- Location: Near Del Mar and Carmel Valley in San Diego. From the 56 Freeway, take the Carmel Country Road exit (2). Turn right on Carmel Country Road and make a quick right onto Carmel Canyon Road. Go 0.8 mile and turn left on Del Mar Heights Road. Go 0.4 mile and turn right onto Lansdale Drive. Follow Lansdale 0.1 mile to the park entrance, on the left. Go 0.2 mile to the parking area by the Torrey Pines Dog Park. Alternately from I-5, take the Del Mar Heights Road exit (34). Head east on Del Mar Heights Road for 1.5 miles to Lansdale Drive. Turn left and follow Lansdale into the park.
- Agency: City of San Diego Parks and Recreation
- Distance: 2.9 miles
- Elevation gain: 300 feet
- Suggested time: 1.5 hours
- Difficulty Rating: PG
- Best season: All year
- Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution during hot summer months)
- Cell phone reception: Fair
- Water: Fountains/tap water at restrooms at the trail head
- Restrooms: Full service restrooms at the trail head
- Camping/backpacking: Nearest camping is at San Elijo State Beach
- More information: Trip descriptions here and here; video tour of the canyon here
- Rating: 6
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, Gonzalez Canyon Open Space offers a surprising amount of biodiversity and scenic views while feeling fairly isolated considering its proximity to civilization. Miles of trails make for many different possible routes in the park. The double-loop described here takes in the entirety of the park’s most popular trail, the Torrey Pines Loop and also the scenic Lagoon Trail.
Pick up the signed nature trail on the left side of the dog park and follow it in between the fences to the open space. The trail descends into Gonzalez Canyon, named for 19th century farmer Levi Gonzalez. The Torrey Pines Loop is false advertising as the only Torrey Pines on the route are the ones in the park up above, but there are still a variety of plants including buckwheat, monkey flower, elderberry and a few prickly pear cacti.
At 0.6 mile, you reach a service road. The trail continues on the opposite side, a few yards to the right and reaches a T-junction in a quarter mile. The Torrey Pines Loop continues right, heading back toward the park, but for this trip, turn left and head a short distance to another service road. This is the start of the mile-long second loop. Follow the road in either direction to the Lagoon Trail (if you head right, you will have to bear left at a junction before reaching it.) The Lagoon Trail is arguably the scenic highlight of the trip, passing through majestic groves of maples, oaks, sycamores and willows. The only downside is the abundance of poison oak, though it never encroaches the trail.
After completing the loop, return to the Torrey Pines Loop, which now heads south. At 2.2 miles from the start, you reach another junction. Both forks are signed as part of the loop, but the left trail is more interesting and challenging. It climbs steeply up the east wall of the canyon and circles around the south end of the park, providing some nice views of the entire open space, before making a few switchbacks up to the parking lot.
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.