Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Cellular Service General information: Dogs allowed General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 San Diego - Coastal & Western County Season: All year

Del Dios Highlands Preserve


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Olivehain Reservoir from the vista point, Del Dios Highlands Preserve
Harmony Grove of Escondido viewed from the Del Dios Highlands Preserve

Del Dios Highlands Preserve

    • Location: 9860 Del Dios Highway, Escondido.  From I-15, take the Valley Parkway exit (31).  Head southeast on Valley Parkway (left if you’re coming from the south, right if from the north).  Go 2.5 miles (the road becomes Del Dios Highway en route) and look for the entrance to the park on the right, shortly past Via Rancho Parkway.
    • Agency: San Diego County Parks & Recreation
    • Distance: 2.6 miles
    • Elevation gain: 850 feet
    • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
    • Difficulty Rating: PG
    • Best season:  Year round (hot during the summer)
    • USGS topo map: Rancho Santa Fe
    • Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
    • More information: here; Everytrail report here
    • Rating: 7

The Del Dios Highlands Preserve is one of San Diego County’s newer open spaces–and a pleasant surprise for hikers.  The short–but steep–climb yields views of the ocean, the nearby Olivenhain Reservoir, Lake Hodges and much more. If you still have gas in the tank after making the climb described here, you can continue into the adjacent Elfin Forest Recreation Reserve.

From the parking area, head uphill on the fire road. For the next mile, the ascent is more or less nonstop. A vista point at 0.4 miles gives nice views of nearby Lake Hodges.  Continuing, you climb to a saddle between two small peaks.  A particularly steep stretch just before the one mile marker brings you to a spot where you get some ocean views.

At a mile, the grade becomes more moderate. You swing briefly south, taking in a nice aerial view of the reservoir, and at 1.3 miles, you come to a second vista point. Here, you can see the Cuyamaca and Palomar ranges; if the air is clear, you can see as far as San Gorgonio Mountain.

If you continue along the route, you’ll come to the entrance to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in 0.2 miles. However, if you’re short on time or energy, or if the day is hot, this vista point is a good destination.

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.

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