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August 30, 2021

7 San Diego's Favorite Hiking and Walking Trails

San Diego's canyons, forests, and mountains have received a lot more attention in the last year, as a record number of people sought sanctuary in the great outdoors. This tour will show you six of our most popular hiking paths, as well as the less crowded but no less impressive options you should try next. In the meanwhile, learn about trekking essentials, why you should leave no trace, and safe biking recommendations (and keep the car honking to a minimum). San Diego's greatest is ready to be discovered, whether you're pedaling or hoofing it, as a newbie or a seasoned ranger. Best wishes!

Lagoon of San Elijo

Hiking through this North County natural reserve is stunning, with plenty of plants and birds to see and various twisting trails to explore. One of the more popular routes is to begin at the nature center and follow the short half-mile loop, or to continue east on Manchester Avenue and take the three-mile La Orilla Trail.

Rose Canyon Hiking Trail

Despite passing through a densely populated region of University City, this trail feels concealed and hence much more distant. There is no designated parking area for it, so you have to be aware that it exists. If school is not in session, you can park in the University City High School lot and then walk down the train lines. Follow it along the cliff's edge, stopping to admire the wildflowers and birds along the route. You can follow it for two kilometers before connecting to the San Clemente Trail via state Route 52.

While there are no views of the ocean along the walk, the vista of flower-covered cliffs tumbling onto the railroad tracks is breathtaking, and there are hidden shady woods along the way. This track contains a few high hills and is rugged underfoot in sections, but it is only moderately difficult and can be done at any time of year due to the coastal breezes.

Mount Woodson

This trail is well-known for the Instagram-worthy "Potato Chip Rock." The ascent is difficult, with sweeping vistas on the way up, however the peak is not so lovely, as it is covered with communication towers. The main route begins at the Lake Poway Recreation Area on Lake Poway Road and extends for 6.4 kilometers.

Eagle Rock

Another natural feature that clearly rivals Potato Chip Rock can be found on this hike along the famed Pacific Crest Trail in Warner Springs. When you see it, you'll think to yourself, "Oh, that's why it's called Eagle Rock." Promise.

To get there, start at the Eagle Rock Trailhead on Highway 79 near the Cal Fire Warner Springs Fire Station and hike east. The path is rather flat (not as strenuous as Mount Woodson, but maybe you don't mind) and 6.6 miles long (out and back).

It's largely a desert hike, although it does take you through some shade sections along the stream, which is bordered with oak trees and has the gorgeous rolling hills and wide chaparral meadows you'd expect in this area. Plants such as chamise, pencil cholla, and prickly pear cactus can be found along the road.

Cowles Mountain

This hike to the highest point inside San Diego city limits (1,593 feet) is a local favorite, especially among hikers who are new to the sport. The primary route begins at the intersection of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road and follows a three-mile out-and-back path with a scenic vista on clear days. There are less crowded paths to the summit (for example, starting at Mesa Road in Santee and going up the east face), but no matter which route you take, you'll ultimately come with people, especially at the summit. On weekends, the main trail might become congested.

Fortunas of the South and North

Why do one peak on a day hike when you can do two? Both of these mountains are landmarks in Mission Trails Regional Park, which has the same stunning environment. The way up South Fortuna, across the Fortuna Saddle, and up North Fortuna is just under six miles long and slightly more difficult than Cowles.

The path begins at the West Fortuna Staging Area on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard Road and leads through mountain vistas with scenic photo opportunities. Along the trip, you'll observe chaparral and oak trees, as well as wildflowers in the spring. You'll be near the San Diego River and may encounter hawks, desert cottontails, or rattlesnakes in the summer and fall (steer clear and read up on snake myths below).

There are also wide-open meadows to traverse with spectacular vistas of the park's mountains, notably Cowles. Climb the South Fortuna Stairs to the summit of one peak, then continue north to the summit of North Fortuna.

Lake Murray

This easy running trail skirts the coastline of an oasis in East County, which attracts a lot of people—especially on weekends, it can be clogged with strollers, dogs, bikers, and runners. The six-mile out-and-back path begins at Lake Murray Park on Kiowa Drive in La Mesa and ends at Lake Murray Park on Kiowa Drive. You can't run around the entire lake, so when you reach the chainlink gate, you have no choice but to turn around (but not before tapping the bull's eye).

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