Difficulty G 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

Carmel Mountain Preserve (San Diego)


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Carmel Mountain Preserve (San Diego)

  • Location: Carmel Valley, San Diego. From I-5 (local bypass) take exit 32 for Carmel Mtn. Road. Hear northeast on Carmel Mtn. Road for 0.5 mile. Turn right to stay on Carmel Mtn. Road. In 0.8 mile, turn left onto Ocean Air Drive. Go 0.3 mile to Fairport Way (just before the entrance to the park). Turn left on Fairport and drive 0.1 mile to the trailhead, located on the right side of the road, across from Shorepointe Way.
  • Agency: City of San Diego Parks & Recreation
  • Distance: 2.2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 200 feet
  • Suggested time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Rating: G
  • Best season: All year
  • Dogs: Allowed on leash
  • Cell phone reception: Good
  • Water: None (available at Ocean Air Recreation Center)
  • Restrooms: None (available at Ocean Air Recreation Center)
  • Camping/backpacking: None
  • Recommended guidebook: Afoot and Afield: San Diego County
  • More information: AllTrails report here; Trip descriptions (slightly different routes) here and here; trail map here
  • Rating: 4

Located in the northern city limits of San Diego, Carmel Mountain Preserve feels pleasantly rugged considering that it is surrounded by development. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset, with nearly unobstructed ocean views.

The route described below, a shorter version of the write-up from “Afoot and Afield: San Diego County” is a nice sampling of the park’s scenery, although hikes here of any length are enjoyable. From the trail head on Fairport, head up the wide path to a junction (0.2 mile). Turn left and follow a gentle path west, past a service road, toward a view point where you can sit on a bench and enjoy the scenery not only in front of you but below you as well: you are sitting on a mesa of multiple sandstone layers from different formations that have been pushed in and out over time.

Descend from the viewpoint via a somewhat rough trail that drops off the north (right) side, continuing west for a little bit before turning around. You drop into a grove of eucalyptus trees. Follow a vague, narrow trail into a shallow canyon, heading east, gradually ascending to reach the same service road you passed earlier. Turn left, make a quick ascent, drop and another ascent, arriving at a junction (1.25 miles from the start).

Turn right and head east, soon reaching yet another junction. Turn left and follow the trail north, then northeast, to its ending. Turn right and go a short distance to a wooden sign (1.6 miles from the start) pointing out mileages to Yosemite, Yellowstone and local Los Penasquitos Lagoon: a homage to the famous “M*A*S*H” sign at Malibu Creek State Park.

Continue east, passing by a fence and another trail branching to the left. The main trail curves around and heads south, passing above the recreation center, completing the loop and returning back to the trail head on Fairport.

Remember that this route doesn’t have to be followed exactly; if you are short on time, a quick jaunt back and forth to the vista point will only take half an hour, and if you have plenty of time, you can wander the trails at your leisure without having to worry about getting too lost, as civilization is never too far away.

Carmel Mountain Preserve, San Diego
Looking north from the view point
Carmel Mountain Preserve, San Diego
Spring wildflowers in the canyon
Carmel Mountain Preserve, San Diego
Climbing through the canyon up to the service road
Trail sign at Carmel Mountain Preserve, San Diego
880 miles to Yellowstone

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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