Take a hike: County picks 10 trails worth a trek this spring


San Diego County park rangers have selected 10 trails for residents to explore at this beautiful time of the year. The picks are scattered from the coast to the mountains and deserts, and they’re a mix of some of the most popular and least traveled.

Before hitting the trail, consider the difficulty of the hike, the weather and your physical-fitness level. The trails are broken down from easy to hard. No matter if you are taking your first steps or looking for a new hiking challenge, bring plenty of water, dress properly, stay on marked trails and make sure you let someone know where you are hiking.

In addition, County Parks hosts dozens and dozens of guided hikes throughout the year. Find one in the County Parks & Recreation Activity Guide at


1. San Elijo Ecological Reserve Dairy Mart Pond Loop Trail at Tijuana River Valley Regional Park

• Distance: 2 miles

• Elevation Gain: Flat

• Duration: 1 hour

• Pro Tip: Take a virtual hike along the trail before lacing up your sneakers and hiking it yourself. Part of the trail is ADA accessible.

2. La Orilla Trail at San Elijo Ecological Reserve

• Distance: Up to 5 miles

• Elevation Gain: Flat

• Duration: 2-4 hours

• Pro Tip: San Elijo is a bird-watcher’s paradise. Bring binoculars. Stop by the visitors center for a map and to meet Franklin.

3. Trail: Valley View Trail at Barnett Ranch County Preserve

• Distance: 4 miles

• Elevation Gain: 630 feet

• Duration: 2 hours

• Pro Tip: Don’t miss the opportunity to snap a selfie at the double-sided bench. The preserve is a great spot for lunch or snacking al fresco.


4. Flinn Peak Trail at Flinn Springs County Park

• Distance: 0.75 miles

• Elevation Gain: 175 feet

• Duration: 1-2 hours

• Pro Tip: Keep your eyes peeled for creek frogs and Kumeyaay artifacts like grinding holes, which were used for the preparation of food. While this is a shorter hike, you can choose your own adventure and continue into the adjacent preserve.


5. South Barcelona Trail at Dictionary Hill County Preserve

• Distance: 2.1 miles

• Elevation Gain: 565 feet

• Duration: 1-2 hours

• Pro Tip: This is the newest County acquired open space. If you have them, bring trekking poles or a hiking stick. Parts of the trail are rocky.

6. Old Survey Road 97 at Ramona Grasslands County Preserve

• Distance: 5.4 miles

• Elevation Gain: 938 feet

• Duration: 2 hours

• Pro Tip: Hiking this trail takes a little bit of planning because you’ll need a permit and it is only open weekends from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15.


7. Del Dios Highlands County Preserve fire road

• Distance: 2.6 miles or longer

• Elevation Gain: 910 feet

• Duration: 1-2 hours

• Pro Tip: Halfway up the trail you can see Lake Hodges. At the top, you can see the ocean on a clear day. Hike the 2.6 miles in Del Dios or continue into the Elfin Forest for another 10+ miles.

8. Kanaka Loop Trail at Santa Ysabel East County Preserve

• Distance: 7.4 miles

• Elevation Gain: 1,050 feet

• Duration: 5 hours

• Pro Tip: Be ready to share the trails with cattle that also call this preserve home. Of course, moooove over or wait for them to pass.


9. Mt. Gower County Preserve trail

• Distance: 10.3 miles

• Elevation Gain: 3,193 feet

• Duration: 5-6 hours

• Pro Tip: This preserve is not just dense chaparral, but oak woodlands, shaded streamside arbors and meadows. Look for the teepee and rock fangs along the hike.

10. El Cajon Mountain trail at El Capitan County Preserve

• Distance: 11-plus miles

• Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet

• Duration: 5-7 hours

• Pro Tip: This trail is considered one of the toughest in the county. Start early and bring water, snacks and a fit friend to enjoy the views.

— Michelle Mowad works in San Diego County’s Communications Office