William Heise County Park (Julian)

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Vista from Glen's View, William Heise County Park

Vista from Glen’s View, William Heise County Park

Dusk on the Nature Trail, William Heise County Park

Dusk on the Nature Trail, William Heise County Park

William Heise County Park

  • Location: Eastern San Diego County, near Julian.  On Highway 78, about 35 miles east of Escondido and a mile west of Julian, at the town of Wynola, head south on Pine Hills Road, signed for the park. After a mile, turn left on Deer Park Road, go 2.1 miles to Frisius Drive and turn left.  Follow Frisius Drive to the park.  Day use parking is $3.  From the main entrance, follow the road about half a mile to the Canyon Oak day use area, shortly before Group Camp 2 and Camping Area 3.
  • Agency: William Heise County Park (San Diego County Parks and Recreation)
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: Year-round but hot during the summer and possible snow during the winter; plan accordingly
  • USGS topo map: Julian
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (Canyon Oak trail only); Yelp page here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Canyon Oak Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Canyon Oak Trail Head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Located on the outskirts of Julian at nearly a mile above sea level, William Heise County Park offers dramatic mountain and desert views as well as secluded woodlands.  Despite damage from the 2003 Cedar Fire, the park is still home to an impressive collection of trees including black oaks, pines and incense cedars.  William Heise is perhaps best known as a camping destination, featuring both camp sites and log cabins, but it also features 10 miles of hiking trails.  The 3.5-mile loop described here uses the Canyon Oak, Desert View and Nature Trails, sampling the best of the park’s scenery.

0:03 - Interpretive plaque in the woods (times are approximate)

0:03 – Interpretive plaque in the woods (times are approximate)

From the day use area, the Canyon Oak Trail ascends a natural staircase through a grove of oaks  and pines where an interpretive plaque describes the history and effects of the area’s wildfires.  From here you enter an open area where you briefly descend, taking in views of North Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park to the south.  After passing by Group Camp 1 (half a mile from the start), stay left as another trail merges in from the right.  The trail then climbs through a fire-ravaged landscape on a westward facing slope, reaching a vista point with a bench where you can catch your breath while enjoying a panoramic view.

0:15 - Junction on the Canyon Oak Trail

0:15 – Junction on the Canyon Oak Trail

At about 1.3 miles from the start, you reach a junction with the Desert View Trail.  Turn left and begin a steep climb up a manzanita-covered hill side.  The good news is that the views are even better than from below.  You follow a ridge, briefly descend and then climb again to a junction where a spur leads to Glen’s View (elevation 4,940).  Here you get the best view of the hike, including the desert to the east, the Palomar Mountains to the north, the Cuyamacas to the south and if the air is clear, the ocean to the west.  A view-finder points out some of the spots of note, including Toro Peak and Rabbit Peak in the Santa Rosa Mountains, the Salton Sea and more.

0:30 - Start of the Desert View Trail

0:30 – Start of the Desert View Trail

After taking in the vista, head back to the Desert View Trail which begins a steep descent, sometimes over rather rough terrain.  At a T-junction (about 2.7 miles from the start) you can extend the hike by heading left on the Nature Trail, which drops into an attractive woodland.  A few interpretive plaques describe the plant life, which includes incense cedars and sagebrush.  The Nature Trail ends at a paved road near Group Camp 2.  Follow the road a short distance back to the day use area.

0:55 - Looking east toward Granite Mountain and the Anza-Borrego Desert from Glen's View

0:55 – Looking east toward Granite Mountain and the Anza-Borrego Desert from Glen’s View

In case you were wondering, William Heise was a local businessman who donated the land for this park back in the 1960s.

1:20 - Junction with the Nature Trail (turn left)

1:20 – Junction with the Nature Trail (turn left)

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

1:38 - Paved road at the end of the nature trail leading back to the day use area

1:38 – Paved road at the end of the nature trail leading back to the day use area

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Hosp Grove Park

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Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Trail through the eucalyptus trees in Hosp Grove

Hosp Grove Park

  • Location: Carlsbad, near the intersection of I-5 and Highway 78, San Diego County.  From I-5, take the Las Flores Drive exit.  Turn left if you’re coming from San Diego or right if you’re coming from Orange County and follow the road to Jefferson St.  Turn right on Jefferson and follow it 0.7 miles to the park entrance on the right.  From San Marcos/Escondido, take Highway 78 west to Jefferson St.  Turn left on Jefferson, follow it 0.3 miles and turn right to stay on Jefferson.  The park entrance is on the left in 0.1 miles.
  • Agency: City of Carlsbad
  • Distance: 0.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: Del Mar
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Park information here; Trip Advisor page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2
0:00 - Hosp Grove trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Hosp Grove trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Purists might not be impressed with this short loop, which never really escapes the noise of the nearby streets–or perhaps put off by the presence of non-native eucalyptus trees–but most people would probably prefer to see this land in north San Diego County used as a public recreation spot than for retail or residential development.

There are a number of trails, both official and non-official, that run through the park.  It’s a pleasant place to take a stroll, by yourself, with friends, kids or a dog, without having to stick to a specific route.  The route described in “Afoot and Afield” is a good one to follow if you’re short on time and are looking for a quick way to get some exercise.

0:02 - Right turn past the playground at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

0:02 – Right turn past the playground at the beginning of the loop (times are approximate)

From the parking area, follow the signed trail at the east end of the parking lot.  A trail branches off left toward the Buena Vista Lagoon; stay right, pass the playground and  turn right again at a T-junction (the left route is your return.)  At the third intersection, head left, although you can explore the right fork which dead-ends if you have time.

0:04 - Left turn and ascent

0:04 – Left turn and ascent

The trail climbs–the only significant ascent on the route–through the eucalyptus grove.  You pass a few informal fire breaks and reach a Y-junction a little less than half a mile from the start.  Again if you have time, you can explore the right fork, which dead-ends in a residential neighborhood.  For this route, follow the left fork downhill and make a hairpin turn.  You return along on Monroe and Marron Streets, reaching the junction by the playground.

0:15 - Returning to the park

0:15 – Returning to the park

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

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Top of "The Wall", descending into Arroyo Verde Park

Top of “The Wall”, descending into Arroyo Verde Park

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Oak in Arroyo Verde Park

Arroyo Verde Park (Ventura)

  • Location: Ventura, on the corner of Foothill Road and Day Road.  From L.A., take Highway 101 to Victoria Avenue.  Turn right and follow Victoria 2.3 miles to Foothill Road.  Turn left and go 0.7 miles to the signed park entrance.  Once in the park, drive past the entrance gate 0.4 miles to an elongated parking area in between the two main parking lots.  A trail leads directly off the right (east) side of the parking area.  From Highway 126, take the Victoria Avenue exit.  Head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) for 0.9 miles to Foothill.  Turn left and proceed as described above.  Parking is $2 on the weekends; free on weekdays.
  • Agency:  City of Ventura
  • Distance: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  Year round (Hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Saticoy”
  • More information: here; trail map here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 4
0:00 - Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

0:00 – Start of the hike (click thumbnails to see the full sized version)

Ventura’s Arroyo Verde Park is an understandably popular destination for joggers, dog walkers, families and hikers.  While the front end of the park is a typical suburban recreational spot with picnic areas and manicured lawns, the back end of the park features a surprisingly challenging network of trails.  The roller coaster-like loops, with their sharp turns and quick drops, provide a short but vigorous workout.  It’s possible to hike Arroyo Verde Park several times without doing the exact same route.  The following double-loop is one of several possible hikes in the park.

0:05 - Single track leaving the service road (times are approximate)

0:05 – Single track leaving the service road (times are approximate)

From the east side of the parking area, take the left of the two trails. This is the Caretaker Trail, which continues to the south, but for this hike, head north, climbing briefly, paralleling the paved road. The trail soon joins a service road where you bear right, go a few yards and bear right again on a single-track. Another trail, the Mini Wall (not to be confused with the Wall, which we will see later) merges from the right. You make a steady climb, taking in nice views of the canyon below and the hills across the way. As you curve around and head back to the west, you’ll see the ocean and you might catch a glimpse of Anacapa Island.

0:13 - Ocean view from the top of the first ascent

0:13 – Ocean view from the top of the first ascent

The trail drops into the canyon. Another route (your return) branches off to the left; stay straight and go a few dozen yards to a T-junction (1.1 miles). To avoid having to tackle the short but steep stretch known as the Wall, head left. The trail curves around the side of a ridge, first heading south and then taking a hairpin turn to head north. You follow the top of the ridge, getting an aerial view of some baseball fields on the left and a nice look at the park on the right.

0:24 - The more gradual ascent up the wall

0:24 – The more gradual ascent up the wall

After reaching a high point where you can enjoy a nice view, the trail drops sharply, descending the Wall and returning to the junction. Turn left and almost immediately right on the trail you saw before, signed on the park map as Barranaca. It descends gently through a shallow, tree-lined canyon for 0.3 miles before reaching the parking lot. Turn left and follow the paved road back to the parking area.

0:40 - Heading back into the park on the Barranca

0:40 – Heading back into the park on the Barranca

Text and photography copyright 2014 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mason Regional Park

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Open space in Mason Regional Park

Open space in Mason Regional Park

Shade trees in Mason Regional Park

Shade trees in Mason Regional Park

Mason Regional Park

  • Location: Irvine.  Free parking is available on the corner of Rosa Drew Drive and Tamarack Way.  From I-405, take the Jeffrey Rd./Unviersity Dr. exit.  Head west (left if you’re coming from the south, right if from the north) and go 0.7 miles to Rosa Drew Drive.  Turn right, go a short distance and park where available.
  • Agency:  Orange County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: Level
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season:  Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Tustin”
  • More information:  Mason Park homepage here; Yelp page here; park descriptions here and here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 2

The eastern part of William Mason Regional Park is known as the “Wilderness Area”, which may be a little generous (the majority of the trails are paved), but it’s still a nice and convenient place to get some fresh air and exercise.  Though some traffic noise can be heard, this section of the park has a pleasantly secluded feel. Dogs are allowed with a 6-foot leash.

0:00 - Beginning of the hike on Rosa Drew Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

0:00 – Beginning of the hike on Rosa Drew Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the parking area on the east side of Rosa Drew Drive, cross the street and head south. Cross University, continue south and make a hard right on a paved walkway leading into the park. You cross a seasonal stream and head west on the path. Signed as the Sand Canyon Wash on park maps, this is the main artery through the wilderness area.

0:03 - Turn right into the park (times are approximate)

0:03 – Turn right into the park (times are approximate)

A few benches make for a nice place to sit and there’s a decent amount of shade from the willows. At 0.7 miles you reach a junction. The two paths soon rejoin but the left route, which briefly leaves the pavement, is more pleasant. If you go this way take an almost immediate right and continue walking on the trail before rejoining the paved walkway (0.9 miles.)

0:14 - Bear left onto the dirt trail

0:14 – Bear left onto the dirt trail

Soon after the paths converge, you reach an intersection. You can extend the hike by heading left but for this route, head right, continuing west. Stay straight at another intersection (the right route is a spur to University Drive). You make another stream crossing and travel in and out of shade.

0:21 - Turn right at the junction

0:21 – Turn right at the junction

At 1.3 miles, you reach a final junction, shortly before Culver Drive. Both routes lead a short distance to Culver, a good turnaround point. However, if you want to extend your hike, you can cross Culver Drive and walk through the more developed part of Mason Regional Park; this might be a fun option for families with small kids.

0:32 - Turnaround point (Culver Drive)

0:32 – Turnaround point (Culver Drive)

Text and photography copyright 2013 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Green Valley Falls

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Lower level of Green Valley Falls

Pines and manzanitas on the way to Green Valley Falls

Green Valley Falls

  • Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County.  From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 7 miles to the Green Valley Campground.   (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park).  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 15 miles and turn right into the parking area.  Day parking is $8 per vehicle.  Once you’re in the park, follow the signs to the picnic area, staying left at both intersections.  Park in the dirt area, a total of 2.7 miles from the park entrance, and begin hiking on the trail.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 0.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 30 minutes
  • Best season: Year round (best in the spring, or after rains)
  • USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • More information: Trip report here; maps here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 6

Stonewall Peak may be the big draw for hikers in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, but if you’ve come this far, make sure you check out Green Valley Falls.  It can be reached from the end of the Green Valley Falls campground with a short, quarter mile walk, but for hikers who want to explore more, there’s a lot to see in this corner of the park.

0:07 – Upper level of the waterfall (Times are approximate)

From the small parking lot at the picnic area, look for the signed Green Valley Falls trail heading downhill into a forest of oaks, pines and manzanitas. (The fire road at the other end of the lot also leads to the falls, but the trail is more scenic.) After a tenth of a mile, head right at a T-junction, where you soon arrive at the upper level of the waterfall. If you are careful, you can cross rocks and sit at the top of the waterfall, or you can scramble down the rocks to get a closer view.

0:10 – On the side of the canyon between the two waterfalls

The trail continues along the stream and descends through the woods, soon reaching the lower waterfall. The rocks can be deceptively slippery, but you can carefully traverse them to get a nice look at the two-tiered waterfall, about 15 feet tall, which spills into a wide pool.   After enjoying the pleasant sound and sights of the grotto, you can either retrace your steps, or continue to the trail, which soon reaches the fire road, where you’ll head right to return to the parking area.

0:13 – Lower level of the waterfall

Interestingly, the pleasant creek is actually a tributary of the Sweetwater River, which flows underneath I-8 a few miles west of Highway 79.  On your return, while heading toward San Diego on I-8, keep an eye out for a sign indicating the river; it may seem hard to believe that the same water flowing through the dry landscape has trickled down the waterfall you just saw.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Stonewall Peak

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Looking north from Stonewall Peak to the Cuyamaca Reservoir

Looking southeast from Stonewall Peak

Stonewall Peak

  • Location: Cuyamaca Mountains, eastern San Diego County.  From I-8, 40 miles east of San Diego, take Highway 79 north for 12 miles to the Paso Pacacho Campground on the left side of the road, past the fire station.   (Note the sharp left turn after 2 miles on Highway 79; follow the signs for Cuyamaca Rancho State Park).  From Julian, take Highway 79 south for 11 miles and turn right into the parking area.  Day parking is $8 per vehicle.
  • Agency: Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Best season: October – June
  • USGS topo map: Cuyamaca Peak
  • Recommended gear: hiking polessun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Easy Hiking in Southern California
  • More information: Trip report here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 9

Stonewall Peak in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in San Diego County, and with the phenomenal views from the top, it’s no surprise.  The hike provides a lot of scenic rewards for only moderate effort.  For a lot of people, the real challenge is driving to the remote location, which is an hour from San Diego, about two hours from Orange County and three from downtown L.A.  Still, it makes a great weekend or long day trip.

From the Paso Picacho campground, cross Highway 79 (there’s not likely to be much traffic, but be careful anyway) and begin your ascent on the fire road signed for Stonewall Peak. You ascend through a meadow filled with trees that were burned in the 2003 and 2007 wildfires, and after 0.3 miles, the trail bends to the north and becomes a single-track.

For the next mile and a half, you ascend the switchbacks, taking in nice views of Lake Cuyamaca to the north and Cuyamaca Peak to the west. Giant pink and orange rocks and more burned trees help create a feeling of utter foreignness to the landscape.

At 1.8 miles from the start, the trail reaches a junction. Head right and begin your final push to the summit. The trail gives way to some rocks, so a little scrambling may be involved, but it’s not too difficult. For the last few yards, a metal railing separates the trail from a sheer drop to the east, and it encloses the tiny summit.

From the top, at 5,730 feet, the view includes the Cleveland National Forest and Laguna Mountains to the south and east, the bulk of Cuyamaca Peak to the west and the lake, surrounded by a wide valley, to the north. The rocks drop off sharply in all directions; while some people might be bummed that the railing encloses the summit, others will be grateful for it – it’s a LONG way down on all sides.

Although I give Garnet Peak a slight edge over Stonewall as the best hike in San Diego County, this one is a close second, and a must-do for any So Cal trail head.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

West Coyote Hills Tree Park (Fullerton)

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View from the top of the Coyote Hills Tree Park

On the trail in the tree park

West Coyote Hills Tree Park  (Fullerton)

    • Location: Coyote Hills Drive and Vintage Way, Fullerton.  From the 91 Freeway, take the Beach exit (highway 39) and head north for 3 miles.  Turn right on Rosecrans, go 1.2 miles and turn left on Gilbert.  Make a quick right on Coyote Hills Drive, and go 0.6 miles to the corner of Vintage Way.  From the 57 Freeway, take the Imperial Highway exit and head west for 4.3 miles.  Turn left on Idaho, and go 1.2 miles (Idaho becomes Gilbert along the way).  Turn left on Castlewood, go 0.2 miles and turn right on Coyote Hills.  Go 0.3 miles to Vintage.
    • Agency: City of Fullerton Parks and Recreation
    • Distance: 0.5 miles
    • Elevation gain: 100 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 30 minutes
    • Best season: Year-round
    • USGS topo map: Anaheim
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 2

Located in a quiet residential neighborhood, West Coyote Hills Tree Park is a great little place for an urban oasis. While the larger nature reserve nearby is still entangled in a legal controversy as the public fights for access, hikers can enjoy a nice stroll before or after work, or even during their lunch break, on a half-mile loop through this park.

From the corner of Vintage Way, take the path into the park and turn left. You follow the wide fire road through a pleasant grove of trees, and then bear right and begin heading uphill. The trail leads to North Parks Road, but you can make your route a little more interesting by turning right on a rough, single-track trail that has been cut through the bushes. You zigzag up the side of the hill and meet another trail. Head right, and follow the upper rim of the hillside, under the shade of more trees.

This brings you to a wide fire road that descends at a surprisingly steep angle. You get nice views of the Fullerton area, and possibly farther beyond if the weather is clear, but take care as you make your way down. At the bottom, turn right to complete the loop.

Like Fullerton’s other trails and natural areas, the West Coyote Hills Park is a nice place to know about if you want to get outdoors. It’s also a good way to keep kids active during the summer.

Text and photography copyright 2012 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities.  By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail.  Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.