Difficulty G Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Cellular Service General information: Dogs allowed General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 4-6 San Diego - Coastal & Western County Season: All year

Lopez Canyon (San Diego)


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Lopez Canyon, San Diego, CA
Heading into Lopez Canyon
Lopez Canyon, San Diego, CA
Sycamores in Lopez Canyon

Lopez Canyon (San Diego)

  • Location: North San Diego. From the north, take I-5 to the Carmel Mountain Road exit. Turn left, cross over the freeway and turn right onto Vista Sorrento. Go 1.4 miles and turn left on Sorrento Valley Parkway. The staging area will be on the right in 0.9 miles. From points southwest, take I-5 north to Sorrento Valley Blvd. Turn left on Roselle St. and take the first right onto Sorrento Valley Blvd. Follow it 1.1 miles to the trail head on the right side of the road. From I-805, take exit 27B for Sorrento Valley Blvd. Turn left onto Vista Sorrento Parkway, go 1.1 miles and turn right onto Sorrento Valley Blvd. The trail head will be on the right after 0.9 miles.
  • Agency: Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Suggested time: 2 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season: All year
  • USGS topo map: Del Mar
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield San Diego County
  • Recommended gear: sun hat; long pants and long-sleeved shirt
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here (slightly different route); Map My Hike report here
  • Rating: 6
Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Trail Head, San Diego
0:00 – Trail head (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Though it has no seasonal waterfall, Lopez Canyon is an attractive, usually more quiet alternative to its neighbor, Los Penasquitos Canyon. This nearly level walk through rolling hills and groves of sycamores, conveniently located to I-5 and I-805, is a nice place for a stroll and to enjoy some solitude. Be careful however of ticks in the high grass surrounding the trail; there’s also a good amount of poison oak. For these reasons, while dogs are allowed, I don’t recommend them for this hike (if you do decide to take your dog, bring a tick key.) Keep in mind too that the trail is popular with cyclists, so while you may not have much company on two feet, remain watchful of those visitors on two wheels.

Lopez Canyon, San Diego
0:02 – Head right at the fork into Lopez Canyon (times are approximate)

From the staging area, follow the trail across a seasonal stream to a staging area with an information board. Head right (the left fork leads to Los Penasquitos) into Lopez Canyon, following the trail for a pleasant 0.7 miles through vegetation that includes a few groups of prickly pear cacti, buckwheat and poison oak. As you head deeper into the canyon, the noise from the freeway vanishes.

Lopez Canyon, San Diego, CA
0:23 – Continuing into Lopez Canyon after the junction

At 0.7 miles, the main trail heads uphill while a secondary trail heads deeper into the canyon. Continuing west on this trail, you soon enter an attractive grove of sycamores. As the vegetation thickens, a few wild palms help give this part of the canyon a jungle-like feel. The trail also crosses seasonal Lopez Creek several times. At about 1.6 miles, you enter a wide floodplain where the trail becomes somewhat vague. You will see the Camino Santa Fe bridge in the distance.

You reach one last grove of sycamores at about 1.8 miles from the start; this is a good turnaround point. Beyond, the trail continues to fade into the flood plain and becomes difficult to navigate past the bridge. A few low-to-the-ground branches make for natural benches where you can sit and enjoy the shade before returning. If you want to explore further, back at the junction you can climb the other path to the trail head on Pacific Mesa or you can continue on into Los Penasquitos Canyon.

Sycamores in Lopez Canyon, San Diego
0:34 – Sycamore grove

Text and photography copyright 2015 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.

Sycamores in Lopez Canyon, San Diego, CA
0:53 – Last grove of trees before the bridge; turnaround point
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