Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
- Location: North San Diego. From Highway 56, take the Black Mountain Road exit and head south for a mile. Turn right into the Canyonside Community Park, drive past the ballfields, turn right and park. From I-15, take the Mercy Road exit and head west for 1.4 miles. Turn right on Black Mountain Road and make a quick left into the park.
- Agency: Los Pensasquitos Canyon Preserve/County of San Diego
- Distance: 6 miles
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- Suggested time: 2.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: All year
- USGS topo map: “Del Mar”
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- More information: Here; Yelp page here; Everytrail report (slightly different route) here; trail map here
- Rating: 6
San Diego hikers who assume they have to travel to the eastern part of the county to experience solitude will be pleasantly surprised by Los Penasquitos Canyon. Although the preserve doesn’t feel as remote as the Palmoar or Laguna Mountains, it is surprisingly quiet, considering how close it is to civilization. You are likely to have company from fellow hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians and airplanes will buzz overhead, but the park is still a nice, convenient place to get away from it all.
There are over ten miles of trails crossing the preserve, so it is possible to do several different routes. The 6-mile round trip described here approaches the waterfall from the east, which is less crowded than the popular western route. Unfortunately fallen boulders obscure most of the waterfall but it’s still a nice place to sit and relax, and perhaps dip your feet.
From the south side of the parking lot, follow the signed trail into the preserve. You cross a footbridge and reach the main trail, a fire road, at 0.2 miles. Turn right and head east. For the next nearly 3 miles, you head in and out of groves of oaks and sycamores and also pass through some open fields. Several trails branch off on the right side of the road, looping back to the main trail; you can explore some of these for variety.
You pass a couple of big junctions, one on each side of the trail, after about a mile. Continue heading east, passing a four-way junction (“Carson’s Crossing”) at 2.4 miles. Shortly after the 3 mile mark, follow a sign for the waterfall. You head down a steep staircase to the banks of the creek.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can cross the creek and climb down the rocks and sit by the water. Although the waterfall is hidden behind the boulders, this is a nice place to dip your feet and enjoy the sound of the stream before turning around. Keep an eye out for crawfish that may be swimming in the pools. You can return via the same route or by the trail on the north side of the creek.
In case you were wondering, Penasquitos means “the little cliffs.” Near the parking lot, you can visit the historic Rancho Penasquitos adobe, dating back to the mid 19th century.
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.
Difficulty PG Distance 5.1 to 10 miles Dogs allowed Hikes with free parking Rating: 4-6 San Diego - Coastal & Western County Season: All year waterfall hikes Black Mountain coast Del Mar family Fitness hiking Los Penasquitos Canyon Los Penasquitos Creek Los Penasquitos Waterfall nature ocean orange county outdoors Poway Recreation San Diego southern california Travel walking wellness