San Diego is famous for its temperate climate, beautiful beaches, and surf breaks. But in addition, the city is bounded on the opposite side by formidable mountains. Through all of San Diego's green space spreads a web of superb hiking trails.Less
Broken Hill is one of the least crowded trails in Torrey Pines, but not for lack of scenery. It’s simply farther from the main parking lots and trailheads, so you have to work a bit harder to reach it. The hike wanders through healthy coastal chaparral, spring wildflowers, and the namesake Torrey Pine trees, growing among weathered hills and sea cliffs. This more remote corner of the reserve also grants better chances of spotting wildlife.
This loop to Razor Point Beach is perhaps the best tour of Torrey Pines’ natural scenery. It combines two of the reserve’s best overlooks plus the hike-in sandy beach, all among an intact coastal forest of chaparral and the endangered Torrey pine tree. The trailhead is at a parking area near the visitor center. Park here (fee required) or walk in along the park road for free.
Guy Fleming is one of Torrey Pines Reserve’s most popular trails. It is an easy hike and close to the front entrance, but it also happens to have great ocean views and is perhaps the reserve’s best trail for seeing the namesake Torrey pine, an endangered species. The trees grow more densely here than in most other areas of the park, and the trail passes right through several groves. You may even have to duck under their bowing branches in a place or two.
Iron Mountain is one of San Diego’s favorite local hikes. It’s an easy trip from the city and a moderately-challenging jaunt to the top of a panoramic peak. It’s a casual workout for some and a significant accomplishment for others, depending on fitness level. The summit grants views in all directions!
Cowles Mountain claims the superlative of the highest point within San Diego at 1,593 feet, though it’s only taller than some nearby mountains by a little bit. It is indeed a worthy hike, with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain in a relatively short distance, and the summit views are well worth the effort. On top is a 360-degree view that stretches to Mexico. Hike early in the morning, or on a crisp winter day, for the best chance at clear air.
One of the most well-known is the hike to the scenic summit of Mount Woodson and a unique formation known as Potato Chip Rock, a diving-board platform of granite extending from the mountainside. This unique feature was formed when most of a boulder detached and rolled downslope, leaving only a sliver of granite suspended behind. The rock is less delicate than it looks, seeing as how it’s so far held up to thousands of people walking out on it.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon is an oasis of green that you might not expect so close to San Diego. A stream with a waterfall flows year round, and nurtures a surprising diversity of plant and animal life. A trip to Los Peñasquitos is a quick escape from city pavement and noise. The canyon feels somewhat remote, despite is proximity to suburbs. Houses line the rim, but are mostly out of sight.
El Cajon Mountain Trail, sometimes called San Diego’s toughest hike, is a steep and challenging trek to one of the area’s most rugged peaks, El Cajon. This 3,648-foot beast of a mountain is also known as El Capitan and is located in El Capitan County Preserve. Unlike many area peaks, El Cajon has no signal towers on top, perhaps because it is so well guarded by flanks of imposing granite. The broad, bouldery summit is left natural, accessible only by hiking trails.
Despite the dryness of the desert, water does flow in the hills around San Diego, and water in the hills means waterfalls. They are not numerous, so wherever they occur are special places. One of the most enchanting is Cedar Creek Falls. It is nearly 100 feet tall, dropping through a steep sluice of polished granite into a large swimming hole, and it flows reliably for much of the year.