Best Hikes in San Diego

12 Best Hikes in San Diego

San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities in California. It has a perfect climate for year-round outdoor activities, and there are plenty of things to do.

Hiking is an activity that will give you a chance to explore San Diego’s natural beauty, and it can be done at any level of difficulty.

There are hikes for beginners up to challenging hikes that only experienced hikers should attempt.

If you’re looking for some fresh air while exploring San Diego’s amazing landscapes, these top 12 Best Hikes in San Diego and must-see spots are sure to please!

These hikes provide scenic views of plant life, wildlife, or even other cities!
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start hiking!


Los Penasquitos Canyon

Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Outstanding Views · Wildlife · Mountain Biking
  • Trail Location – Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
  • Distance – 6.7 Miles, Loop
  • Elevation gain – 155 Feet
  • Time – 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty – Easy

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego is a natural preserve created by the Coronado National Forest.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Park is a beautiful spot for hikers of all levels.

It has an easy loop trail that will take you to the top and back down again, so it’s perfect for beginners or families with small children who need more breaks along the way.

The park has plenty of shaded areas and cool waterfalls near the entrance, as well as some interesting wildlife such as deer that love to hang out there!

The best time to go is early morning or late afternoon, so you can avoid the extreme heat of midday.

You’ll also want to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water with you on your hike because it’s easy to forget when walking around outside in the sun all day!

If you’re looking for some amazing views to take in while hiking, Los Penasquitos Canyon trail is the perfect place for you.

Hiking Tips

This trail is not recommended for small children or dogs.

When going on a hike, always bring the following: water, snacks, or a lunch for the trail. If you are hiking with children, make it an outing and pack their favorite items that will keep them happy throughout your day out.

Be sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes as well as sunscreen if outdoors during warm months of the year.

How to Get There

To reach Los Penasquitos Canyon from Escondido, take Highway 78 east for about four miles. The entrance to the park will be on your left, but it can also be reached by taking I-15 North and exiting with Highway 94 East.


Fortuna Mountain Trail

Fortuna Mountain Loop Trail

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Scenic Views · Wildlife · Waterfall
  • Trail Location – Mission Trails Regional Park
  • Distance – 6.2 Miles, Loop
  • Elevation gain – 1350 Feet
  • Time – 2-4 Hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate

Fortuna Mountain Trail is located in Julian, CA. This hike offers some of the best views and has a variety of terrain ranging from rolling hills to steep and rocky sections.

This trail is moderate and can be completed by most people.

The Fortuna Mountain Trail offers visitors a spectacular view of San Diego Bay, Mission Bay Park, the Pacific Ocean coastline, and Point Loma with its historic lighthouse!

With many access points to this hike, you will never have to go far from home for an adventure.

Fortuna Mountain Trail offers a plethora of rewards for those who are willing to put in some hard work, sweeping views from high above the tree line, meadows full of wildflowers, waterfalls tucked away in the forest, and a camping area at the summit.

You will be greeted with breathtaking views and a chance to take in the beauty of nature.

Hiking Tips

Wear good shoes – and bring plenty of water for the day since you’ll be a little more exposed here than in many other places.

Bring your camera so that you can capture these views! As with any outdoor activity, make sure to let someone know where you’re going before setting out on this hike.

How to Get There

Start by heading north on Highway 78 from the City of San Diego. Continue for about 16 miles and take a left onto San Antonio Creek Road (Highway 79).

Parking is available near Julian’s main town center, where Fortuna Mountain Trail begins as an old dirt road that traverses up to the trailhead one mile past Highway 78.


Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a coastal state park of California, USA.

It’s mostly of old-growth maritime scrub and grassland habitats on the Pacific Ocean coastline north of San Diego in Southern California. The Reserve was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1977.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a popular place to hike in San Diego.

It has beautiful views, and it’s never too crowded. You can enjoy the ocean breeze while hiking on Torrey Pines Trail or Brush Canyon Loop, which both have steep inclines that are worth the view at the end of your journey.

The park offers trails for hikers, families, and kids of all ages.

The beach is also a great place to explore rock formations created by the crashing waves or watch surfers brave the cold water under cliffs where nesting seabirds are protected from predators.

Torrey Pines is a gorgeous spot with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean and many other interesting things to see and do.

It’s perfect for all ages who want to get outdoors when it isn’t too hot or cold outside! San Diego locals love this state park that offers hiking trails, beaches, and great views.

Dogs are allowed on the trails but must be on a leash at all times.

If you’re looking for a less crowded place to hike, Torrey Pines is perfect.

Best trails in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

Torrey Pines Beach Trail Loop – Red Butte, Yucca Point, and Razor Point Trail – Guy Fleming Trail – Parry Grove Trail – Broken Hill Trail

Hiking Tips

Torrey Pines is a popular spot for hikers, so there’s often lots of traffic on the trail. It might be better to hike early or late in the day when most people have gone through.

How to Get There

From I-405, take the exit for I-15 North and head to La Jolla Parkway. Drive about three miles until you reach Torrey Pines Road.

Turn right onto the road and follow it as far as possible before turning left at Nautilus Street. You’ll see a sign that says “State Park Entrance.”


Balboa Park

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a central landmark in San Diego. It has over 175 acres of sprawling greenery, tranquil gardens, and dozens of museums.

Balboa Park is the perfect place to explore on foot or by bike, with plenty of pedestrian paths from which to choose. Take one for an easy stroll or opt for more strenuous hikes up steep hillsides.

The park is the perfect place to go for a scenic hike. Pieces of art and monuments dot the landscape, each offering picturesque views in their way.

William Hammond Hall designed balboa Park with Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, so you’ll feel like you’re back in some old-fashioned time while hiking through it.

Soak up the scenery by going on a scenic loop that will take you past museums, gardens, and fountains.

Balboa Park is open from sunrise until sunset, 365 days a year.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there are plenty of paths to explore, leading through groves of trees with stunning views. You’ll find something new every time you go!

Hiking Tips

It’s best to stay on the trails because some areas are off-limits for safety reasons. Bring water and sunscreen with you, as well as a hat or visor.

It’s also a good idea to wear shoes that offer a lot of support. There are bathrooms in most locations inside Balboa Park, but they can be crowded in the summer months.

This is a popular park, so don’t be surprised if you see other people on your hike.

How to Get There

The best way to reach Balboa Park is by public transport.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) offers many routes that service the park, including bus lines 11, 15, and 22 from downtown or bus line 27, which has stops near the Museum of Man in Balboa Park.

Taking MTS will cost $0.75-0.95 per ride and takes around 15 minutes from downtown San Diego to Balboa Park.


Cowles Mountain Trail

Cowles Mountain Trail

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Wildlife · Mountain Biking
  • Trail Location – Mission Trails Regional Park
  • Distance – 2.9 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 900 Feet
  • Time – 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate

Cowles Mountain is a great place to hike because it has various trails that offer different difficulties.

It’s also near the city, so you can enjoy some of San Diego’s urban scenery and then head up to Cowles Mountain, too.

The Cowles Mountain Trail is a moderate-difficulty hike that makes for an excellent getaway from the city.

Make your way out to this scenic peak, which sits at around 750 feet high and offers sweeping views of San Diego on all sides. The trail may be steep in some places, but it’s well worth the climb!

Hiking Tips

This is a well-marked trail that’s easy to follow. As you make your way up the mountain, be sure to look out for wildflowers and wildlife like lizards, hawks, or even bighorn sheep!

How to Get There

Make your way out on Interstate 15 until you reach the Cowles Mountain Road exit. Head south and look for signs pointing towards the summit of Cowles Mountain.

This will be a dirt road that becomes unpaved after about five miles (six kilometers). The trailhead is located at the end, but there’s limited parking available, so make sure to arrive early!


Sunset Cliffs Park Trail

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Nature Views · Beach · Wildlife
  • Trail Location – Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
  • Distance – 0.9 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 95 Feet
  • Time – 1 Hour
  • Difficulty – Easy

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is a great place to go for a hike.

This trail winds through the cliffs, and you get some amazing views of La Jolla, Pacific Beach, or Point Loma.

The trail starts at the end of Voltaire St., where there’s parking available, and it takes about an hour – two hours round-trip.

The trail is mostly paved and easy to navigate, with a few sections that’ll have you scrambling up some boulders or clambering over rocks.

You can keep going from the end of the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park for more views!

Hiking Tips

Bring your ID with you because some trails require permits. Always be aware of your surroundings, so you don’t accidentally end up on an unsafe part of the trail.

Go during the cooler parts of the day to avoid getting too hot (early morning is best). Take plenty of water and snacks with you for the day. Wear sneakers or hiking boots, not sandals.

How to Get There

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is in La Jolla, which can be reached by taking I-405 to the Sea World Drive exit or driving along Pacific Coast Highway.

The trail begins at the end of Voltaire Street, and parking is available near this entrance.


El Cajon Mountain Trail

El Cajon Mountain

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Mountain · Wildlife
  • Trail Location – El Capitan County Preserve
  • Distance – 11.3 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 3575 Feet
  • Time – 5-6 Hours
  • Difficulty – Hard

El Cajon Mountain Trail is a one-way loop trail in the El Cajon Pass, just east of Lake San Marcos.

From its summit at an elevation of 3500 feet, you can see as far north as Palomar Observatory and south to Santa Ysabel Rancho State Park and Mount Laguna. The hike is about 11 miles long.

The trail starts at State Route 67 and East Mesa Road in El Cajon, California.

To get to this popular destination, take Highway 67 about one mile east from Lakeside School (at east mesa road) or Highway 76 into Santee for four miles south on Mountain Springs Road to the trailhead.

El Cajon Mountain Trail is a very popular hike near San Diego and offers great views of both the ocean and mountains, but it’s important to remember that this is not an easy hike.

There are steep sections with lots of rocks in your way, so you’ll need good hiking boots or shoes for traction as well as plenty of water.

Hiking Tips

Bring plenty of water and snacks as there are no facilities or stores at the trailhead. Dress in layers, wear sturdy shoes with ankle support and bring sunscreen as well.

Stay on the trail to avoid any dangerous encounters with wildlife. Do not approach animals as they may be unpredictable in their response.

Wear sturdy shoes and make sure they are not worn down to the soles. The trails can be steep, so plan on spending some time climbing up hillsides!

How to Get There

From I-15, exit Lake Jennings Road east of El Cajon. Turn right onto East Carmel Valley Road and then left on Lake Jennings road, just past the freeway entrance ramp.

The parking lot is at the end of this street to your left. Follow trail signs into the canyon or hike up a dirt fire road for about a mile.


Cuyamaca Peak

Cuyamaca Peak

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Wildlife
  • Trail Location – Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
  • Distance – 5.6 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 1835 Feet
  • Time – 3-4 Hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate

Cuyamaca Peak is a very good place for day hikers as well. The trails are not too long, and the elevation gain isn’t that bad either.

There’s also plenty of water along the way to keep you going throughout the hike. It can get really hot in San Diego, so be sure to bring lots of water with you.

The views at the top are also beautiful, so that’s worth it.

Fortunately, there is a good amount of shade on the way up to Cuyamaca Peak as well.

You’ll find plenty of places along your hike where you can stop and enjoy some shade while looking out over all of those amazing views! So make sure to take a break and enjoy the sights.

Cuyamaca Peak will also give you amazing views – so don’t forget those binoculars!

There are also plenty of water fountains along your way up too, so be sure not to get dehydrated while you’re hiking!

The average hike takes about three or four hours roundtrip. If we were ranking this in terms of difficulty, it would probably fall into the moderate category.

Hiking Tips

Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it at the top while admiring all of those amazing views. Make sure to bring plenty of water with you!

How to Get There

The Cuyamaca Peak Trail can be found off of Highway 79, which is the Pine Valley Road. You’ll have to turn onto Old Highway 395 and then find your way up to the parking lot at De Anza Springs.


Cedar Creek Falls Trail

Cedar Creek Falls Trail

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Mountain · Waterfall
  • Trail Location – Cleveland National Forest
  • Distance – 5.5 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 1050 Feet
  • Time – 5-6 Hours
  • Difficulty – Hard

Cedar Creek Falls Trail is a great place to hike for the family.

It’s also an adventure because it has plenty of waterfalls that are easy to explore, and there’s a cute little bridge at the end of the trail with some picnic tables nearby.

It starts as cross-country hiking through a forest with many different types of trees to see. The trail is not too difficult, and there are plenty of signs along the way so that you won’t get lost.

The first waterfall that hikers will come across is a triple-tiered cascade with three giant pools for swimming at its base. It’s perfect if your family likes to swim in freshwater occasionally.

The trail is a bit strenuous at this point, but hikers will find plenty of places to stop and rest so they don’t get winded.

There’s also an observation deck where you’ll be able to look down the falls without getting too close – It’s a great spot for those who want to take pictures or enjoy the view.

Hiking Tips

Wear appropriate clothing for the weather and bring plenty of water. The falls can be dry in the summertime, so it’s best to go when there is good rainfall.

How to Get There

From I-15, exit onto College Avenue, head north for about a mile, turn right on Ramona Road and take the first left to stay on Ramona Road. The entrance will be on your left at 16225 North Ramona Rd. There is plenty of parking available near the trailhead.


Iron Mountain Trail

Iron Mountain Trail

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Mountain
  • Trail Location – Poway, California
  • Distance – 5.2 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 1100 Feet
  • Time – 2-3 Hours
  • Difficulty – Moderate

This trail is one of the most popular and scenic in San Diego County.

The Iron Mountain Trail leads to a high point above Palm Springs, CA, with panoramic views from north to south—from Mission Valley up past Cuyamaca Peak.

It’s a little long strenuous hike with an elevation gain of nearly 1000 feet, but the effort will be well worth it.

The trailhead starts at the end of Iron Mountain Road, which can be accessed from Mission Gorge or Holtville roads in East San Diego County, approximately 45 minutes east of downtown and 25 minutes west of El Cajon.

It follows a more than two-mile loop on Iron Mountain.

The views of the valley and the trail’s namesake peak are not to be missed, but a short section with steep drop-offs near the summit may make some hikers uneasy.

Hiking Tips

Bring plenty of water, food, and sunscreen. There is no shade on this trail. Tread carefully near steep drop-offs to avoid slipping or falling down the mountainside.

How to Get There

To get to the Iron Mountain Trail, one must travel east on Mission Gorge Road or Holtville Road in East San Diego County.

The trailhead is at the end of Iron Mountain Road, which can be accessed from either road and takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.

It’s approximately 25 miles west of El Cajon and 45 miles east of downtown San Diego.


Big Laguna Trail (Mount Laguna)

Big Laguna Trail (Mount Laguna)

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Forest · Lake · Wildlife
  • Trail Location – Cleveland National Forest
  • Distance – 13.2 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 1240 Feet
  • Time – 5-6 Hours
  • Difficulty – Easy

The Big Laguna Trail is a hiking trail in San Diego County, California.

It’s currently the longest continuous system-wide trail that runs through all five of the county’s federally designated wildernesses and across its major mountain ranges from east to west.

It’s a non-motorized footpath for hiking and other low-impact activities.

The Big Laguna Trail starts at the end of a dirt road.

The trail is about two miles long and includes plenty of waterfalls to explore along the way.

You can see Chiquito Falls, Palomar Falls, and Tecolote Canyon from this hike in San Diego! This might be one of our favorite hikes so far!

The trail is open year-round for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. The trail is open for day-use only. There are no camping facilities along the route.

Hiking Tips

Bring plenty of water, snacks (high in protein), and layers of clothing. Temperatures can vary dramatically over a day on any given trail, so dress appropriately and be prepared!

Hikers should always carry some form of identification with them on hikes; even if you’re not going far, the authorities need to know who has gone missing.

Stay on trails and notice trailhead signs for nature preserve rules: Dogs are prohibited in some areas, bikes may be restricted or banned from certain routes.

How to Get There

If you’re driving, take I-15 to the CA78. Turn south on CA 78 and continue for about five miles to turn into a dirt road. Follow this until the end of the road and park your car there (there should be plenty of parking).


Three Sisters Falls Trail

Three Sisters Falls Trail

Fast Facts

  • Trail Features – Views · Forest · River · Waterfall
  • Trail Location – Cleveland National Forest
  • Distance – 4.1 Miles, Out & Back
  • Elevation gain – 985 Feet
  • Time – 1-2 Hours
  • Difficulty – Hard

Three Sisters Falls Trail is a stunning trail that leads to the Three Sisters waterfall, making it perfect for families.

The hike starts at Deer Creek campground and takes about 30-45 minutes one way on relatively flat terrain.

Though this would be a great place for all ages, those with small children should note some steep stairs near the end of the trail.

The trail is well-marked, so it’s difficult to get lost. Along the way are a few different points of interest, such as an old manzanita tree and cascading waterfalls.

The best part about this hike is that there’s no need for climbing skills or equipment – just follow alongside Deer Creek until you reach the waterfall.

Hiking Tips

Be sure to wear comfortable shoes that provide good ankle support as there is a lot of uneven terrain along the trail, including rocks and tree roots.

Along this hike, bring plenty of water and snacks for energy, as well as sunscreen and insect repellent in case they are needed. Insects are very common in this area and will be out, especially during the warmer months of summer.

How to Get There

From the Williams Valley Road trailhead, walk up to Iron Creek and take a left. The Three Sisters Falls Trail is about one mile down the creek from this point on.


Suggested Packing List

  1. A map of the trails and a compass if you are hiking in an unfamiliar area.
  2. Some water and snacks.
  3. An emergency whistle to call attention to yourself should you get lost.
  4. First aid kit.
  5. Sunscreen and sunglasses with a strap for securing them to your face on the hike uphill.
  6. A windbreaker if it is cold out. A rain jacket if it is raining.
  7. Trekking poles or gloves for better grip and balance.

Additional Resources

  1. San Diego Parks & Recreation Website
  2. Cleveland National Forest Website
  3. Current Covid-19 Condition
  4. Reservation
  5. California State Parks GIS Data & Maps

FAQ


Q. What is the hardest hike in San Diego?

It would be hard to say which hike is the hardest. The difficulty of a trail depends on several factors: Your fitness level (how fast you can move through the wilderness, how much weight you carry on your back), How well you are acclimated to hiking in that area (the altitude and terrain play a big part), The weather on that day and lots of other factors…

Q. Is Hiking good in San Diego?

Yes, and here’s why: San Diego is one of the best places to hike in all of North America. San Diego has over 800 miles of trails that are perfect for hiking.

Many of these trails start right in downtown San Diego. These include Balboa Park trails, which have been voted some of the best urban parks in America.

Q. How long is El Cajon Mountain Hike?

El Cajon Mountain Trail is a 4.8-mile out and back trail near El Cajon, California that features beautiful wildflowers and is rated moderate.

Q. How long does it take to complete the 5 peak challenge?

The 5 Peaks Challenge can take anywhere from 10-25 hours to complete. The time it takes depends on how quickly you climb.

Many factors affect how long it will take, including weather, fitness level, climbing speed, and the difficulty of the peaks.

Q. How many hiking trails are in San Diego?

No one knows for sure, but the official number is 425. That’s a lot of trails! The most you will ever need to do in a single week is 52 as there are 52 weeks in a year.

This means that if you only hike once every week, it would take more than three years to hike all these trails.


Conclusion

We hope that this article has been helpful to you and given you a bit of insight into the best hikes in San Diego.

If it has, please let us know by commenting below! And if not, don’t hesitate to reach out with more questions about any aspect of hiking or outdoor adventures here in Southern California.


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