Oak Grove/Visitors Center Loop (Mission Trails Regional Park)
- Location: Father Junipero Serra Trail, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego. From I-15, take the Friars Road exit (exit 7A) and head east for 0.8 miles (turn right if you’re coming from the south; left if from the north). Merge left onto Mission Gorge Road, follow it 3.2 miles and turn left onto Father Junipero Serra Trail. From Highway 52, take the Mast Blvd. exit (13) and head northeast on Mast Blvd (turn right if you’re coming from the east; left if from the west.) Make a quick right onto West Hills Parkway, go 0.7 miles and turn right onto Mission Gorge Road. In 2.5 miles, turn right onto Father Junipero Serra Trail. Park where available either on Father Junipero Serra Trail or at the nearby visitor center.
- Agency: Mission Trails Regional Park
- Distance: 2.3 miles
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Best season: Year round
- Dogs: Allowed
- Cell phone reception: Weak
- USGS topo map: La Mesa
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here (Visitor Center loop only), here and here (Oak Grove Loop only)
- Rating: 5
This enjoyable hike pieces together two of Mission Trails Regional Park’s short loops: the Oak Grove and Visitor Center. Between them, they offer a nice sampling of the park’s lower country, including shaded canyons, glimpses of the San Diego River, views of the peaks and some local history.
The Oak Grove Loop itself is actually three separate loops, all of which are enjoyable to explore. The longest of these starts with a right turn at the fork by the info board on the east side of Father Junipero Serra Trail. Follow it south and then east, paralleling Father Junipero Serra Trail and then Mission Gorge Road, with views of the south end of Fortuna Ridge to the north. Stay right at two junctions (the first left would take you back to the trail head; the second shortens the loop) to enter a small loop that goes through a pleasant green meadow, dominated by Kwaay Paay Peak towering above and Pyles Peak to the east.
Upon completing this small loop, stay right and enter a shaded canyon with a seasonal stream. Here you will see a replica of an Ewaa (pronounced ee-WAH) similar to the houses built buy the native Kumeyaay (KOO-me-eye) people.
The trail then leads back to Father Junipero Serra, a short distance north of the parking area. On the opposite side of the street, pick up the signed Visitors Center Trail and continue north west. Stay left at a junction with the Grinding Rocks Trail, about a quarter mile from the road and just over a mile from the start of the hike, and follow the San Diego River downstream. This part of the trail takes on a pleasantly wild feel as the steep walls of the gorge block out virtually all sights and sounds of civilization.
At 1.6 miles from the start, you reach a T-junction with a dirt road, listed as the San Diego River Crossing Trail on the park map. Turn left and follow it uphill, climbing steadily for 0.3 miles. Just before the parking lot at the end of Jackson Drive, turn left onto the last segment of the Visitor Center Trail and follow it 0.3 miles back to either the parking lot or Father Junipero Serra Trail.
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.