Engelmann Oak Loop (Daley Ranch)
- Location: Northwest of Escondido. From I-15, take the Deer Springs/Mountain Meadow exit. Head east on Mountain Mountain (turn left if you’re coming from the north, right if from the south). Go 2.3 miles (Mountain Meadow becomes Hidden Meadow along the way). Turn right on Meadow Glen Way and go 0.3 miles to Cougar Pass Road. Turn right and go 0.3 miles. Turn right again and continue on Cougar Pass Road which is now dirt (but passable by normal passenger vehicles.) Go 0.5 miles and park in the dirt lot on the right side of the road, opposite the signed trailhead.
- Agency: Daley Ranch
- Distance: 4.7 miles
- Elevation gain: 800 feet
- Suggested time: 2 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Valley Center
- Reommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
- More information: Trip description here; Daley Ranch Yelp page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
This enjoyable loop explores the lightly visited northern sector of large Daley Ranch on the outskirts of Escondido. As the trail name might lead you to believe, there are plenty of Engelmann oaks (as well as the more common coastal live oaks) to be seen here – similar to those found at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve farther north near Murrieta.
The Engelmann Oak trail only accounts for about a mile of this hike, although hiking the entire trail is one of several possible variations on the route. From the parking area, follow the Cougar Ridge Trail through a meadow, into a wooded canyon with a seasonal stream and up 200 feet to a saddle where it dips to meet a junction with the Engelmann Oak Trail. Stay straight and head into another woodland, passing by a junction with the Bobcat Trail (your return route), 0.9 miles from the start.
Staying on the Cougar Ridge Trail, you begin a steady climb along the south side of Burnt Mountain. Here you get good views south toward the rest of the park. An ascent of about 400 feet brings you to a junction with the other end of the Engelmann Oak Trail, while the Cougar Ridge Trail continues south. A short spur leads to a spot where boulders beneath oaks make a good resting point with panoramic views.
Continuing north along the Engelmann Oak Trail, now on Burnt Mountain’s east side, the trail levels out. At about 2 miles from the start, you reach a junction. Both routes are options as they will soon intersect; if you want to leave the fire road, turn left on the single-track Burnt Mountain Trail, which climbs to a saddle where you get some wide-ranging vistas northwest.
After dropping down to rejoin the Engelmann Oak Trail, head left (west). You head through some pleasant, rolling hills and meadows before reaching a junction with the Bobcat Trail (2.9 miles). Head left on this scenic single-track and descend into a quiet ravine lined with oaks. (If you’re pressed for time, you can continue on the Engelmann trail, which is a slightly shorter return to the Cougar Ridge Trail.)
At 3.8 miles from the start, the Bobcat Trail reaches a T-junction. Turn right and go a short distance to rejoin the Cougar Ridge Trail, which you will follow back to the parking area.
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.