Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
- Location: 8833 Harmony Grove Road, Escondido. From the 78 Freeway, take the Nordhall Rd. exit. Go south for 0.3 miles (Nordhall becomes Auto Club) and take a right on Country Club Drive. Go 2.4 miles and turn right on Harmony Grove Road. Go 1.6 miles and the signed entrance to the park will be on the left. From I-15, take the Valley Parkway exit. Head west on Valley Parkway for 0.5 miles and turn right on 9th Ave. Follow 9th to a left turn where it becomes Hale and then turn right on Harmony Grove Road. Follow Harmony Grove Road for a total of 3.4 miles (watch for two left turns) and the park entrance will be on the left.
- Agency: Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve
- Distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
- Suggested time: 3.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG-13 (distance, elevation gain)
- Best season: November – May
- USGS topo map: Rancho Santa Fe
- Recommended gear: sunblock; sun hat; hiking poles
- Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
- More information: Yelp page here; Facebook page here; Everytrail report here
- Rating: 7
This large (784 acre) park is a popular spot for hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians. Though it’s essentially suburban, never really leaving the sights or sounds of civilization–and there’s not much in the way of a “forest”–the hike offers wide-ranging views and a good workout, making it one of the better trips in the Escondido area. It also has a dog-friendly reputation.
There are a variety of possible routes one can take over the park’s 13 miles of trails. The trip described here – the same one written up in “Afoot and Afield” – is a long out and back with a short loop. Start on the Way Up Trail, which lives up to its name – climbing about 700 feet in a mile and a half. At 0.3 miles you reach a junction with the Botany Trail, an alternate route. Your climb continues, reaching a vista point at 0.9 miles where you can take a break.
Past the vista point, the grade levels somewhat and the trail widens into a fire road. You pass by a pair of smaller trails and reach a four-way junction with another fire road (1.3 miles.) A short spur straight ahead leads to a picnic area with good views of Olivenhain Reservoir.
Back at the junction, head northeast and make a short but steep climb. The trail bends to the right and climbs a little more to another picnic area, then descends toward the reservoir. At 2.3 miles from the start, bear right on a single-track trail that switchbacks up and down a ridge. You reach a junction with the Witch Trail (2.8 miles), an alternate way to the Lake Hodges Overlook Loop. To follow this route though, bear left and follow the trail down a series of tight switchbacks and make another ascent to the overlook (3.1 miles.) Here you can see both Lake Hodges (right) and the reservoir (left).
The 0.8 mile Lake Hodges Overlook Loop starts here. It can be hiked in either direction; going counter clockwise allows you to have some downhill before climbing again. If you go counter clockwise, you’ll soon reach the lower end of the Witch Trail. You get some good views of the reservoir before doubling back up the hill, passing some boulders, and completing the loop at the overlook area. From here, retrace your steps 3.1 miles back to the parking area, or if time permits, explore some of the other trails along the way.
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.