Last Updated on December 10, 2019 by John Henry
The South Californian county of San Diego brings to mind an image of sand and surf. However, the San Diego hiking scene is equally happening as well. The best hikes in San Diego are spread across its beautiful and diverse landscape, right from the urban center to the rugged countryside.
Whether you have just begun to hike or you happen to be a pro, there is a trail to charm you in San Diego.
Hence, read on to know more about some of best hikes San Diego has to offer and get ready with those hiking boots on-
Top 15 Best Hikes in San Diego
1. Cowles Mountain Trail
One of the most popular places to hike in San Diego, the Cowles Mountain trail is located in the Mission Trails Regional Park and hence attract several hikers and runners.
Also, the 2.9 miles out and back trail is a relatively easy hike for kids and adults.
The Cowles Mountain is the highest point of the county, and hikers are rewarded with a 360-degree view of San Diego from the summit.
Location- The trail begins in San Carlos neighbourhood on the corner of Golf crest Drive and Navajo Road.
2. Torry Pines State Natural Reserve
For some of the best hikes in San Diego, head to the Torry Pines State Natural Reserve.
At Torry Pines, you can either hike for a day or devote several days exploring the stunning vistas of Torrey Pines.
Also, this massive 1750 acre vast natural reserve is open on all days of the year and you have to shell out an admission fee of $10-20.
Location- Head to the Torry Pines Road in San Diego to reach here.
3. El Cajon Mountain Trail
One of the challenging and best hikes in San Diego, the El Cajon Mountain has multiple trails of varying difficulty level leading to the mountain summit.
Located in the El Capitan Open Space Reserve, it is often considered as the toughest hike in the county- with one of the trail being a technical one.
At the El Cajon Mountain, you will gain considerable elevation gain on this 12 miles round trip. The place is closed during August due to excess heat.
Location- The trailhead is located near Blue Sky Ranch Road, Lakeside.
4. Cuyamaca Peak Loop
There are several San Diego hiking trails located right in the heart of the San Diego County, and one of them is the 7.7 mile Cuyamaca Peak Loop trail.
What’s more? The Cuyamaca Peak is the second-highest peak in San Diego, but it is easy to climb and suitable for beginners as well.
Hence, if you are hiking on a clear day, you can feast your eyes to as far as 100 miles from the summit, including the Coronado Islands and Table Top Islands in Mexico.
Location- The trailhead is located in Paso Picacho Compound in Julian.
5. The Slot (Borrego Springs)
Searching for something unique among best hikes in San Diego, then look no further than the Slot or the Borrego Springs, a narrow siltstone canyon trail at the Anza Borrego State Park.
However, this 2.3-mile looped trail is not marked and there is not much visitor traffic, so you need to figure out your way by asking or with the help of a map.
Location- The trail is located in Borrego Mountain Wash, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs.
6. Sunset Cliffs
Hiking in San Diego can be a beautiful experience if you are at the Sunset cliffs- a mesmerizing landscape with cliffs running parallel to the coast.
As the name suggests, the place offers splendid views of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, thus making it one of the popular and best hikes in San Diego. In addition, the park is open all round the year and the 1.7-mile-long trail can be traversed by hikers of all skill levels.
Location- Drive to the Sunset Cliffs Boulevard in San Diego.
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7. Double Peak Trail
Among the numerous best hikes in San Diego county that are easily accessible, the Double peak trail is ideal for a quick workout.
Explore this 3.9-mile-long loop trail that is a favourite among hikers. It has a steep start but the views on this well-marked trail make it worth your sweat!
Location- Head to the Double Peak Dr in San Marcos.
8. Lake Poway To Mount Woodson
A difficult yet popular San Diego hiking trail, the trail starts near Lake Poway and takes you all the way up to Mount Woodson.
There is significant elevation gain on this 7.6 miles out and back trail and there is hardly any shade, so carry a good amount of water to stay hydrated.
Further, you will also come across interesting rock formations along your way, and the famous Potato Chip rock stands a quarter of a mile before the summit.
In addition, the waif-thin rock jutting out of a boulder is the key attraction of the trail, making it one of the best hikes in San Diego.
Location- Find the trailhead at Lake Poway Road, Poway
9. Cedar Creek Falls
The Cedar Creek Falls is a difficult trail, but the beautiful waterfall and a swimming hole that greets you at the end earns it a rightful place among the best hikes in San Diego.
Even more, the 5.2 miles round trip trail usually remains very hot so do carry ample amount of water with you for the hike.
Also, remember to get your permit from the US Forest Service before you embark on this trail.
Location- The hike starts in Julian near San Diego.
10. Part of Pacific Crest Trail (Penny Pines to Garnet Peak)
The Pacific Crest Trail needs no introduction, and a lot of people had been inspired to traverse it after reading Cheryl Strayed’s book ‘Wild’.
If you do not plan to cover the entire 2650-mile-long trail from Mexico to Canada, you can hike a portion of it in San Diego where the first 133 miles of the PCT runs.
Well, this is not just one of the best hikes in San Diego, it’s a dream of many hikers!
Location- The trail begins 50 miles away from downtown San Diego, at the US/ Mexico border.
11. Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail
If you are seeking some solitude while hiking in San Diego, then the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve is your place!
A great place for hikers of all skill levels, the 4.7 miles long trail is often brimming with natural beauty- waterfalls and creeks are a common sight on the trail.
Location- The trailhead is located in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, Black Mountain Road.
12. Palomar Mountains
Find some of the best hikes in San Diego at the Palomar Mountain State Park, where grassy meadows and fir and cedar trees greet you on the trails.
While some of these trails are meant for leisurely walks, others can be taken on as a challenging hike.
Even more, the most popular route means a 9-mile long hike in this lush green forest land, with the hike beginning at the Silver Crest Picnic Area.
Location- Palomar Mountain State Park is located at State Park Road, Escondido
13. Iron Mountain
One of the best hikes in San Diego that are well accessible, the Iron Mountain Trail offers unparalleled views of coastal San Diego. The 5.3 miles round trip hike is reasonably challenging, but can be taken on by hikers of all experience level.
Well, this is yet another trail of those San Diego hikes where temperatures can soar really high in the summers. Hence, do carry three to four litres of water for the hike.
Location- There are a few different routes to the summit, with the most popular route starting at the intersection of Highway 67 and Poway road.
14. Three sisters Fall
There are several exciting places to hike in San Diego, and the strenuous yet thrilling hike to the Three Sisters Fall is one of them. Here, the Three Sisters fall cascade over the rocks forming three main falls- hence the name Three Sisters.
Further, It is an intense trail- 4 miles of a round trip that can get really hot in summers and there is hardly any shade on the trail.
Location- The trailhead is located at Boulder Creek Road, Pine Valley
15. Black Mountains Open Space Park
This park is home to some of the best hikes in San Diego which offer a mesmerizing view of the sea coast.
Also, there are a number of trails to choose from.
Altogether, if you want to summit the Black mountain, and the most popular trail that involves 4.1 miles of round trip, this is the perfect location of all.
Location- The park is situated at Black Mountain Road in San Diego
Conclusion(Top 15 Best Hike in San Diego)
Hiking is not just great work out for your entire body, it also clears your mind and teaches you to stay focused. And whenever we come back from a hike, we develop a renewed sense of admiration for nature.
Without a doubt, San Diego, with its beaches, mountains and parks, is an outdoors enthusiast’s delight.
So the next time you are here, do remember to bring your hiking gear, and explore San Diego in a new way!