Difficulty PG13 Distance 5.1 to 10 miles Dogs allowed Hikes with free parking Rating: 7-8 San Diego County - Mountains & Eastern county Season: Late Winter/Spring

Santa Ysabel Open Space (East)


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Looking west from the Kanaka Trail
Looking west from the Kanaka Trail
Sycamores on the eastern leg of the Kanaka Trail
Sycamores on the eastern leg of the Kanaka Trail

Santa Ysabel Open Space (East)

  • Location: North of Julian.  From Highway 78/79, take a left on Wynola Road (about 35 miles east of Escondido; 17 miles east of Ramona; about 3 miles east of Santa Ysabel) and go 3.4 miles to Farmer Road.  Turn left and drive 1.3 miles to the trailhead, on the left side of the road.  Alternately, from Temecula/Warner Springs, take Highway 79 south to the juncture with Highway 78.  Turn left and head southeast for 3.2 miles to Wynola Road.  From downtown Julian, take Farmer Road north for 2.1 miles.  Turn right on Wynola Road and an immediate left to continue north on Farmer Road, 1.3 miles to the trailhead.
  • Agency: County of San Diego
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
  • Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (Distance, elevation gain)
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Best season: October – June; 8am – 5pm daily
  • USGS topo maps: Julian, Santa Ysabel
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; sunblock
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • More information: Trip description here; Yelp page here; Flickr photo album here; Everytrail report here
  • Rating: 8
0:00 - Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)
0:00 – Trailhead (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

This is one of the best hikes in the Julian area, offering a little bit of everything: pine-covered mountains, oak woodlands, wide meadows and even a glimpse of the ocean if visibility is good.  The 7.2-mile hike described here – a 2 1/4 mile out and back stretch with a 2.7 mile loop – is a good workout which can either be shortened or extended as time and energy permit.

0:16 - Entering the oak woodland (times are approximate)
0:17 – Entering the oak woodland (times are approximate)

From the staging area on Farmer Road, follow the trail downhill into a pleasant meadow. Don’t be surprised to see cattle grazing. You cross Santa Ysabel Creek and walk through an open field, passing a lone sycamore and reaching a grove of oaks at about 0.7 miles. Under the shade of the large live oaks, you continue west, through another meadow and into another woodland. At 1.5 miles, the trail makes a hairpin turn, crosses the creek and begins the only noticeably steep ascent on the route, climbing about 400 feet over 3/4 of a mile. The efforts are made more enjoyable by the fact that much of the ascent is in the shade and when it leaves the woods, it follows a scenic ridge line with great views to the west, including the Palomar Mountains (if you look carefully, you can pick out the observatory.)

0:33 - Crossing Santa Ysabel Creek
0:35 – Crossing Santa Ysabel Creek

At 2.25 miles from the start, you reach the loop portion of the hike. The Kanaka Loop can be traveled in either direction, but by turning right and going counter-clockwise, it allows you to take a break from climbing, also saving the best views for later in the hike.

0:50 - Beginning of the loop
0:51 – Beginning of the loop

The loop circles a wide open space called Kanaka Flat. At 0.3 miles into the loop, stay left as the Coast to Crest Trail branches off, heading west toward Highway 79. You head east through more pastoral land where you’re likely to see cattle, and begin a gradual ascent. At about 3.7 miles – the approximate half way point of the trip – you reach a summit and the trail dips back down toward another meadow. With pines providing shade, this makes a good rest spot.

The trail heads down into the meadow before beginning its final ascent to the high point on the hike (about 4,300 feet above sea level.) Here you get an excellent vista of the open space, the mountains and perhaps a glimpse of the ocean; you might even be able to pick out the long, flat shape of San Clemente Island in the distance.

1:20 - Descending through the pines
1:20 – Descending through the pines

From here, the trail drops into a shallow canyon before briefly rising to complete the loop (just under 5 miles from the start.) Turn right at the junction and retrace your steps back to the trail head.

1:50 - View from the high point of the loop
1:50 – View from the high point of the loop

Text and photography copyright 2014 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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