URBAN SAN DIEGO

CONTENTS THIS SECTION:

– Optional Treks into Marian Bear Park, from north topside
– HOORAY TIME! New Major MTRP Addition – Sycamore West
– Cowles Mountain, Try the Uncrowded Back Way on Big Rock Trail
– A Fascinating Hike Along the Trans County Trail and East Penasquitos
– A Different Way to Stroll into Balboa Park
– Where the Heck is Shepherd Pond
– Fine Handy Hiking Trail in MTRP’s Oak Canyon
– Communing with Nature at Major City Parks
– A short new trail down to a long old trail-Mira Mesa
– Bankers’ Hill/Footbridges

Here meet some of the key places to explore in our San Diego City urban areas. You can also find more details about these places and many more in Outdoors San Diego: Hiking, Biking & Camping by Tom Leech and Jack Farnan, available at many book stores, park visitors centers and amazon.com and http://www.presentationspress.com. For web sites, check the topic above — SD Outdoors organizations.

A quick alert to be careful about heading out on our trails as it’s not  like walking around the block. Wear good walking shoes for good grip, be careful to not stumble (a walking stick is often a good aid, especially when up and down hill hikes), be  prepared for the heat, and go with knowledgeable leaders in the back country. Finally, understand that Tom Leech has no liability for troubles on the trails.

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  Optional Treks into Marian Bear Park, from north topside

Marian Bear Memorial Park, also referred to by old-timers as San Clemente Canyon, is one of our more popular community parks in San Diego city. Located

Lots of shade on the Cobb Trail

Lots of shade on the Cobb Trail

Cobb stairs at entry

Cobb stairs at entry

between Clairemont and University City, It stretches along south of Highway 52 from I-805 to near I-5. On almost any day you’ll see hikers (many with pooches on leash) and bikers making their way along the excellent trails from main entries at Clairemont-Regents Rd and Genesee Ave. With nearly 500 acres, lots of shade, mainly sycamores, flower displays (from spring through fall, it provides mostly level trails from modest hike to serious 6-mile loop workout. Don’t be surprised to hear plenty of highway noise with 52 the main contributor.

Not so well known, except by nearby locals, is that you can also hike up to or enter from Clairemont neighborhood communities along two side trails. Both of these make for variations from the usual main east-west trail. And as they’re heavily shaded, they encourage hiking even on hot summer days (up to a point that is).  Another Likeable feature is that heading south reduces that Highway 52 noise.

The Cobb trail marker is easy to spot after about a 15-20 minute hike east from the Genesee entry. Head south/up onto the trail under lots of sycamores and oaks, and you’ll see the creek/drainage ditch paralleling the trail off to the left. About a pleasant 10-15 minute hike you’ll see a steep set of stairs heading up, then along a sidewalk section to the Cobb entry and the pleasant housing neighborhood. Head back down those steep stairs and down to the main trail. An option is to start your hike from the top and head down to the main E-W trail, hike either east or west along the main trail and then back up the Cobb Trail.

Biltmore Trail to main Marian Bear E-W Trail

Biltmore Trail to main Marian Bear E-W Trail

Footbridge along Biltmore Trail

Footbridge along Biltmore Trail

Biltmore steps

Biltmore steps

The Biltmore trail marker is about a 15 minute walk west for the Genesee trail entry. Or east about 5 minutes from Clairemont Mesa entry. Head off onto the side trail, cross a wooden footbridge, wander steadily south and upward through heavily-shaded secti0ns, and up a steep segment and set of stairs to the Biltmore entry. This makes for about a ten-minute walk to or from the park’s main trail. It’s a good idea to have a walking stick. And a before, you can start your hike from up here.

Directions. It’s easy to get to the Clairemont entry points. To Cobb: take 805 to Clairemont Mesa west, to Diane Ave north-right to Cobb Drive to left. At the intersection with Cobb Place see narrow concrete-paved path heading off the street onto the trail (unmarked). To Biltmore: from 52 exit to Genesee Ave south, uphill to the first light, right to Appleton, pass the elementary school and turn right onto Biltmore Street, drive to end and see marked trail entry.

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HOORAY TIME!  New major MTRP addition — Sycamore West

Where MTRP meets Goodan Ranch (Preserve entry)

Where MTRP meets Goodan Ranch (Preserve entry)

Expansive views distant and in canyons below

Expansive views distant and in canyons below

New entry into parking lot

New entry into parking lot

Kiosk on trail with scenic views of mountains (Iron, Woodson)

Kiosk on trail with scenic views of mountains (Iron, Woodson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the real gems within the city limits of San Diego is Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP). It’s one of our most popular parks, with Cowles Mountain, Lake Murray, the historic Old Mission Dam, and a remarkable Visitors Center among much-visited areas. Access to MTRP and its many trails is generally done via Mission Gorge Road, Highway 52, east from Tierrasanta and west from Del Cerro and San Carlos communities.

A large new addition marks a new entry point to the north, roughly bordering Poway and Scripps Ranch. This 1100 acres Sycamore West region was dedicated in December 2014 and provides a major new outdoors adventure area. This expands MTRP to nearly 7,000 acres (for reference, Balboa Park is 1200 acres), plus provides ready access to much more as it borders Goodan Ranch-Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve with its 2,000+ acres.

The new park has its welcome entry sign well-marked at the end of Stonebridge Parkway. You can park on the street cul de sac or drive past the metal entry gate into a large parking area. Easily seen is a large informational kiosk, with information about the area, valuable trail maps (which many parks lack), and a portable rest room (also lacking in many recreational areas).  You can take the paper maps with you, an important help if visiting the first time and for repeat visits. The park is open to hikers, bikers, horses, and dogs on leash (pick up please).  Check your time as the gate opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m. (November 1 to March 31, then to 7 p.m. April 1 to October 31.

Check the trail map accompanying this article, showing nearly 8 miles of trails plus another 1.7 miles along a linked Goodan Preserve trail. For now most people head along the dirt trail-road past the kiosk. Many of the trails are for vehicles servicing the many large power lines in the area. After one mile a trail sign marks Stonebridge Trail off to the left (or keep going straight up the hill – the two trails meet shortly). The trail comes to a dead end at another large kiosk, with trails going off both to right and left.  The left trail winds down and parallels Beeler Canyon Road for 2.5 miles.  Here (a) you can return along the trail you walked in on or (b) hike a short distance over to and up Via Santa Pradera, providing a loop ending back at the Sycamore parking area.

Back up at the kiosk, another trail (X for my ID — most of the trails don’t have signs yet) heads off to the right. After 0.6 miles a side trail (Y) to the right goes downward about 0.8 miles to intersect another trail (Z) inside Goodan Ranch Preserve. Take a right on Z for a lengthy hike in Goodan or go left and you’ll end up back in MTRP Sycamore West (next paragraph).

An easier option from that kiosk is to stay on level trail X. This takes you toward a power tower, then veers left. This short trail section winds down to another large parking area and entry into the Goodan Ranch-Sycamore Preserve at the end of Sycamore Canyon Road (that name abounds around here). This is a good resting place, with even a real stone toilet building.  Options are to head back up where you came from or head right along that Goodan trail; after 0.8 miles turn right onto Trail Y and make a steep loop hike up to join Trail X.

The basic round trip from the main park entry to the Goodan parking lot and return is about a 1 ½ to 2-hour hike. It’s highly scenic as you’re hiking on a mesa with fun views looking down at farm fields and ranches on one side, to mostly open park land on the other, and expansive scenic views of nearby popular Iron and Woodson Mountains over off Highway 67 toward Ramona. No trees are there to provide shade but plenty of cacti and other plants will be providing many flowers around March-June.

This new Sycamore West addition now is seeing little activity (per some local hikers) but that will change as outdoors fans catch on that this is a great set of trails and views expanding MTRP significantly.  For more details visit http://www.mtrp.org/west_sycamore.

To get there. From I-15 just north of Miramar Marine Air Base, take Pomerado Road east 3.6 miles to sharp right (still Pomerado), then first quick right onto Stonebridge Parkway. Road ends at 3.5 miles, with marked entry into parking lot (plenty of room), with portable john.

Alert: when hiking in nature, hazards present themselves. Take the usual cautions and accept that the author has no liability for troubles on the trails.

MTRP W Sycamore Map (click on link)- MTRPWestSycamoreMap-8.5×11

Note: Tom Leech is lead author, with Jack Farnan, of Outdoors San Diego: Hiking, Biking & Camping (Premier). Also visit the many other articles on www.outdoorssandiego.com about parks, trails and travels. To contact Tom email to outdoorssd@aol.com.

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Cowles Mountain, try the uncrowded back way on Big Rock Trail

Trailhead entry - Big Rock Trail

Trailhead entry – Big Rock Trail

Cowles Mountain, part of Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP), is likely the most hiked place in San Diego. The main trail up on any day will have plenty of hikers and weekends it is often packed.  On January 1 to start the new year, I headed up as part of my continuing New Years pursuit to get out there. Maybe many others made that their special start of the New year as hikers, joggers, families and pooches were up in large quantities.

On trail toward Cowles

On trail toward Cowles

Should you want to enjoy that trek up Cowles (how do you pronounce that?) with a lot fewer people, try one of the several good trails up the backside. They’re readily accessible to the main city urban areas. One of the easiest to get to is the Big Rock Road Trail.  To get there (a) take highway 52 east to the Mast exit, onto W. Hills Parkway to Mission Gorge Road.  Head left , then a few blocks along, at a major light, turn right on Mesa Road. Just past Big Rock Park is a kiosk and trail head. (B) from I-8, take the Mission Gorge exit, head north past the MTRP main entry to Mesa Blvd.  Park right at  the kiosk and head out on the marked trail.  You have a couple more entries onto the trail: (a) from Big Rock Park, with parking in that lot and (b)  a few blocks up from the park at dead-end  of Shantung Dr. (from Big Rock Road off Mission Gorge Rd.)

Reward is Views, here Lake Murray

Reward is Views, here Lake Murray

The hike is 2.2 miles to the peak, with lots of uphill hiking. You can take the pooch pal, on leash and picked-up deposits. It’s a good trail with some  wooden steps, a few shady spots, manzanita bushes, and likely lots of flowers in spring. Trail veers of toward left, then about 30 minutes up is a major trail intersection with marker directing right and up toward Cowles and Barker Way.  More upward hiking and trail heads to left, eventually intersecting a major service road, again well-marked. Head right, see the obvious trail and in about 10-15 minutes more you’ll be at  Cowles Peak, where you’ll be joined by those hordes who have come up the main way.  This is a good spot to enjoy the fine views of Lake Murray, the distant peaks in many directions, and nearby Pyles Peak (with trail heading over there for a longer trek – add another hour or more).

Head back down same trail, following signs toward Big Rock Park and back to Mesa Road entry. Makes for a rewarding venture of about 90 minutes or so up and back.  I suggest take a walking stick as there are potential rock snags on some trail sections (careful coming back down). A fine way to enjoy our special outdoors San Diego world.

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A Fascinating Hike Along the Trans County Trail and East Penasquitos

Get started on E Penasquitos trail section

Get started on E Penasquitos trail section

Trans County Trail wooden foot bridge over Penasquitos Creek

Trans County Trail wooden foot bridge over Penasquitos Creek

A popular hiking and biking spot is Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, with parts in both San Diego City and County.   It offers options for hiking either from the I-5 west end, the I-15 Mercy Road east end, and other entries, with most hikes heading toward the mid segment falls. A lesser-used but intriguing hike is along the East end of Los Penasquitos and continuing into Poway along the Trans County Trail. This is good for beginners as well as more experienced hikers, plus has some fascinating history included.The most common way in is the Mercy Road exit from I-5 between Mira Mesa and Poway Road. Head west on Mercy to Black Canyon Road, with the main Penasquitos Canyon parking lot straight ahead (modest parking fee charged).  The trailhead entry is east across Black Canyon Rd. You can also turn right on Black Canyon Rd., then take the first right into the equestrian section and small free parking lot. From here walk along the obvious trail south and paralleling Black Mountain Rd. About a quarter mile in the trail makes a sharp turn to the left/east.

Now you’re on the Trans County Trail. The dirt trail for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians heads east and slightly uphill in the canyon. To the north is the sycamore-lined creek, and the busy and muted Mercy Road to the south. The first part is open and on a warm day you’ll welcome the oak shade at a side road crossing the stream. Then oak trees provide shade as you cross over wooden footbridges. Then you cross under the I-15 bridge and the old bridge, part of the bike trail. The trail comes out at a paved road.

Kumeyaay-based Rock of Aegis decorated wall

Kumeyaay-based Rock of Aegis decorated wall

The Crime Victims Oak Garden

The Crime Victims Oak Garden

Walk left or north along that road past a decorated wall, the Rock of Aegis,” a series of paintings inspired by Kumeyaay petroglyphs. Then you’re at a special place, the Crime Victims Oak Garden. You might want to spend some time here perusing the many memorials to the memorial to Cara Knott (murdered near here a dozen years back), with a gazebo and a cluster of oak trees. Return from here and you’ll have done about a 90 minute stroll.

Even better is to continue on the trail past the Penasquitos Pump Station, which then turns to the right/east.

The trail parallels the Penasquitos Creek and Poway Road.

Another access to the Trans County Trail and Crime Victims Oak Garden is from the Park ‘n Ride just east of I-15 at Scripps Poway Parkway. Locate the paved road at the corner (right at I-15 entry). Walk or drive down and follow the road to the right (e.g. don’t go over the bridge).

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A Different Way to Stroll into Balboa Park

Footbridge for crossing over 163

Footbridge for crossing over 163

A favorite place for central city strolling and jogging is Balboa Park. On any Sunday afternoon locals and visitors will be roaming the main lawn areas on the west side of the Cabrillo Bridge and the popular museums, gardens, cafes, and concert arenas from the bridge over to Park Blvd.

Here’s another hiking (and biking) option not so well known but intriguing.  This one comes from the Richmond Street side, just north from the ultra-busy San Diego Zoo and south from University Ave. You can enter onto several trails from Richmond, an easy one from the dead end of Upas Street, west from Park Blvd. There’s ample parking here. Head down the wide trail, with lots of cacti along the sides, and the scouts camp facilities to the south. About five minutes down you arrive at a footbridge over Highway 163. Cross over and join the well-worn trail with the sign marking this as #2900, the Bridle Trail (though you’re not likely to see any critters wearing bridles).

Easy walking trail on west side of highway

Easy walking trail on west side of highway

Here are two options:

– To the right takes you a short ways up onto the grassy park area at 6th and Upas. This offers many rambling areas, plus just north from Upas is the George Marston House, with lovely outdoors gardens and a loop trail.

– Go left-south and hike parallel to 163, with the zoo on the other side.  Heading south has the disadvantage of traffic noise and the advantage of lots of shade. Several side trails head up to the main park lawn region along 6th Ave, a good one just pass the Quince Street Bridge. Stay on the trail and you’ll soon get a fine view of that memorable Cabrillo Bridge, which the trail goes

As trail approaches Laurel Street Bridge

As trail approaches Laurel Street Bridge

right under (about 20 minutes from your start).

Now you have several options again (with several bathrooms):

– Keep heading south and the trail will lead up and over a stairs section toward Pine Grove Picnic area and Marston Point with its great views. Lots of good strolling all around.

– Curl off to the right and that trail takes you to the busy leash-free dog park and the west side of the bridge, again right at the park’s main large lawn sections. Just west from the bridge are several statues of important San Diego historical figures, including Kate Sessions, the original Balboa Park horticulturist (and namesake for the scenic Pacific Beach park up Lamont Street). If you cross over the bridge you’ll be on the Casa del Prado and the main plaza, now with cars removed making for a more enjoyable strolling and lounging area.

To return you can hike back down to pick up the trail below the Cabrillo Bridge, or walk north over to near Upas and down that short trail to the footbridge. Cross back over 163 and up the original trail to where you may have parked your car at Richmond at Upas. An alternative is the side trail just east of the bridge off to the left, and then up to the right.  This will come out at the residential area at Brookes Street at Richmond. Walk to the right to the original trail entry.

Caution: be careful about hiking these trails after dark and especially don’t hike alone.

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Where the heck is Shepherd Pond?

Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) has a wealth of outdoors opportunities, in its nearly 6,000 acres. And it’s all within 15-20 minutes of most residents of San Diego city. That’s where they have that stunning Visitors Center, the popular trek up Cowles Mountain (how do you pronounce that again?), the historic dam that once backed up San Diego River, lovely strolling paths along Lake Murray, the serious workout trek up to Kwaay Paay Peak, and on and on.

Yep, there's a real pond out there

Yep, there’s a real pond out there

Those are all over there in the eastern section, in the Mission Gorge Road and Junipero Serra Trail vicinity. A much less trafficked part of MTRP is over at the northwestern end, near that busy highway 52. I recently hiked along one trail over there for nearly 2 hours and never saw another hiker, and that was on a Saturday morning.

That particular trail leads up to a surprising scene – water, shrubs, reeds and what’s known as Shepherd Pond. The trails are mostly with little shade, but lots of open space, a stress-reducing getaway from the nearby traffic and busy city fuss. And they can provide a workout from modest to heavy duty, depending on which choices you make along the way.

The most direct ways to get to the pond are from Tierrasanta, with two primary trail entries.

Kiosk at entryway from Tierrasanta

Kiosk at entryway from Tierrasanta

From the Santo Road exit south from Highway 52, take the quick left onto Portobelo Drive. Drive along 5-6 blocks to two entries into MTRP: (1) The first is just past Corte Playa Cartagena where fences appear on both sides of the road. The trail heads east from the road about 1/4 mile, passing a large condo complex on the right, and directly to the main MTRP entry. (2) Another block just past Camino Playa Baja is a clearly-marked entryway, with a wide path, again heading east a short way to the main park. When you intersect a main trail, walk a short distance left-north to the trailhead.There you’ll see the entry to the Portobelo Trail, with a large kiosk and map. The trail parallels 52 and soon the traffic noise fades as you walk on an easy trail, with some up and down. About 20 minutes along you’ll pass a side trail coming in from the right, then you’ll be at the pond. This is a relaxing spot with a different look, foliage beside and in the pond, and plenty of bird calls. You can return back down the Portobelo Trail to where you started or continue up. About ten minutes more and you intersect a major, clearly-marked trail with many options. Here are a couple:- Head north-left and up Fortuna Mountain or all the way over the grasslands to the old dam.- Head right and see many side trails.

Wonder what this structure once looked like - right off the trail

Wonder what this structure once looked like – right off the trail

Just off to the left-east are the remains of a stone foundation (don’t know the history of that). Continue a bit further and follow the sign off to the right-west marked Shepherd Canyon and Portobelo Trail. That has steep downhill, then uphill segments and comes out at the main trail just west of the pond. Turn left and that takes you back to the Tierrasanta entry where you started, about 90 minutes later.

A second, equally enjoyable hike starts a bit further along on Portobelo Drive, taking a left onto Villa Playa Cortez, then left along Playa Catalina, which becomes Corte Playa Catalina. This is a popular entry way to many trails with ample parking along the street and a large kiosk marking trail entries. Head straight past the kiosk and along the one marked toward North Fortuna and Shepherd Pond. This is totally open space with wide scenic views all the way up to the mountains, and no shade, so have ample water. Again more options:

– Hike about a half-hour in and see the sign to the left toward Shepherd Pond and Portobelo Trail (same as noted above). Meet the trail, take a right and there’s the pond. Continue on up to meet the main trail and walk back to the Catalina entry way.

– Slip past the first Shepherd Pond marker, continuing past that stone foundation off to the right and meet the main trail down to the right onto Portobelo Trail and Shepherd Pond. Head back up or down and loop around up to the left, joining the original trail.

Here’s a third option – combining these trail and involving a car pool. Leave Vehicle A at the Portobelo Dr. trail entry. Drive over to the Catalina entry, and start your hike from there. Hike over to Shepherd Pond, take it in, then continue on down the Portobelo Trail where you left Vehicle B. Then maybe go have a lunch at any of several cafes on Santo Road at 52, and contemplate what a pleasant workout you just had.

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Fine handy hiking trail in MTRP’s Oak Canyon

Mission Trail Regional Park is one of our true natural gems within the city of San Diego. Many locals and visitors know about it, and have hiking, biked and rode horses along the many trails out there in its 6000+ acres. These include a variety of options, among them Cowles Mountain, Lake Murray, the Old Mission Dam, and Fortuna Mountains. MTRP’s beautiful Visitor Center (winner of an Orchid Award when first opened) is a must to learn more about nature, enjoy art exhibits and hear concerts at the open amphitheater.

One of my favorite hikes is the Oak Canyon Trail. This begins near the much-visited Old Mission Dam. Hiking along the creek gets you right into nature, where highway sounds are quickly replaced with birds chirping, stream bubbling, and water cascades during spring. You’ll pass a variety of foliage including some wide-spreading Coast Live Oaks, and take in scenes near and far as the creek winds up along the Fortuna Mountains. Oh, yes, you will get a good physical workout and some trekking challenges thrown in, even while you might be accompanied by your pooch pal.

Trail is right there with the creek

Trail is right there with the creek

The usual starting place is from the parking lot along Junipero Serra Road, off Mission Gorge Road. Drive in from either end, four miles north from I-8 or by taking Highway 52 east to Mast Blvd, then follow the signs to West Hills Road and right onto Mission Gorge. If the small lot at the dam is full, more parking is available on the road and near the campground.

A trail map is useful, available at the VC and sometimes here, tho the trails are well-marked. From the lot walk down the wide pathway, pass the dam (definitely look it over), and cross over the footbridge. Continue straight ahead and turn left onto the marked Oak Canyon South Trail. This is easy hiking on this section through some shaded areas along the creek. Much of this section was burned back in ‘03 during the devastating Cedar Fire, but it’s well recovered.

Panoramic view for you to take in

Panoramic view for you to take in

About fifteen minutes in, the trail makes a sharp left turn and crosses a wood footbridge. Now you’ll be hiking upward right along the river with side rock canyon walls and some definite rocky sections on the trail (here’s where lug-soled boots and a walking stick are valuable). During most months there’s little water flowing, but in spring the stream picks  up and you’ll enjoy several areas with cascades of water flowing down over the rocks – beautiful.

A sight to see and hear in spring

A sight to see and hear in spring

You may chose to turn around or continue on about a half hour in (from the dam) to meet the major trail heading up to the Fortuna Summit (Saddle Trail). Walk about 200 feet to the left and see the marked Oak Canyon North trail off to the right. Another fun and often rocky trail continuing up along the creek for about another 15 minutes. An interesting change of scenery is here as you head toward the large bridge over Highway 52. From the creek the trail continues upward to signs and a large kiosk marking trails to the right (Grasslands), left (Portobelo and North Fortuna Summit), or straight ahead to the bridge (hiking not allowed further north from the bridge as this is a Wildlife Corridor).

This gives you several choices for completing your day’s hike: (1) return back along Oak Canyon Trails; (2) head right over to Grasslands Loop Trail and Kumeyaay Lake-Campground at Junipero Serra Road, or loop right onto Summit Trail over to Oak Canyon; (3) go left and take in the North Summit, then loop back down the Summit Trail to Oak Canyon Trails and creek. Any of them makes for a pleasant nature exposure and workout (take your pick, ½, 1, or 2 hour or more roundtrip trek) . Oh yes, bet you’ll wish you’d taken your camera.

(Note: photos courtesy of Dorothy Leonard, one of the early and continuing advocates for getting MTRP off & going.)

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Communing with Nature at Major City Parks (a few)

Originally appeared in San Diego Magazine Online Outdoors Forum January 2002

Presidio Park, the White Deer area
Across the canyon from the park museum and up the hill to the east is a peaceful place, with lovely landscaping, lots of trees, some good views and few people. There also is the memorial to “The White Deer of Mission Hills,” a legendary former resident of the region. Look for a bench, three large rocks, and a concrete watering hole with imbedded animal tracks. Was there such a deer, or is that only legend? Inquiring minds can read Bill Carroll’s Explore San Diego – Secret Sites of Historic Trivia. This is a fine spot to read a book, picnic, meditate or just savor the relative peace from the hectic traffic of I-8 just a short distance away. (Off I-8, take the Taylor street exit; go west on Taylor to the first turnoff left to the parking the parking area at the canyon; it’s an easy stroll up to the east to the white deer area.)

Mission Trails Regional Park Mission Trails, the Old Dam
With only a modest stroll you can easily find yourself listening to the comforting sound of water bouncing around. Here are two options, and you can take the kids for a real treat and even the family hound. (This is just a modest sampling of the trail opportunites in Mission Trails, a great San Diego resource.)
– Option A starts from the Visitor’s Center. From the parking lot near the VC, walk down the paved entry road about 100 feet and pick up the marked Visitor’s Center Loop Trail off to the left. Amble easily downward for about 15-20 minutes to the San Diego River crossing over toward Suycott Wash. You’ll hear the burbling as the river surges over the rocks. A fun mess-around place. Finish by continuing the loop upward (the easier choice) and back around to the VC or head back the same way you came. Allow an hour or so total.
– For Option B drive or walk down the paved one-way road to the Old Mission Dam, parking either in the lot or along the road. Water will be surging over the center part of the dam. The area is covered with oaks so lots of shade while you soak up history, pleasant sounds, and some fun strolls on either side of the river.
To get to the VC: Take Highway 52 east to the Mast exit, turn left under freeway, then right at Mission Gorge Road. Drive about three miles and turn right at Fr. Junipero Serra Trail, then left into the VC parking lot.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.
A trip into the preserve and to the falls is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon. Here are some options from the I-15 side. Take the Mercy Road exit, go west one mile to Black Mountain Road, and here are several choices:
Cross Black Mountain Road into the parking lot. Walk in along the main trail, and after about 100 yards, cross the creek to the north side. Continue west along the trail, perhaps sharing it with some cyclists or equestrians. Pass Carson’s Crossing (interesting bit of history as to what occurred here) and about three miles along near a large cluster of boulders you’ll hear the sounds of the river as it drops rapidly creating the cascades.
– Turn right onto Black Mountain Road, then take the first left. Drive past the ball fields to the parking lot for the old adobe. Walk over there, look it over, then catch the trail on the north side of the river.
– Drive further north on Black Mountain Road and turn left on Park Village Drive. After 1.5 miles turn left at Camino Ruiz. Here you’ll see a park kiosk and trail heading down into the canyon. Walk west about 1.5 miles and you’ll be at the boulders and falls.

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A short new trail down to a long old trail – Mira Mesa Trail Head

There’s a nifty local park in Mira Mesa, the Camino Ruiz Neighborhood Park. This is one of the liveliest, most active neighborhood parks I’ve seen, with lots of parents watching kids play Little League, others trekking around on a path with great views into and across the large open canyon below, even getting a bit smarter about nature and history from a series of informational kiosks and displays along the way. On a recent visit they even had a refreshment stand open, and serving some customers, at 8 a.m.

The park has another attraction, the fairly new Camino Ruiz Trail that runs from the park down to the major league Los Penasquitos County Park. It’s not long, only .6 mile, but it’s nice and takes you to the main east-west trail through Los Penasquitos County Park, and that gives you lots of hiking and biking options.

Pick up the trail just inside the park off to the left, with a good sign plus info kiosk to help you get started. The trail is first-rate, reflecting good work on the part of many volunteers. You’ll have lots of shade as you wind downhill, and you’ll cross several wood footbridges. One steeper section is made easier with about 40 feet of concrete pavers embedded into the trail (now that took some work to get those down there).

Along the way, in spring, are flowers galore, especial purple (which I’m advised by Bill Witzell, long-time master trail builder are likely Vetch), also lots of reds, yellows and whites. Even cacti in bloom, plus some manzanita off to the side (I was surprised to see that here). One word of caution, if your hiking style is to keep your eyes focused on the ground before you, be also alert that some of the overhanging trees hang low, and a head clunk might occur (well, it did for me).

Once at the bottom, you can either turn around and come right back up, or make yours a longer trek along the main park trail. Head right or east a short distance and see the sign for crossing Penasquitos Creek or continue east mile or so and you’ll be back near the main Black Mountain Road entry. Head west and about two miles along you’ll find Carson’s Crossing, the one named after Kit’s bit of rescue action there awhile back. Another half-mile and you’re at the much-visited falls.

So there you are, with a new trail to explore, providing you multiple options for enjoying one of our major parks. And very easy to get to: I-15 to Miramar Road, west to Camino Ruiz, north to the end, arriving at the neighborhood park. (Or from 805, east to Camino Ruiz.)

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Bankers’ Hill/Footbridges

Originally appeared in San Diego Magazine Outdoors Forum 4/03

Here’s a hike (or several) that combines nature, history, a couple of fun footbridges, and potentially a good workout, and all right in the heart of the city. It’s called the Bankers’ Hill section, which puts it between the airport and Balboa Park.

Here’s a suggested itinerary, with a variety of options to fit your inclinations and energy.  If driving, park your car on Spruce Street, up by Balboa Park at 6th or anywhere down to Front Street. Head south on 1st Street. At Palm walk over the bridge high above Maple Canyon. This gives you an impressive view of the bay and Point Loma as well as the canyon far below.

Soon on your right will be the Self Realization Fellowship, with its memorable white structures.l A related structure is the landmark at Encinitas South end, by Swami’s Beach (see Coastal section in book).  Take a right on Maple. Walk to the end at Albatross. Here, easy to miss, locate the plaque, from The Early Birds, marking this as the place where Waldo Waterman made his first glider flight in July of 1909.

Retrace your steps back east on Maple to 6th Avenue. Go right one block, then left at Laurel and walk across the magnificent Laurel Street Bridge, with views in all directions, including the most dramatic structure in Balboa Park, the Museum of Man. Head back across the bridge to 6th, right and then left at Quince. You’ll see a white footbridge straight ahead, built in 1905. Again fine views. Walk across the bridge (your kids may make this trip more than once), and at the west end turn right (you’re on 3rd Street). About 100 feet along, you’ll see a sign and trail heading down to Maple Canyon.

Walk down the trail, carefully in this section, through a thick pack of trees. (Or you can skip this option an stay on the street level.) This is dog-friendly, on leash. The trail levels off and heads down toward the bay. The environment totally changes as you stroll through the canyon, with an occasional stream, tall palm and Eucalyptus trees, prickly pear, likely blooming in spring, and a variety of shrubbery. The trail leads under that high 1st Street bridge you walked across before, with a very different perspective. It ends at Maple Street.

Here you have more options, such as a walk down to the Embarcadero for coffee on the outer deck where the harbor cruise boats embark. Other wise to stick with the bridges, take a right on North Arroyo Street, then right on Spruce Street, noting some striking homes along the way. At Spruce Street, walk up on the north side under a canopy of greenery. At Brant you’ve arrived at the Spruce Street Suspension Bridge. This one sways as you walk across it, which may titillate some nerves.

This could end your trek, if you parked right here. Or you could walk over to Balboa Park, or reward your workout with a stroll wouth on 4th Street to Quince Street and up to 5th Street to Max’s Deli or to Karen Krasne’s Extraordinary Desserts. (FYI, parking by the bridge along 4th Street has no meters.)

These bridges date back to the early 1900s when local residents across the canyon wanted to ride the streetcars to town, but couldn’t get over to pick them up. The solution? These bridges. May they long remain. (Here’s one below)