Hiking Trails in San Diego

Try these hiking trails in San Diego county. These popular day hikes allow you to experience the joy of hiking in San Diego. Which one is the best hiking trail? It depends on the season, level of difficulty, how far you want to drive and what you want to see. Bring your camera and water bottle.

Here are what I think are the best hiking trails in San Diego county.

Updated July 12, 2024 by San Diego Beaches and Adventures

San Diego Hiking Trails

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines Reserve and Beach, just north of La Jolla in San Diego CA, offers several nice hiking trails with view of the ocean, and one option to hike back along the beach trail.

Beach Trail - The Beach trailhead leaves from the restroom at the top of the hill, and goes 3/4 miles to the beach, where a steep staircase descends to the beach near Flat Rock. At low tide (3 feet or less) you can walk north along the beach 3/4 mile to the lower parking lot. (If the tide is low enough to get around Flat Rock, you can walk south another mile or so and you will eventually arrive at the unofficial clothing optional Blacks Beach. We like to park at the bottom so the hike starts with a 300 foot elevation gain to the trail head, otherwise you need to hike back up at the end, for a total hike around 2 miles.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Distance: Varies

Guy Fleming, Parry Grove, Razor Point Hiking Trails - These trails near the top range from 0.5 miles to 1.5 miles and offer diverse scenery and some dramatic views of gorges and ocean views.

Details: Not pet friendly, not stroller friendly,

For more information, including directions and hours, see Torrey Pines State Reserve

Elfin Forest Hiking San Diego County

Hike the Elfin Forest Way Up Trail, one of the best hiking trails in San Diego area. Located northeast of San Diego in Escondido, this offers some of the best elevation gain for hiking in the area.

The hike begins by crossing Escondido Creek, and heading up 1 mile with a 600 foot elevation gain to Harmony Grove Overlook, with spectacular views of the countryside. Another 1/2 mile will get you to the top, with views of the lake. Additional trails will take you around Olivenhein Reservoir.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Distance: Varies. The Botanical Trial is 1 mile easy loop, with a rocky crossing over the creek. The Way Up Trail is 3 mile round trip, moderate. For a longer route, take the 4.7 mile Elfin Forest Loop.

Details: Pet friendly, not stroller friendly.

For more details see Elfin Forest

Potato Chip Rock via Mt. Woodson Trail

Just 35 minutes from San Diego, the views are worth it. Take a photograph at Potato Chip Rock, a beautiful natural feature sliver of rock that juts out into the air. This is one of the most best hiking trails in San Diego. Arrive early at sunrise to beat the crowds. On weekends, expect crowds.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: About 7 miles round trip from Mount Wilson trailhead in Poway.

Details: Pet friendly, not stroller friendly.

Daley Ranch Hiking Trail in San Diego Escondido

Daley Ranch, a 3,000 acre conservation area, is located in Escondido, Cal, just northeast of San Diego. It offers some spectacular hiking and spring wildflowers, and a grassy picnic area nearby at Dixon Lake.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: Varies depending on the route.

Details: Pet friendly (dogs on leash), some paths are not stroller friendly.

For more information about Daley Ranch San Diego Hiking Trails, including directions and hours, see daleyranch.org

San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden, formerly Quail Botanical Gardens, has 4 miles of hiking trails throughout beautiful 39 acres in Encinitas. It makes a beautiful location for a casual stroll or power walk while enjoying the beauty of the gardens. Admission fee or membership required.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 4 miles of walking trails, mostly flat with some hills. For those needing assistance, on most days there is a shuttle cart available.

Details: No pets allowed (except service dogs), stroller friendly.

For more information see San Diego Botanic Garden

La Jolla Coast Walk Hiking Trail

Hike the La Jolla Coast Walk, another beautiful San Diego hiking trail. Located along the La Jolla coast, you can see the tourist La Jolla beaches, such as Children's Pool and La Jolla Cove, then continue along a secluded dirt trail to see more views of the La Jolla coastline. The trail is flat, but the views are stunning.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.2 miles round trip from the Cave Store, along the bluffs past La Jolla Cove and down to the Children's Pool.

Details: Stroller friendly, pet friendly (dogs on leash).

For more information about hiking San Diego La Jolla coast walk, including directions, see La Jolla Coast Hiking

Cowles Mountain

If you love a hike with a great view of San Diego, try Cowles Mountain. In the spring, the mountain and surrounding Mission Trails Regional Park will bloom with wildflowers, adding color to your hike. This popular hiked can get crowded midday, so hike early and enjoy the view.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3 miles

Details: Pet friendly (dogs on leash), not stroller friendly, avoid in hot summer months.

San Elijo Lagoon

Hiking Trails San Diego Lagoon

View of San Elijo Lagoon and Pacific Ocean from overlook near Annie's Canyon trail

Nestled between Cardiff by the Sea and Solana Beach, the San Elijo Lagoon offers a variety of hiking trails to explore along the wetlands. Most of the trails run flat along the lagoon, both east and west of Highway 5.

Difficulty: Easy. Trails are typically 1.5 to 7 miles, but you can also take a quick loop by the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center.

Distance: Varies, as there are many hiking trail options.

Details: Some routes are stroller friendly, pet friendly (dogs on leash), bicycle friendly.

Annie's Canyon

Annie's Canyon

Annie's Canyon Trail

One of the unique San Diego hiking trails in called Annie's Canyon, but it is known to locals as Dead Man's Canyon. Annie's Canyon is a short trail located on the hills near the San Elijo Lagoon. This is a short, one-way trail through narrow canyon walls, with some steep climbs.

Difficulty: Moderate difficulty due to steep, narrow canyon, but the hike in the canyon is short and there is an alternate route up to the lookout point.

Distance: Varies, as there are options on how to get there. If you enjoy hiking some hills, from Interstate 5 take the Lomas Santa Fe Drive exit in Solana Beach, go west and take the first right. Park at the top of the hill by the trailhead. If you prefer a scenic route along the lagoon, from I5, go west on Manchester Avenue and park at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center. Enjoy the 1 mile walk around the lagoon to the Annie's Canyon trailhead.

Details: No dogs allowed on Annie's Canyon trail. This is a steep, narrow trail with stairs to climb. If you bring your dog, you can wait for your party while they take this one-way loop.

Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail

The Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail is a favorite hike for San Diego and is short drive from the city. Here you can see a waterfall, small cliffs (called peñasquitos), and the trails are relatively flat with shady oak trees. There are many trails to explore.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: Varies, as there are many hiking trail options.

Details: Stroller friendly, bicycle friendly, no dogs allowed.

Mission Trails Regional Park: Oak Canyon Trail

Mission Trails offers a variety of hiking trails, but one of the best is the Oak Canyon Trail. This popular hike requires some rock scrambling at the end to reach the seasonal waterfall.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Distance: 3.3 miles round trip from the Oak Canyon Trail.

Details: Pet friendly (dogs on leash), not stroller friendly, avoid in hot summer months.

Palomar Mountain

Enjoy the beautiful pine forests and mountain meadows at Palomar Mountain, home to the Palomar Observatory. The mountain peaks at 6,142 and offers many beautiful mountain hiking trails in San Diego area. If you are tired of the desert, you can explore the mountains here in north San Diego county.

Difficulty: Varies from Easy to Difficult

Distance: Varies, up to 10.1 miles Boucher Trail to the lookout tower and Palomar Mountain Loop combination in Palomar Mountain State Park. Many easier hikes available.

Details: Not pet friendly, not stroller friendly.

Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail

With over 100 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and equestrians, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is a gem. At 6,515 feet elevation, Cuyamaca is the second highest peak in San Diego. Hikers are rewarded with great panoramic views all the way to the beach. The most accessible trailhead for the Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail is in the Paso Picacho Campground.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Distance: Varies, the Cuyamaca Peak Loop Trail is 5.5 miles.

Details: Not pet friendly (no dogs on most trails), not stroller friendly.

Balboa Park Hiking in San Diego

San Diego Balboa Park in the heart of San Diego offers spectacular hiking in San Diego. There are many trails around the park that are surrounded by trees, making you forget that you are in the middle of a large city. If you choose, you can also walk through areas with the historic buildings and see some of the splendid architecture too.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: Varies

Details: Pet friendly (dogs on leash), most trails are stroller friendly.

Anza Borrego Hiking San Diego County

Anza Borrego Desert State Park is a 90 minute drive northeast of San Diego Cal. It is usually 20 degrees warmer than the coast, making it a great place for a day trip fall, winter or spring. One of the best San Diego hiking trails is the Palm Canyon Trail, an easy three mile round trip walk to a native palm oasis. There are also great wildflower blooms in the spring.

Directions to trailhead: The trail begins at Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, located one mile north of the park headquarters, west of the town of Borrego Springs, CA. Trailhead parking is available at the west end of the campground near the campfire circle.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 3 miles for Palm Canyon Trail, many other options available in the park.

Details: Not pet friendly, not stroller friendly, avoid in hot summer months.

For more information on hiking in San Diego Anza Borrego, see San Diego Hiking Anza Borrego

Beach Hiking Trails in San Diego

There are many great places to walk along the beach in San Diego. With 70 miles of beaches, that means 70 miles of hiking trails in San Diego beaches! It is best to go at moderate to low tides, 3 feet or less for most beaches (1 foot or less in Solana Beach), and you can quickly get away from the crowds and see some interesting views, scenery and beach homes.

Some beaches have concrete boardwalks that stretch for several miles along popular beaches like Pacific Beach or Tamarack Beach in Carlsbad.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: Varies.

Details: Not pet friendly, not stroller friendly (except for some paved paths near the beach)

Check out some best beaches for hiking in San Diego

Want a change in scenery? Try a weekend getaway to Lake Tahoe, and hike the Tahoe Rim trail. Check out these great Lake Tahoe Hiking Trails

A great resource for hiking trails is the website www.alltrails.com. Check it out.

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