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Hiking in San Diego: Best Trails, and What To Know Before You Go

Pre-Hike Advice, and the Best Hiking Trails for Beginner, Moderate, and Advanced Experience Levels


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San Diego Coastline - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue


 

Wintertime may not leave you feeling inspired to get outdoors to go hiking or camping, but it's the perfect time to start planning trips for the warmer months! Pathloom is here to help - Use our All-in-One outdoor adventure travel planning app to discover new hiking trails leading to new developed and dispersed campsites throughout the entire country! Click the link to join thousands in our open BETA testing today!



 

The San Diego area is home to some of the best hiking trails in California, no matter what time of year! From easy walks along the beach, to more challenging treks through canyons and mountains, there's a perfect trail for every level of hiking experience. And with over 300 days of sunshine per year, you'll rarely see your trekking aspirations dashed by bad weather. So what are the best trails for hiking in San Diego? And what else should you know before lacing up your hiking boots?


In this guide, we'll provide you with all the information you need to hit the trails in San Diego like a pro, as well as the best trails to hit. So pack your sunscreen and reusable water bottle, and let's go hiking!


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Cowles Mountain: Mission Trails Regional Park - Photo Credit: Liz Donoghue



Important Things to Know Before Hiking in San Diego


Hiking Seasons in San Diego


San Diego has great weather year-round, so you can hike any time of year. However, the best time to hike is in the spring and fall, when the temperatures are milder. In the summer months, it's best to hike early in the morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day. That is certainly not the case in the wintertime, when temperatures are far more moderate and even quite chilly at elevation.


How To Prepare For Hiking in San Diego


Whether you're a beginner or an experienced hiker, it's important to be prepared before you hit the trail. Here are some tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you can move in.

  • Pack plenty of water and snacks, and a first-aid kit.

  • Bring an offline map of the area, and know your general route before you start hiking.

  • Be aware of your surroundings, and stay on the trail at all times.

  • Leave no trace: take all your trash with you when you leave.


Safety Tips For Hiking in San Diego


As with any outdoor activity, there are a few safety precautions you should take when hiking. First, always let someone know where you're going and when you'll be back. Second, carry a first-aid kit and know how to use it. And finally, stay on the trail and be aware of your surroundings. If you see something dangerous, don't hesitate to turn back.


Now that you know the most important things about hiking in San Diego, it's time to hit the trails! So put on your hiking boots, grab your water bottle, and explore all the outdoor glory that our beautiful city has to offer!


Groups and Organizations For Hiking in San Diego


If you're looking for some company on the trail, there are plenty of groups and organizations that offer communal hiking trip coordination in San Diego.


  • The Sierra Club offers day hikes and backpacking trips for all levels of hiking experience. They also have a youth program for kids ages 14-18.

  • The American Hiking Society leads group hikes throughout the year, while also offering volunteer opportunities to help maintain trails.

  • REI offers a wide variety of guided hikes and outdoor activities, ranging from beginner-friendly walks to far more challenging hikes.


Hiking in San Diego With Dogs


Many of the trails in San Diego are dog-friendly, so you can bring your furry friend along on your hike. Just be sure to pack water and food for them, and clean up after them if they make a mess.


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Razor Point Trail: San Diego, CA - Photo Credit: Jon Moon



8 Best Trails For Hiking in San Diego


Easy Hikes in San Diego


Razor Point Trail (Torrey Pines State Park)

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Distance: 1.3 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 250 feet

  • Dog Friendly: No

This short but sweet trail takes you to one of the highest points in Torrey Pines State Park, with stunning views of the ocean and coastline. In less than an hour, you'll pass by the park's sea-carved sandstone, Red Butte, and the La Jolla Peninsula. The trail is well-maintained and perfect for a quick hike, run, or family excursion.



Annie's Canyon Trail (Solana Beach)

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Distance: 0.75 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 200 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Not Recommended

Another short but sweet trail, this one takes you through a beautiful canyon in Solana Beach. The canyon is full of native plants and wildlife, and the views from the top are stunning.



San Elijo Lagoon Nature Trail (Cardiff)

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Distance: 0.75 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 50 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Yes

This easy, flat trail takes you through the beautiful San Elijo Lagoon, where you can see migrating birds, native plants, and wildlife. The trail is perfect for a leisurely stroll or a family hike - kids will love the associated Nature Center.

 

West Horsethief Trail, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Corona CA, California, Southern California, Popular Hiking Trail, San Diego Hiking, Bent Tree over Path, San Diego Foothills

West Horsethief Trail: Corona, CA - Photo Credit: David Lockeretz



Moderate Hikes in San Diego


Iron Mountain Trail (Poway)

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Distance: 5.9 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 1,125 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Yes

This popular trail in Poway is a great workout, with beautiful views of Lake Poway along the way. The trail is mostly exposed, so make sure to bring sunscreen and plenty of water. This trail is great for night hikes too - just be sure to come prepared!



West Horsethief Trail (Cuyamaca Rancho State Park)

  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

  • Distance: 13 miles

  • Elevation Gain: over 2000 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Yes

This is a longer and more challenging hike, but the views are well worth it! You'll see plenty of wildlife on this trail, including deer, squirrels, and birds. The trail can be quite steep in places, so make sure you're prepared for a workout.


Please note this trail is currently closed due to damage from last year’s local wildfire, so check the Forest Service website prior to planning any trips to the area.

 

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Three Sisters Falls: Julian, CA - Photo Credit: Wendy Garcia



Difficult Hikes in San Diego


Three Sisters Falls (Julian)

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Distance: 11 miles

  • Elevation Gain: 2000 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Not Recommended

This strenuous hike in Julian is not for the faint of heart. But if you're up for the challenge, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of Three Sisters Falls, the tallest waterfall in San Diego.



Mount Woodson (Ramona)

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Distance: 16 miles

  • Elevation Gain: over 3000 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Yes

This is one of the most popular trails in San Diego, and for good reason. The views from the top of Mount Woodson are incredible, and the trail itself is very well-maintained. However, this is a long and challenging hike, so make sure you're prepared before you hit the trail.



Cowles Mountain (San Carlos)

  • Difficulty: Difficult

  • Distance: 15 miles

  • Elevation Gain: over 3000 feet

  • Dog Friendly: Yes

This is the highest point in San Diego, and it's a strenuous hike to the top. The trail is very steep and rocky, so make sure you're prepared for a tough climb. Once you reach the summit, you'll be rewarded with incredible views of the city and beyond.



you never know what you'll find on the trails around San Diego...


 

Guest Blogger Conor Armor grew up hiking trails all over Southern California, and is well familiar with the best the region has to offer. He founded hiddenlemur.com in 2019 in the hopes of connecting environmentally conscious and locally-run tourism organizations with impact-minded travelers.

 

Wintertime may not leave you feeling inspired to get outdoors to go hiking or camping, but it's the perfect time to start planning trips for the warmer months! Pathloom is here to help - Use our All-in-One outdoor adventure travel planning app to discover new hiking trails leading to new developed and dispersed campsites throughout the entire country! Click the link to join thousands in our open BETA testing today!



 


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