Nine Great San Diego Hikes for You to Go on Now
Grab the water and sunscreen!
It’s hard not to be smug about living in San Diego—not only are we blessed with the most beautiful coastline and beaches, we also have miles and miles of trails that snake all over the county, along rivers and streams, over boulders and rock walls and through pine and oak forests. From urban bridges to rocky waterfalls to rugged desert trails, we’ve gathered nine of our favorite hikes into one handy list that has something for every skill level. So grab some water and a mask and hit the trails!
Distance: ~2 miles
How lucky are we to have a National Park right in the city that not only provides stunning, 360-degree views of the skyline and water, but has wide, gently sloping trails and an array of accessibility options that make it easier for everyone to enjoy? The out-and-back route does have a couple of steeper spots to negotiate, but numerous benches along the way ensure plenty of prime viewing options. Once you’ve made it back to the top, head down to the Point Loma Tidepools and Bluffs Trail for an additional easy, one-mile hike down to the famous tidepools. The trails are definitely busier on the weekends, of course, and the road to the tidepools is occasionally closed to maintain social adequate distancing, with wait times around 30 minutes.
Distance: 4.1 miles
This challenging out-and-back hike begins with a two-mile, 980-feet descent that includes some bouldering, climbing, and traversing before you reach the sparkling falls and pools. Climb up to the top falls or scramble on the boulders and rock faces either before you go for a swim or after you dry off—the polished rock walls and boulders are slippery. Fuel up after you take a dip, and save plenty of water (and time) for the return trip, which is two miles uphill, remember?
Distance: 5.8 miles
Wandering for nearly six miles along the San Diego River, the Walker Preserve Trail is a wide, well-maintained decomposed granite trail that has gentle grades and a beautiful redwood deck, complete with a bench, overlooking the water. It’s popular with walkers, runners, and cyclists and can accommodate most wheelchairs and strollers for the entire route. Perfect for when you need to get some steps in but don’t want a full-on hike.
Distance: 3.4 miles
For maximum backcountry feels without the two-hour drive, Stonewall Peak Trail offers spectacular vistas and ever-changing vegetation along its 3.4 mile out-and-back course. Thanks to a series of gentle switchbacks up, a mere 830 foot elevation gain, and plenty of shade from the beautiful forest setting, hikers of almost any skill level can hit the summit for 360-degree views of Lake Cuyamaca and the park. Afterwards, you’re just a quick 10 mile drive into Julian for a guilt-free slice or two of their famous apple pies.
Distance: ~6 miles
Hidden back in the desert mountains of Anza-Borrego State Park east of San Diego is the largest wooden railroad trestle in the world. This trek is not for the inexperienced hiker and will most likely take the entire day. The "trail" is not marked or maintained and is pretty much non-existent. You’ll have to do some navigating for this one, so if you don’t have a GPS unit or at least know how to use a map and a compass, don’t even think about marching off into the desert like you’re Indiana Jones or something. This hike is intense and involves rugged terrain; bouldering; navigating through brush; and possibly an encounter with snakes, glowing orbs, or the Borrego Sandman. A couple of the tunnels have collapsed, but the workaround will be obvious, and experienced hikers recommend downloading the trail maps in advance. So bring a lot of water, a headlamp or flashlight for the tunnels, use your common sense, and be prepared for anything. Once you reach the trestle it will all be worth it.
Distance: 9.8 miles
If you want to conquer the highest point in San Diego County, then hike to the top of Hot Springs Mountain in the Los Coyotes Reservation. After closing the land to recreational use for years due to destructive visitors, the tribe has reopened the area to the public on weekends for a $10 per person (not per car), cash-only day-use fee. The trail starts at the Los Coyotes Campground and follows an old fire road as the hike takes you through a dense and shady conifer forest. Expect your quads to burn for the first two miles, some rock climbing, and a ladder/rope assist to the top. Sitting atop the 6,553 foot peak, you’ll find the remains of an old fire lookout and beautiful views in every direction. Gates open at 8 am.
Anza-Borrego State Park
Distance: 2.3 miles
There’s no need to go all the way to Arizona or Utah to experience a slot canyon hike. We have one of our own just east of San Diego in Anza Borrego State Park. The trail marker for the slot can be tricky to find, but once you’re there you can wind your way through this narrow canyon that was carved into the desert by rushing water. You’ll need $10 cash for parking/entrance, and plan to arrive early, especially on weekends, since entrance closures to ensure safely distanced hiking are not uncommon.
El Capitan County Preserve
Distance: 11.3 miles
If you’re looking for a good workout with a great view, El Cajon Mountain Trail is for you. Known as one of the most challenging hikes in SD, the trail follows an old mining road that both ascends and descends for most of the way up to the peak at 3,675 feet. Which means you’ll be going up and down all the way back down the mountain as well, so expect some burning quads. The trail is closed in August due to extreme summer temperatures, so be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks if you want to attempt this trail in the warmer months. Plan to spend the better part of the day on this hike and do obey the signs that let you know when it’s time to turn back, since the gates close promptly at 4:30 pm in the winter. Experienced hikers recommend wearing hiking boots to manage the steeper, slippery parts.
Black Mountain Open Space
Distance: 2.5 miles
Miners Ridge Short Loop Trail, one of a dozen trails of varying length and difficulty in Black Mountain Open Space, packs a decent workout in a short couple of miles, with the added bonus of a fair amount of shade along the way. Add the Black Mountain leg for an additional 2 miles and ~350 feet in elevation gain. This is a dog-friendly trail, just make sure you keep your pooch leashed while you roam.