is a network of city and Prescott National Forest trails that combine to make a 54-mile loop around Prescott. I’ll have to investigate more of these trails next time I’m in the area.
Getting there: 20 minutes from downtown Prescott. The Aspen Creek trailhead is on Copper Basin Road ~ 2 miles after it changes from blacktop to dirt. Parking is on the right and the trail head is on the left.