Difficulty PG Distance 2.1 to 5 miles General information: Cellular Service General information: Dogs allowed General information: Hikes with free parking Rating: 4-6 San Diego - Coastal & Western County Season: All year

Rancho La Costa Preserve: Ridgeline Trail


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Rancho La Costa Preserve: Ridgeline Trail

  • Location: El Fuerte St., Carlsbad. From I-5, take the La Costa Ave. exit (44) and head east for 1.8 miles. Turn left on El Camino Real, go 1.2 miles and turn right on Alga Rd. Go 0.5 mile and turn right onto Alicante Rd. Turn right and go 1.6 mile to the trail head which will be on the right (Alicante becomes El Fuerte St). Alternately, from the north take I-5 south to Palomar Airport Rd/exit 47. Head east for 4.5 miles to El Fuerte St. Turn right and follow El Fuerte St. for 3.5 miles to the trail head which will be on the left side of the road, just before Babilonia St.
  • Agency: City of Carlsbad
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 600 feet
  • Suggested time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty Rating: PG
  • Best season: All year but hot during the summer
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash (exercise caution on hot days; some rocky terrain may be tough on their paws; watch out rattlesnakes)
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None
  • Restrooms: None
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • Recommended gear: sun hat hiking poles sun block
  • More information: Trip descriptions here and here; preserve map here
  • Rating: 5

This hike explores the northern sector of Carlsbad’s non-contiguous Rancho La Costa Preserve, climbing to a 652 foot high vista point. This route feels less secluded than the Switchbacks/Horned Lizard loop to the south and the views aren’t quite as panoramic but it still provides an enjoyable workout conveniently located to much of northwestern San Diego County. The vista point can be reached from El Fuerte St, as described below, or from Corintia St., via a short but steep route.

From El Fuerte, follow the wide gravel path around the upper rim of Box Canyon, behind some houses, soon reaching the actual trail head. The trail descends into Box Canyon, taking in some coastal views that are impressive despite the proliferation of power lines. At 0.6 mile you cross San Marcos Creek and begin a steady ascent, picking up 300 feet in half a mile. On the way up, a picnic table provides a convenient spot for a break from the climb.

At 1.1 mile, you reach a Y-junction. The left fork continues north and then east toward Corintia St. To reach the vista point, head right and stay right at a second junction. The vista point offers views of Batiquitos Lagoon to the west, Double Peak with the distant Cuyamaca Mountains to the east and Denk Mountain, the highest point in the Rancho la Costa Preserve, to the south (the destination of the Switchbacks/Horned Lizard loop).

After enjoying the panorama, return via the same route. If you want to burn a few more calories, you can descend to Corintia and climb back up for a total round trip of 4.2 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

Ridgeline Trail, Rancho la Costa Preserve, Carlsbad, CA
Wildflowers on the Ridgeline Trail
Rancho la Costa Preserve, Carlsbad, CA
Descending into Box Canyon
Rancho la Costa Preserve, Carlsbad, CA
Feelin’ the love at the vista point
Rancho la Costa Preserve, Carlsbad, CA
Heading back from the vista point

Text and photography copyright 2017 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.

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