San Elijo Lagoon (La Orilla Trail)

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Wildflowers in the San Elijo Lagoon
Eucalyptus grove on the La Orilla Trail near El Camino Real
Eucalyptus grove on the La Orilla Trail near El Camino Real

San Elijo Lagoon (La Orilla Trail)

  • Location: Solana Beach, north San Diego County.  From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit (37), and head west for 0.8 miles (right if you’re coming from the north, left if from San Diego).  Turn right on N. Rios Avenue and drive 0.8 miles.  Park at the end of the street, near the gated entrance to the park.
  • Agency: San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy/San Diego County Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 2.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season:  All year (9am-5pm daily, closed Christmas)
  • USGS topo map: “Encinitas”
  • Recommended gear: sun hat
  • More information: here; trip report here; trail map here; Everytrail report here (starting and ending at El Camino Real)
  • Rating: 5

The San Elijo Lagoon is San Diego’s answer to Bolsa Chica, Back Bay and Orange County’s other coastal wetlands. Its proximity to I-5 is hard to ignore, but there are a few places in the reserve that do feel isolated. There’s also a nice variety of scenery: not only the wetlands, but various trees and plants, coastal views and hills in the distance.

There are a bunch of trails here, on both sides of I-5.  Following the main trail from Rios Avenue to El Camino Real makes a nice, moderate workout that provides some scenic variety.

From the end of Rios Avenue, follow the dirt trail, heading east and downhill. Interpretive plaques describe some of the plant life here, including wild cucumber, black sage and lemonade berry. You get nice views of the marshlands.

At 0.2 miles, bear left on the Gemma Parks Trail, which follows the shore of the marsh.  (The right fork is the main trail, which you can take for variety or if you want to visit Annie’s Canyon).  The trails meet up again shortly before I-5.  Head left and follow a trail that parallels the freeway before crossing under it. Climbing over the rocks can be a little tricky so be careful.

On the eastern side of I-5, the trail heads back toward the south side of the lagoon. There are some nice views of the Pensasquitos area to the east. At a junction by an information board, head left and continue on the main trail. This section is also known as the La Orilla Trail. It heads through a diverse riparian landscape, passing by eucalyptus trees and even a few pines.

Just over two miles from the start, you cross a dirt road. You can extend the trip by heading left toward a seasonal trail which leads north for a mile. The main trail continues through more wetlands, entering a pleasant grove of eucalyptus trees before finally ending at El Camino Real, 2.7 miles from the start.

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.

One comment

  1. Looks like a nice hike. I’ve drove by this for many years and never stopped to hike it. Next time I’m in that area I’ll have to try it. Thanks!

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