- Location: 1700 N. La Honda Drive, Escondido, next to Daley Ranch. From I-15, take the El Norte exit and head east for 3.1 miles. Turn left on La Honda and drive a mile to the Daley Ranch parking lot. Turn right into Dixon Lake entrance station. After paying the $5 per vehicle parking fee on the weekends (free for seniors; free weekdays) turn left at a T-junction and drive a short distance to a parking area on the left side of the road. If parking is unavailable here, backtrack and continue past the entrance station to either of two larger lots. Parking may also be available at Daley Ranch.
- Agency: Dixon Lake Recreation Area
- Distance: 2.6 miles
- Elevation gain: 250 feet
- Difficulty Rating: G
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Best season: October – June
- USGS topo map: Valley Center
- More information: Trip description (slightly different route) here; Yelp page here; Map My Hike report here
- Rating: 5
This loop explores the north shore of Dixon Lake, a large reservoir that’s also a popular destination for boating and fishing. In addition to the lake itself, the loop shows off the area’s diverse plant life, provides some panoramic city and mountain views and visits a small cave. Unlike adjacent Daley Ranch, Dixon Lake has a weekend entrance fee and does not allow dogs; despite these restrictions, it’s still a worthwhile spot to visit if you’re in the area. The fee can be bypassed by parking in the Daley Ranch lot, although expect there to be big crowds on the weekends.
From the parking area inside the entrance gate, follow the Nature Trail east through a pleasant mix of scrub oak, live oak and an occasional manzanita tree. If you are here on a weekend, noise from the picnic area may linger before you get far enough away that it fades. You also may hear traffic on the service road that parallels the trail, although the thick vegetation pretty much keeps it out of sight.
At half a mile, you reach a T-junction with the Sage Trail, a fire road. Turn right (heading left, or north will bring you into Daley Ranch, an option if you want a longer hike.) Almost immediately the Sage Trail ends at the Rattlesnake Trail, also a fire road. Bear left and climb briefly to a high point where you get good views of the largely undeveloped land to the east and your first look at the lake itself. After 0.7 mile of winding descent, you pass a portable restroom and reach a chain link fence. An obscure path leads down a staircase to the shore of the lake.
Follow the trail for an enjoyable 0.9 miles as it twists around the north shore of the lake, in and out of wooded pockets. You reach a four-way junction 2.2 miles from the start. Optional side trips here include visiting a dock (left) or the northwestern corner of the lake (an unofficial use trail heading straight.) To complete the loop, turn right and climb to a dirt parking lot. Bear left and look for another trail that climbs and then drops to a footbridge leading back to the picnic area.
At this point you can simply cut across the picnic area back to the paved service road, completing the loop. However, to visit the cave, bear left, walk up the hill and look for a use trail on the left. A few dozen yards brings you to the small cave, where sunlight comes through a hole in the rocks above. Back at the picnic area, continue uphill to the service road, turn right and follow it back to the parking area.
Text and photography copyright 2016 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.