Mesa Loop Trail (Caspers Wilderness Park)

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Saddleback Mountain, Orange County, CA

Old Saddleback as seen from the Mesa Loop Trail

Mesa Loop Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

Looking west toward the main area of Caspers from the Mesa Loop Trail

Mesa Loop Trail (Caspers Wilderness Park)

  • Location: Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano.  From I-5 in south Orange County, take the Ortega Highway (route 74) east for 7 1/2 miles.  The park is on your left.  Admission is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays. Once you are past the kiosk, take the first right into the Ortega Flats Campground and park in a small designated day use area on the left side of the gravel road.
  • Agency: Caspers Wilderness Park
  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season:  All year (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: “Canada Gobernadora”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; insect repellent
  • More information: Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 6
Trail head at Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

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

The Mesa Loop Trail holds the distinction of being the lone publicly accessible trail on the east side of the Ortega Highway in Caspers Wilderness Park. Its only downfall is traffic noise due to its proximity to the highway, but it is still a worthwhile destination; one of the better hikes of its length in the Orange County regional park system. Despite its name, the trail is not actually a loop, but can be combined to make one with the San Juan Creek Trail, as described here.

San Juan Creek Trail Head

0:02 – Start of the San Juan Creek Trail (times are approximate)

From the day use area in the Ortega Flats Campground, head north along the gravel road. Near site 8, a road leaves the campground and joins the south end of the San Juan Creek Trail. Follow this fire road north for 0.3 miles along the highway to a junction where the Mesa Loop Trail begins, crossing under the road via a tunnel.

Tunnel under Highway 74, Orange County, CA

0:10 – Crossing under the road to the Mesa Loop Trail

On the opposite side of Highway 74, the trail crosses an abandoned service road and curves to the north, entering a pleasant, shallow canyon lined with sycamore trees. A quarter mile of level walking brings you to the only significant climb of the route. You ascend to an open mesa where you continue north, taking in excellent views of Old Saddleback straight ahead and of the park’s characteristic red and pink geological terraces on the left.

Mesa Loop Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

0:18 – View from the Mesa Loop Trail after the ascent

At about 1.1 miles, you briefly enter shade, where a large oak tree with rocks underneath makes for a good rest spot. Continuing, the trail eventually descends into Lucas Canyon and then reaches another tunnel where it crosses back under the highway to reconnect with the San Juan Creek Trail (2 miles from the start).

Shade tree, Mesa Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park

0:37 – Shade tree

Turn left and follow the San Juan Creek Trail south. Since you’re right next to the highway, noise is unavoidable, but this 1.2 mile stretch has its enjoyable spots, notably a couple of stands of tall oaks and more up-close views of the geology across the San Juan Creek floodplain. At 3.2 miles, you complete the loop, returning to the first junction with the Mesa Loop Trail. Retrace your steps back to the campground.

Tunnel on the Mesa Trail

0:50 – Crossing back under the road

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

San Juan Creek Trail, Caspers Wilderness Park, Orange County, CA

1:00 – Woodlands on the San Juan Creek Trail

Winnetka Ridge Trail

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Winnetka Ridge Trail, Woodland Hills, CA

Looking east from the Winnetka Ridge Trail

Winnetka Ridge Trail, Woodland Hills, CA

Dusk on the Winnetka Ridge Trail

Winnetka Ridge Trail

  • Location: Woodland Hills. From Highway 101, take the Winnetka Ave. exit and head south (left if you’re coming from L.A., right if you’re coming from Ventura). Follow Winnetka Ave. 1.7 miles to its ending and park where available.
  • Agency: Topanga State Park
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season: Year round
  • USGS topo map: “Canoga Park”
  • Recommended guidebook: Day Hikes In the Santa Monica Mountains
  • More information: Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 4

This short trail links the south end of Winnetka Avenue with “Dirt” Mulholland, providing either a quick and convenient workout or serving as a gateway to a longer hike in the upper reaches of Topanga State Park. Though much of the trail is exposed, it’s short enough that it can be done during the summer, especially with an early or late evening start. The latter is advantageous in that several parts of the trail follow an eastern facing slope and there’s a decent amount of vegetation on the west side of the trail, blocking out afternoon and evening sun. Sunsets here are attractive as well. The Winnetka Ridge Trail could be described as a shorter, easier version of the nearby Serrania Ridge Trail.

Winnetka Ridge Trail Head, Woodland Hills, CA

0:00 – Trail head at the end of Winnetka Ave. (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the end of Winnetka Avenue, climb over the fence and begin hiking uphill into Topanga State Park territory (dogs are allowed in this part of the park). Unfortunately, the litter is bad at the beginning of the trail but it soon thins out as you leave Winnetka Ave. behind.

Winnetka Ridge Trail, Woodland Hills, CA

0:05 – Steep descent on the Winnetka Ridge Trail (times are approximate)

After a few minutes, the trail makes a sudden, rather steep drop to a saddle; while most of the hike is very easy, parents with small kids might want to exercise some extra caution on this descent. The trail continues south, providing nice views of Natoma Canyon on the right and Corbin Canyon on the left. You’ll also see the outline of Mulholland in the distance and in 0.8 miles, you reach it.

From here, you can sit and enjoy panoramic views of the western San Fernando Valley with the Santa Susana Mountains beyond and the San Gabriels far to the northeast. If you have time, explore Mulholland in either direction. A popular option is to head west on Mulholland to the Natoma Ridge Trail and return via that route and several residential streets for a loop of 3 miles.

View from the end of the Winnetka Ridge Trail, Woodland Hills, CA

0:20 – View from the end of the trail at Mulholland Drive

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Oak Grove Loop (Chino Hills)

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Oak Grove Loop Trail, Chino Hills, CA

Shade on the Oak Grove Loop Trail

Oak Grove Trail, Chino Hills, CA

Rolling hills above the Oak Grove Trail

Oak Grove Loop (Chino Hills)

    • Location: Grand Avenue Park, Chino Hills. From the 57/60 Freeways, take the Grand Avenue exit and head southeast for 3.3 miles to the park.  Turn right and park in the lot. From the Riverside area, take the 71 Freeway to the Edison Avenue/Grand Avenue exit.  Turn left on Grand Avenue and head 3.4 miles to the park.  Turn left and park in the lot.  Parking is free and there are restrooms at the trail head.
    • Agency: City of Chino Hills
    • Distance: 1.3 miles
    • Elevation gain: 200 feet
    • Difficulty Rating: G
    • Suggested time: 45 minutes
    • Best season: All year
    • USGS topo map: Ontario
    • Recommended gear: Sun Hat
    • More information: Trail map here
    • Rating: 5
Grand Avenue Park trail head, Chino Hills, CA

0:00 – Trail head at Grand Avenue Park (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

The Oak Grove Loop is a pleasant surprise: a shaded oasis in the dry, exposed terrain of Chino Hills, virtually hidden from the sights and sounds of the nearby residential areas and traffic of Grand Avenue. It’s one of the few hiking routes in the area that can be done year-round, though of course adequate sun protection and drinking water is recommended despite the short distance.

Oak Grove Trail, Chino Hills, CA

0:07 – Right turn on the spur leading to the Oak Grove Trail (times are approximate)

From the eastern end of Grand Avenue Park, pick up the fence-lined bridle trail, making an immediate left at the T-junction (the right fork heads toward Sunset Park, a good cool-day hike for those who want more of a workout). The trail ducks into a tunnel that crosses underneath Grand Avenue and makes a short but steep climb to an unsigned junction, 0.2 miles from the start. The Grand Avenue Trail continues uphill and north, eventually joining the La Sierra Loop, but to reach the Oak Grove Trail, turn right and head downhill, past a barbed wire fence and into the shade. You soon reach the start of the loop, which can be hiked in either direction.
Oak Grove Trail, Chino Hills, CA

0:09 – Start of the loop

If you decide to hike counter-clockwise (as described below), bear right onto the loop trail. You follow it downhill to an outlet at Pleasant Hill Drive, a residential street in a gated community. Turn left and briefly follow the street to a small parking lot, where you’ll pick up the next leg of the trail. It descends across a footbridge into an attractive oak woodland, soon emerging into the open. The trail switchbacks up a hillside, in and out of shade, taking in some nice views to the east before completing the loop (1 mile from the start). From here, make a hairpin right turn and retrace your steps back to the previous junction, downhill, under Grand Avenue and back to the starting point at the park.

Oak Grove Trail, Chino Hills, CA

0:13 – Heading back into the woods from Pleasant Hill Drive

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Oak on the Oak Grove Trail, Chino Hills, CA

0:26 – Big oak near the top of the loop

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

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Spring wildflowers, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Looking northwest from the Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Greenery at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

Oaks and green grass on the Horseshoe Trail, Irvine Regional Park

Horseshoe Loop Trail (Irvine Regional Park)

  • Location: Santa Ana Foothills east of Orange.  From the 55 freeway, take the Chapman Avenue exit and head east for 4.2 miles until you get to Jamboree Road.  Take a left on Jamboree and a right into the park.  From the north, take the Katella Avenue exit from the 55 freeway, head east and drive 4.6 miles to Jamboree and take a left (Katella becomes Villa Park and then Santiago Canyon Road on the way).  Parking is $3 per car on weekdays, $5 on weekends and $7 on holidays.  For access to this hike, park in lot #7.
  • Agency: Irvine Regional Park
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Best season: All year (hot during the summer)
  • USGS topo map: Orange
  • Recommended gear: insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Orange County
  • More information: Park homepage here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report here; trip descriptions (slightly different routes) here, here and here
  • Rating: 5
Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:00 – Leaving parking lot #7; note the trail branching off on the right side of the road (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

In addition to being Orange County’s oldest public park (1887), Irvine Regional Park is home to the O.C. Zoo, a miniature railroad, several nice picnic areas and for the purposes of this website, a number of hiking trails. The trails loop around the park, heading northwest to Santiago Oaks Regional Park and south to Peters Canyon Regional Park, making for endless possible routes of all lengths. While Irvine isn’t as isolated as Caspers, Whiting Ranch and some of Orange County’s other regional parks, it still offers a nice variety of scenery, a convenient escape from city life. Though it may be hot during the summer, the hills and distances are moderate enough for it to be considered a year-round hiking destination.

Horseshoe Loop Trail, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:04 – Turn left on the Horseshoe Loop Trail (times are approximate)

This post follows the route as described in “Afoot and Afield”, mainly utilizing the park’s popular Horseshoe Loop Trail; also the Toyon Trail and some paved service and access roads. Hikers on a tight time frame should be able to easily knock it off in an hour; those hiking with small kids or dogs (this is one of the few dog-friendly regional parks in O.C.) should allow an hour an a half to follow this route.

Bench at an overlook, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:21 – Overlook on the Horseshoe Loop Trail

From lot #7, head left on the paved road and pick up the trail on the right, heading uphill between two wooden fences. You soon reach a junction with the Horseshoe Loop Trail where you’ll turn left and then almost immediately left again as the Puma Ridge Trail heads uphill. Follow the Horseshoe Trail along a north-facing ridge, enjoying views of the Santa Ana Mountains. In the spring, the grass and wildflowers can be quite attractive and considering that you are only about one hundred feet above the basin of the park, the views are quite wide-ranging.

Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:32 – Rejoining the park road; trail follows parallel on the right

More climbing brings you to a vista point (0.8 miles) where you can sit on a bench beneath a pine or under a shade structure. From here, the trail descends to cross a private service road (1.1 miles) and soon after joins the main road, which it parallels for 0.2 miles to the last parking lot. The road, still paved but now closed to the public, heads north and then west, skirting the park’s boundary.

Rooster Rock, Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

0:50 – Rooster Rock

At 1.8 miles, the northern branch of the Horseshoe Trail splits off to the right, heading uphill. Take a short detour to Rooster Rock, a sandstone formation likely named for its outcrops that resemble poultry beaks and combs. A pair of oaks provide nice shade beneath the rock while a few use trails allow the curious to explore the top of the formation, which offers a bird’s eye view of this area of the park.

After visiting Rooster Rock, head back and follow the Horseshoe Trail as it makes its way up a hillside to a junction. The two paths soon merge again, although the right fork climbs higher and offers better views. From here, the trail levels out, contouring along the north side of the park to a junction at 2.3 miles. This is the Toyon Trail, which descends to a shade structure and then follows a wooden staircase back down to the center of the park. Head right on the paved road and follow as it passes a picnic area, the railroad tracks and a small lake before ending at a T-junction. Turn right and follow the main road back to the parking area.

Shade structure at Irvine Regional Park, Orange County, CA

1:05 – Shade structure on the Toyon Trail

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

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Sunset over Simi Valley from Coquina Mine, Ventura County, CA

Sunset from Coquina Mine

Panoramic view of Las Llajas Canyon, Simi Valley, CA

Descending into Las Lllajas Canyon on the return

Coquina Mine via Las Llajas Canyon

  • Location: Evening Sky Drive, Simi Valley. From the 118 Freeway, take the Yosemite Ave. exit. Head north (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west) and go 1.3 miles to Evening Sky Drive. Turn right and drive 0.5 miles to the signed trail head on the left side of the road. Park where available.
  • Agency: Rancho Simi Recreation and Parks Department
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – May
  • USGS topo map: Simi Valley East
  • Recommended gear: sun hathiking poles
  • More information: Trip description here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 7

Panoramic city and mountain views, abandoned mining gear, limestone formations, a quiet oak canyon and a rigorous workout are the highlights of this enjoyable trip on the outskirts of Simi Valley. The destination is Coquina Mine, a limestone quarry that was abandoned in the 1930s, although the expansive network of trails in Marr Ranch Open Space, Las Llajas (YA-has) make it easy to extend the hike.

Las Llajas Trail Head, Simi Valley, CA

0:00 – Trail head on Evening Sky Drive (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

From the Las Llajas trail head, follow the paved road to a T-junction. Bear right and descend into Las Llajas Canyon. The road becomes dirt and you follow it for an attractive if not terribly varied 1.5 miles or so, passing a few private inholdings and private roads branching off, including a bee colony about 1.1 miles from the trail head. As you head up the canyon, keep an eye out for interesting limestone formations on the hills above. If there have been recent rains, the sounds of a seasonal stream accompanies your walk.

Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon near Simi Valley, Ventura County, CA

0:18 – Oaks in Las Llajas Canyon (times are approximate)

At 1.8 miles, shortly after the trail crosses the stream, look for a faint but unambiguous single-track trail branching off to the left. The trail begins a steep, crooked ascent, clinging to the hillside, providing a nice aerial view of Las Llajas Canyon. After 0.6 miles of steady climbing, the trail briefly levels out. You pass by some rusting mining equipment as the trail winds around the north side of a ridge.

0:38 - Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

0:38 – Umarked trail leaving Las Llajas Canyon

At 2.7 miles, you reach a T-junction. Follow the trail as it makes a hard left, climbing a few more switchbacks with excellent views to the south of Simi Valley, the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. As you pass by an abandoned engine on the left side of the trail, you’ll also notice a large steam shovel perched on the hill in the distance; that is the destination. At another T-junction, turn left and walk the last few yards to the steam shovel. Shortly beyond it, you get an outstanding view which includes Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. In the distance to the north is the round, antenna-covered summit of Oat Mountain, the highest peak in the immediate area.

Trail in the hills above Las Llajas Canyon near Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:07 – Left turn at the T-junction

After enjoying the view, retrace your steps. If you want to extend the hike, you can walk farther up Las Llajas Canyon; back at the first T-junction, you can also explore more by following the vague path to the right. This reaches a saddle where you can climb to a vista point with more all-encompassing views.

Steam shovel, Coquina Mine, Simi Valley, CA

1:18 – Steam shovel at the Coquina Mine site (turnaround point)

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Willow Hole (Joshua Tree National Park)

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Sunlight at Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

Sunlight above Willow Hole

Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Trees on the Willow Hole Trail

Willow Hole  (Joshua Tree National Park)

  • Location: Joshua Tree National Park. From Highway 62 in the town of Joshua Tree (about 6 miles east of Yucca Valley, 27 miles east of I-10 and about 15 miles west of Twentynine Palms) take Park Blvd. (signed for the park) south, past the entrance booth, and drive for a total of 11.6 miles to the Boy Scout Trail Head. The park entrance fee is $15 per vehicle for a 7-day pass or $30 per vehicle for an annual pass. The America the Beautiful inter-agency pass ($80 per year) is also accepted here.
  • Agency: Joshua Tree National Park
  • Distance: 7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 250 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season:  October – April (day use only)
  • USGS topo map: “Indian Cove”
  • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: Inland Empire
  • More information: Trip descriptions here, here and here
  • Rating: 7
Boy Scout Trail Head, start of the hike to Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This long but nearly level hike travels through a wide plain filled with Joshua trees and jumbles of boulders, enters a wash and finally arrives at oasis-like Willow Hole. Some veteran hikers might find the flat stretches monotonous, but the scenic variety of the last mile is worth the journey.

View of San Gorgonio from the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:30 – View of San Gorgonio at the junction with the Willow Hole Trail

From the Keys West trail head, follow the Boy Scout Trail north for 1.2 miles. Along the way, look for San Gorgonio in the distance on the left. At a Y-junction, bear right on the trail signed for Willow Hole. It continues its flat course through the Joshua trees with the Wonderland of Rocks formation in the distance, for just over a mile.

Entering a wash on the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

0:57 – Entering the wash

At about 2.3 miles, you enter a wash where the vegetation becomes predominantly juniper trees. The trail bears right and briefly leaves the wash before re-entering it. There are a few rocks to climb over, though nothing too strenuous. Stay straight as another wash comes in from the right.

Leaving the wash on the Willow Hole Trail, Joshua Tree National Park

1:05 – Leaving the wash

At 3.2 miles, you reach a wide sandy clearing.  On the left side, and narrow trail leads between the rocks. Follow it into a sandy branch of the wash, soon arriving at a majestic gateway formed by two towers of rocks. Soon after, you will see the trees of Willow Hole.

1:20 - Heading between the rocks, approaching Willow Hole

1:20 – Heading between the rocks, approaching Willow Hole

Here, you can relax beneath the shade and enjoy the peace and quiet before returning by the same route. If you go during a particularly wet winter you may find pools of water (or perhaps ice). Hikers wanting more of an adventure can continue through the wash for a more difficult 2.5 miles, eventually reaching Rattlesnake Canyon and Indian Cove.

Geology near Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

1:27 – “Gateway” to Willow hole

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Trees and geology at Willow Hole, Joshua Tree National Park

1:35 – Willow Hole

Piedras Pintadas Trail

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Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges from the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Bernardo Mountain and Lake Hodges as seen from the Piedras Pindatas Trail

Wildflowers, Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

Spring wildflowers on the Piedras Pintadas Trail

Piedras Pintadas Trail

      • Location: Rancho Bernardo Community Tennis Club (part of Rancho Bernardo Community Park), 18402 W. Bernardo Drive, San Diego. From I-15, take the West Bernardo Drive/Pomadero Road exit. Turn left if you’re coming from the south; right if from the north and follow West Bernardo Drive 0.5 miles to Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Turn right into the park, pass the Glassman Center and park where available near the tennis courts.
      • Agency: San Dieguito River Park
      • Distance: 3.3 miles (out and back with loop)
      • Elevation gain: 250 feet
      • Suggested time: 2 hours
      • Difficulty Rating: PG
      • Best season:  Year round
      • USGS topo map: Escondido
      • Recommended gear: sun hat
      • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
      • More information: Trip description (longer route) here; trail map here; Everytrail report here
      • Rating: 5
Piedras Pintadas trail head, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:00 – Trail head (click the thumbnails to see the full sized version)

This section of the San Dieguito River Park was once inhabited by the Kumeyaay Indians who used the natural resources in and around Lake Hodges. Today hikers can enjoy views of Bernardo Mountain, Lake Hodges, spring flowers and a small seasonal waterfall, all the while learning about the area’s natural history from a series of interpretive plaques.

Information board on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:02 – Turn left at the info board (times are approximate)

There are multiple trails leading from the community center, making many different routes possible. The trip described here samples the area’s scenery. It’s short enough to squeeze in before or after work or as weekend excursion but can also be easily extended on any of several other trails that branch off.

Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:04 – Left turn at the junction

From the parking area, follow the signed Piedras Pintadas Trail north to a junction (0.1 miles.) At an information board, turn left (west), merge with another trail and make another left turn (0.2 miles), continuing to follow the sings for the Piedras Pindatas Trail. Stay straight at another junction and enter the wetlands of one of Lake Hodges’s inlets. Interpretive plaques identify the flora, including elderberry, wild cucumber and more. You cross a boardwalk and then a larger footbridge from which you get good views of Bernardo Mountain to the north and Battle Mountain, with its characteristic cross, to the east.

Battle Mountain, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:10 – Battle Mountain as seen from the footbridge

On the opposite side of the bridge, bear right and follow the trail around the south edge of the lake. Though the noise of traffic from I-15 is still audible, by this point it is noticeably quieter than earlier. You pass by an impressive oak which unfortunately has been blocked off due to human encroachment. Soon after, you follow another inlet, where you are greeted with the pleasant surprise of a 15-foot seasonal waterfall (one mile from the start).

Seasonal waterfall on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:25 – Seasonal waterfall

The trail then enters more wetlands before emerging at a junction. Bear right and follow the trail to the beginning of the loop (1.2 miles.) The short loop can be hiked in either direction but by going clockwise, you get to save the best scenery for last. Follow the loop as it descends gradually, passing by a tall oak with a bench underneath where one can rest and enjoy a view of Lake Hodges and Bernardo Mountain. Past the oak, stay right as the San Dieguito River Trail branches off to the left. You climb to the top of a ridge, weaving in and out of some large boulders, taking in some panoramic views before descending back to the start of the loop (2.1 miles.) Retrace your steps back to the community center.

Wetlands on the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

0:30 – Wetlands

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

View from the top of the Piedras Pintadas Trail, Rancho Bernardo, San Diego, CA

1:00 – View from the top of the loop