Vegetation at Manchester Preserve

Manchester Preserve (Encinitas)

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Manchester Preserve (Encinitas)

  • Location: Encinitas. From the north, take I-5 to the Santa Fe Drive exit (41A). Turn left and follow Santa Fe Drive east for 1.4 miles. Turn right on El Camino Real and follow it 0.5 mile to Calle Ryan. Turn left and follow Calle Ryan 0.2 mile to its end at the preserve entrance. Alternately, from the south take I-5 to Manchester Ave. (exit 39). Turn left and follow Manchester Ave. a total of 1.7 miles, during which it becomes El Camino Real. Turn right on Calle Ryan and follow it 0.2 mile to its end.
  • Agency: City of Encinitas
  • Distance: 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: All year
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • More information: EveryTrail report (different starting point) here; Article about the preserve here
  • Rating: 5

Nestled among quiet residential neighborhoods, Manchester Preserve packs a surprising punch, both from the variety of scenery and steep ascents and descents. Despite the hike’s unassuming distance and elevation gain, it has an unexpectedly rugged feel.

A network of trails cross through the reserve. Looping around the park’s perimeter can be easily done in an hour or so, with opportunities to extend the hike by exploring its southern end or the interior trails. From the end of Calle Ryan, follow the trail east, passing a junction with a short loop on the right. After the loop rejoins, the trail begins a steep, sometimes treacherous descent into the bottom of the canyon, quickly losing about 150 feet. Steps made from wooden beams and rocks help with stability.

At the bottom of the descent, turn left to begin hiking clockwise, thus enabling the first major ascent of the hike to happen gradually. Head north through thick vegetation including coastal sage scrub and maritime chaparral. Stay left at the first two junctions and turn right at the third, just before reaching a residential neighborhood (0.6 miles.) Cross a footbridge, heading east, and soon you reach another junction. Stay left (the right fork is a short loop that you can add if you want to explore more) and left again when the loop returns. You make an ascent between a scrub oak and yucca plant, then another exposed climb along a staircase of wooden beams set into the rocks.

After ascending along a ridge, you reach a junction with a service road. The trail continues along the opposite side of the road, skirting along the tops of some cliffs carved by erosion. A steep descent along another wooden staircase brings you back down into the canyon, where you reach a junction (1.2 miles from the start.) You can extend the hike by heading left toward the southern end of the reserve, although that area isn’t as scenic. Turning right brings you to the bottom of the service road, which you briefly join before picking up another single-track on the left. Follow it about 0.3 miles to complete the loop and climb back up to your starting point.

Photo gallery (click thumbnails to see the full sized versions)

Manchester Preserve, Encinitas, CA
Beginning the first steep descent
Manchester Preserve, Encinitas, CA
At the bottom of the first descent
Manchester Preserve, Encinitas, CA
Footbridge on the north side of the preserve
Manchester Reserve, Encinitas, CA
Beginning of the descent from the service road






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.


  1. The pictures from this hike look absolutely amazing. This blog definitely makes me want to drop everything that I am doing, drive to California, and go on all of these hikes. This one in particular looks very pretty, and from your description seems fairly easy. Thanks for sharing!

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