Annie’s Canyon (San Elijo Lagoon)
- Location: The Solana Hills trail head is at 450 Solana Hills Drive, Solana Beach. From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit (exit 37). Head west on Lomas Santa Fe Drive (turn right if you’re coming from the north; left if from the south). Go 0.2 mile and turn right onto Solana Hills Drive. Follow Solana Hills Drive 0.3 mile to its ending and park where available.
- Agency: San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy/San Diego County Parks & Recreation
- Distance: 1.5 miles
- Elevation gain: 400 feet
- Suggested time: 1 hour
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: All year (9am-5pm daily, closed Christmas)
- USGS topo map: “Encinitas”
- Recommended gear: sun hat
- More information: Trail description here; Map My Hike report here; “virtual hike” video here
- Rating: 5
For years, the area now known as Annie’s Canyon (listed on Google Maps as “Mushroom Caves”) was off limits to hikers, decimated by vandalism. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers and donors, including Annie (last name unknown), the trail has been restored and became available to the public on June 21st, 2016. The short but adventurous loop hike has already become a big hit with local hikers, providing a taste of the slot canyons of Arizona and Utah without requiring special expertise or equipment (though visitors should still know what they are getting themselves into). Unlike the lagoon’s other trails, this one is not dog friendly; I did not see any signs specifically indicating that dogs are not allowed in Annie’s Canyon but the climbing required and narrowness of the trail makes it a poor choice for dogs.
This post assumes a start from the trail head on Solana Hills Drive, the closest one to Annie’s Canyon. The canyon can also be visited as part of a longer hike from one of the lagoon’s other trail heads. Begin by climbing uphill for 0.1 mile on the Solana Hills Trail, an exposed fire road paralleling the freeway. After reaching a crest, marked by an information board, the trail descends 200 feet over the next 0.3 mile, reaching a Y-junction. Bear left and follow an unsigned trail through a grove of eucalyptus trees, keeping left at two intersections.
At 0.6 mile from the start, you reach the western of the two entrances to Annie’s Canyon. Follow the trail a few dozen yards to the start of the loop. Note that the loop is one-way, counter-clockwise. (You can ascend to the vista point clockwise, bypassing the canyon, but must retrace your steps).
As you forge your way through the narrow canyon, it may be hard to believe that the lagoon is just a few dozen yards away; it feels like a completely different hike. The sandstone walls pinch in to just barely over a foot apart. As you climb, you’ll pass by a cave (sadly, some of the graffiti from before is still there; due to the environmentally sensitive nature of the area, it was not possible to remove all of the vandalism, but it serves as a reminder that Annie’s Canyon is a resource that must be respected if future generations want to enjoy it.)
After the cave, the “trail” becomes even narrower as it makes a steep climb. Holes in the walls provide hand holds and foot holds. Hoist yourself up to a ladder, which leads to the vista point. Here you can enjoy views of the canyon, the mouth of the lagoon and the ocean. After enjoying the panorama, descend back to the starting point of the loop on a more conventional trail. Retrace your steps back to the Solana Hills trail head.
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.