My back was a little tweaked from last week’s roller blade when I used my butt as a brake so I was looking for something mellow to do this weekend. That’s when I thought of mt.biking around Lake Hodges on the flat section of the San Dieguito River Park Coast to Crest Trail. This multi-use trail is open to hikers/runners, mountain bikers and equestrians. The main trail (a planned 70 miles – 45 miles of which currently exists ) extends from Del Mar to Volcan mountain in Julian. And there are over 20 miles of auxiliary trails within the River Park to play on.
I chose an easy cruise on a friendly wide dirt trail through the North side of the park. If you add on some single track on the flip side, you can make it around to the dam.)
(Option to stop in for some refreshments at Herandez Hidaway on Lake Drive.) We passed it up because my back was acting up (could have been the three falls). There are only about 3 spots where a mtb novice or clutz like me needs to walk (should have walked) hence the falls. Otherwise, super pleasant, beginner mtb trail. Managed to get about 16 miles in on the out and back.
I’ve ridden and run the South side too – not as much mileage there and much better views on the North side, in my opinion. If you’re tough and technical, you can go for the Bernardo Mountain Summit trail – looks fun. You can also find more trails under the pedestrian bridge, but you may encounter some challenging single track there. (I might hike a couple of these to scout them first and report back. I suspect they won’t be as scenic since they ride away from the lake.)
There are a number of ways to access the trails. The pedestrian / bike bridge is a good a starting point for explorations North or South.
I-15 freeway to West Bernardo/Pomerado Road, go west and park in the Bernardo Bay parking lot on the right just before Rancho Bernardo Community Park,
Or perhaps consider parking your car at Hernadez Hideaway on the other side of the lake so you can look forward to lunch and libations after your ride.
Hernadez Hideaway, 19320 Lake Drive Escondido, California 92029
In many ways, Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Extension, the quiet younger park outshines her excessively popular, bigger sister. Especially if you like your nature served up with a bit of solitude as I do mine. This area was acquired in 1970, 11 years after Torrey Pines itself became an official State Park thanks to the work of local conservation groups.
The pros: You still get stellar (though more distant) views of the glimmering Pacific and bedazzling Penasquitos Lagoon (if it’s a clear day) and close-ups of the dramatic red, other-worldy, sculpted, sandstones cliffs and Torrey Pines. Some of the trails are boarding rows of McMansions so you don’t quite escape from suburbia unless you put your blinders on.
The cons: There trails are really short and easy on sandstone or sandy terrain. (Could be considered a pro for some, I know.) Apparently there’s some way to eek out 4 miles, not sure how. You’ll be hard-pressed to get in a workout here – unless you run them quickly. Also, there is no beach access.
When I went there were no trail maps in the box so I just meandered through the network of short trails. You can’t really get lost. If you’re going, you may want to check out the online map first.
To share a “secret” locale or not, that is the question.
I’ve lived in the Sand Diego area for about a decade and had never heard of this area. This spot is relatively quiet and underutilized. Yes, it’s nice to keep it that way so am I betraying it by writing this post? Well, this is part of a State Park, which means it is open to the public and shouldn’t be a secret. So on one hand, I believe it’s appropriate to share the information. And I believe, perhaps naively, that people who love this sort of place will respect it and tread lightly. On the other hand, I’d hate to see it get overrun. (Much controversy surrounds the instagram and social sharing phenomenon.) Then again, since this place is part of a State Park, I imagine that park officials would intervene as necessary should the area become compromised due to excessive use. Tell me, what’s your opinion of sharing vs. keeping your favorite spots secret?
It seems strange that the signs and literature at Torrey Pines State Park don’t make any reference to this area. It almost feels like the Del Mar locals (who may include some of the original conservationists) have played a role in keeping this on down low. Ok, am I approaching conspiracy theory level yet? (I’m just saying it seems awfully convenient that they have managed to keep the trail and the views all to themselves and their dogs.) Dogs, you say? Are they allowed? No, they aren’t and there are “No Dogs” signs posted everywhere. Yet, of the half dozen or so people we ran into, most had their 4-legged companions with them. Not only that, when we started out on the trail a Golden Retriever bounded down from the one of the homes and raced in front of us, eager to guide us through “his park”. Hey, I’m a dog lover, but there’s a reason they’ve posted no dog signs everywhere, right? Fragile ecosystem, etc…I guess if you live in Del Mar, the rules don’t apply to you. Ok, maybe not all the hikers with dogs were from Del Mar, but chances are…
Getting there: From I-5, take the Del Mar Heights Road exit. Head west on Del Mar Heights Road for approximately half a mile. Turn left onto Mercado Drive, then left onto Cordero Road. Make a right onto Mira Montana Drive and follow it to the end where you’ll find a couple parking spots and a trail head next to Del Mar Heights Elementary School. Parking and entry is free. There are other access points in the neighborhood with ample parking along the street.
No Dogs (Even though plenty of entitled peeps and pooches were violating this rule.)
Headed to Palomar Mountain with hiking in mind and got much more out of the excursion than expected.
The drive up the South Grade (S6) mountain road is winding and scenic. You’ll want to keep your eyes on the road if you’re driving. Apparently this road has been compared to the L’Alpe d’Huez on the Tour de France Route so it’s popular with road cyclists, motorcyclists and sports car drivers too… Beware of those dare devil motocyclists crossing the center line as they race down the mountain
The clouds and fog made for some dramatic vistas on the way up.
The small park headquarters has a mini natural history exhibit. I didn’t know we had gray fox around here. Signs were up about a recent mountain lion sighting in the park.
As far as the hiking here goes, most trails are short and dogs aren’t allowed on them. We did the longest loop we could find, starting at the Doane Pond, which is open for fishing year round and stocked with trout. It’s a great spot for a picnic too.
Overall, the terrain is easy on the feet – mostly dirt, not too many rocks or roots. It’s ideal for a quick trail run. (Note the seasonal tick and rattle snake warnings.)
We went up the Thunder Springs and the Silver Crest Trails and down Scott’s Cabin Trail and Chimney Flats. (Spoiler alert – the trails name is a misnomer as there is no standing cabin, just a placard at the site with no historic details on it or in the park’s brochure). The hike is interrupted by the road a couple times and the road is always within a stones throw. The good news – you won’t get lost. The bad news, if you’re a hiking snob like me, it’s a bit anticlimactic, but that’s ok – the views along the ridge, at the Boucher Hill Fire Tower, and by the Observatory are quite epic. And the road and the drive by locations make it accessible for all.
Here’s a video clip of a particularly lovely section of trail.
Tree lovers will delight in the variety that this section of the Cleveland National Forest yields: Douglass fir, white fir, incense cedar, live oak, black oak, coulter pine and yellow pine. Approximately 40 inches of annual rainfall keeps them thriving. Of course all these trees make it a haven for birds and bird lovers as well.
The Doane valley Campground has 31 campsites, each outfitted with a table, fire ring, BBQ and food locker. Nearby restrooms have flush toilets and coin-operated hot showers. Many comforts of home in a forest setting – great for an introduction to camping. The Cedar Grove Campground has 3 areas for group camping. For more info and to reserve a spot up to 7 months in advance call 1-800-444-7275.
Enjoy Epic Views from the Boucher Hill Historic Fire Tower
The Boucher Hill Historic Fire Tower is definitely worth a stop too – whether you drive by or hike the 1.2 miles up from the visitor center. This is one of only 2 fire towers left in California. From the observation deck, you don’t even have to use the provided binocular gizmo to see the glimmering Pacific ~50 miles away.
Even with my bad eyes, I could make out Tamarack Tower / Smoke Stack that marks my home beach. You have to know what to look for to make it out in the video, but you can definitely tell that you’re looking out to sea.
Visit the Impressive Palomar Observatory & Museum
And no, the field trip’s not over yet. Next, we headed over to the Palomar Observatory. The structure itself is quite impressive (see feature photo), but it’s definitely worth looking inside. (Hours are 9-4 daily.) The Hale Telescope is considered one of most important scientific innovations of the last century and was the most productive and prominent telescope in the world from 1948 to 1993.
Don’t miss the Museum either. It’s got great displays, info and videos. The small gift shop was closed as we got there late, but I’m sure there’s some cool stuff and souvenirs for the kids in there too.
If you aren’t an astronomy or science buff going in, you might be when you leave. ..
So many fun things to do, see and learn here. Highly recommend Palomar Mountain as a field trip for the whole family. Great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Almost forgot to mention, be sure to bring a water bottle and get your fill of refreshing fresh (and free) spring water on the way up or down at the Palomar Artesian Springs.