Best Hikes In San Diego
San Diego has everything to offer for solitary travelers, families or groups of friends in terms of fun, attractions, nightlife and sightseeing – but one of the big advantages of this incredible city is the walking and hiking trails, which afford amazing views and photographic opportunities throughout this picturesque area.
In terms of hiking, San Diego suits everyone, from the novice and not so fit, through to those wanting to increase their athletic performance, and to this end, many people participating in triathlons or similar endurance tests choose San Diego as a training ground.
Another advantage – if you want to hike in San Diego with children in tow, there are many trails that are not too tough for ‘little legs’, and quite often there is something of more interest to them at the end of the hike! So let’s take a look at some of the trails available including both easy and those more suited to super-athletes.
Image Credit: Dru Kelly
Probably one of the most well-known hikes, the terrain is not too difficult, but the views are stunning as all the various hiking trails raise gently up above the ocean. There are several hiking options – if you are hiking as a family, try the simple beach trail, which is less than 2 miles and culminates in walking straight onto the beach (this is the magnet for the children!).
It is also a ‘romantic’ walk at sunset, with stunning views of the sun as it sets over the ocean. If you are after a little more hard core hiking, the picturesque Razor Point is less distance but slightly more difficult in terms of incline.
Image Credit: Bonnie Dean
Another stunning hike, short but full of wonderful views. Whilst hiking here up to the top of the cliffs, you can experience the ocean air, pretty tide pools and even better, you may get the chance to see some bottle-nosed dolphins or seals playing in and out of the crystal clear water.
A must do for a short hike, but still filling your lungs with plenty of O2. The whole area is a natural park and has easy access to the cliffs and Ocean Beach, so once again, it shouldn’t be too hard if you have the little ones with you.
Borrega Palm Canyon
This is ideal for those that enjoy a reasonable hike, but without challenging terrain, as this hike is fairly flat for approximately 3.5 miles, meandering through desert and cactus gardens, stunning wild plants and flowers and a token gesture of big-horned sheep!
But other than runners or other hikers, that is about all you will see as the area is breathtaking, and pretty isolated, with that hint of desert charm. You can get up some serious steam here.
Balboa Park Hiking Trails
Image Credit: JayBuffington
This is a good choice for anyone wanting to take an easy hike to begin with, and then work gradually up to longer distances or something more challenging. The hikes are set around the 1200 acre entertainment area of Balboa Park, so there is something to aim for once you have done your exercise!
You can take a relatively leisurely hike of under 2 miles, or build up to a much longer and more difficult experience and cover nearly 7 miles in your travels. Oak and pine trees await you, and some interesting paths through the canyons. A wide variety of landscape makes the interest factor pretty high.
Climb up to Potato Chip Rock!
Image Credit: daveynin
This is where everyone wants to be photographed, on the edge of this rock formation at the top of Mount Woodson. Huge boulders surround the route, which zig-zags its way through the slightly mystic hollow surroundings for over 6 miles.
Make no mistake – this is challenging, up and down until you reach the summit, but that classic ‘photograph of a lifetime’ sitting atop Potato Chip Rock is well worth the energy expended.
This is somewhat of a ‘tourist trap’ though, so don’t think you can gaze out over the landscape and have private thoughts! You have to jump from boulder to boulder to reach there – if you are a scaredy cat, wait until nobody else is jumping, as you can feel the vibrations.
Now for the hard stuff – Iron Mountain and more!
Image Credit: thphht
You need to be pretty hardy for the next few hikes – they can also be challenging in the piercing hot San Diego sun, so be prepared. Whilst the hiking trails at Iron Mountain, located in Poway, offer a delightful surroundings of hills and vibrant lilac trees, interspersed with boulders that are ‘oh so San Diego’.
You can hike for over 6 miles, but it is thoroughly recommended that you set off as soon as daylight dawns, to avoid the heat – there is virtually no shelter here.
Cedar Creek Falls
Image Credit: Byron Hetrick
Likewise – Cedar Creek Falls is the classic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Around 4.5 miles in pretty arid and exposed terrain, you will come across a welcome oasis at the end of it.
A glorious waterfall which tumbles down 75ft from the cliffs is truly spectacular and welcoming from the hot sun. Beneath the waterfall is a dive-in pool, which is locally called ‘the punchbowl’. This hike is well worth it for the prize at the end.
And now the seriously competitive stuff!
Image Credit: Roger Wagner
Can you take over 13 miles round trip? If so, head to Palomar Mountain for a hike second to none for the fitter and more challenging ones amongst you. This destination is one of the highest peaks in San Diego County, over 6,000 feet and a very strenuous and ‘not for the faint-hearted’ hike.
As you go up, you will enjoy a view of the San Jacinto Peaks through the trees – but seriously consider the time of day that you take on the challenge. Think about late afternoon, early evening and take advantage of the Observatory at the top with its huge telescope, ideal for a clear and spectacular star-gazing experience.
For the ‘Ironman or Ironwoman’ – El Cap Mountain
Image Credit: Euan.Mcintosh
This hike is serious business – so serious that top triathletes use it for training purposes as it is challenging and grueling. Based over 11 miles to reach a height of just over 3,500 feet, it is hot and tiring, with very little respite if you try it during the hot weather.
The trails are steep to say the least, and be prepared to need some recuperation after to rest those aching legs and muscles. Due to the difficulty on this hike, the trail is closed for the month of August to avoid injuries or illnesses resulting from the very hot weather. So be prepared!
Take your dog for a hike
Image Credit: Ken Lund
Taking your dog for a hike can be so rewarding – they just love the outdoors. Cuyamaca Peak is the place for you and your four-legged friend and the rise to the top is over 6,000 feet. It is such a shame that much of the forestry was destroyed in 2003 by severe fires, that wiped out the wonderful selection of trees that were visible on the hike up to the top.
Now the walk is paved but still quite pretty, and the superb elevation allows you to see for a good 100 miles. One tip – due to the paving, takes some poles with you for the journey back. It’s rather hard on the joints and walking poles will help. This is a good hike for those who are more interested in views than terrain.
Whichever hikes suit you, always be aware of the weather conditions in San Diego. Whilst pretty clement the bulk of the year, there can be those days where it is unbearably hot and humid, so take precautions, plenty of fluids and enjoy your hike without danger.