Best Hiking Trails in North and Central San Diego County

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and Baja California, Mexico to the south, San Diego County is known for having pleasant weather year-round, world-class beaches, and a very outdoor-friendly lifestyle. For these reasons, it should come as no surprise that hiking ranks among the many outdoor activities enjoyed by residents and visitors in San Diego County.

Did you know…

San Diego County is the second-most biodiverse county in the continental United States? In addition to having over a million acres of chaparral land––by far the most of any county in California–– the 4,525-square-mile county is home to a wide variety of natural habitats including bluffs covered in Torrey pine trees, rugged, forested mountain ranges, and parched badlands further inland. The varying natural scenery and vast portions of undeveloped land offer some of the best hiking in the country.  

North County

The northern portion of San Diego County is known locally as the “North County” and is divided into a coastal region which includes the cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar, and Solana Beach, and an inland region which includes the cities of San Marcos, Escondido, Poway, and Rancho Bernardo. The natural scenery of the North County ranges from rocky shorelines and lagoons to scrubland, rugged mountains, and chaparral further inland. Popular trails in North County Include:

  • Double Peak Trail––located near the city of San Marcos, Double Peak trail is a moderately difficult hike of just under 5 miles and offers nice views of the surrounding areas. It is dog friendly and is also accessible to horseback riders.
  • Lake Calavera––An oasis of natural beauty in the midst of the suburban landscape of coastal North County is Carlsbad’s Lake Calavera. Lake Calavera features wetlands and coastal sage scrub that can be enjoyed provide scenery along the 3.2-mile trail that surrounds the lake.

Central San Diego Area

Despite being home to the majority of San Diego County’s 3 million plus residents, the city of San Diego offers areas of stunning natural beauty within its limits, making it a great city of outdoor enthusiasts. Two of the best places to hike and enjoy the stunning coastal scenery without leaving the San Diego city limits are:

  • Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve–– Within the San Diego city limits lies one of the last stretches of undeveloped coastal land in Southern California. Home to the rare and unique Torrey pine trees that give the park its name, Torrey Pine State Natural Reserve is a great place to observe the natural beauty of coastal San Diego County. The wetlands and coastal habitats are home to a wide range of plants and wildlife while marine mammals including whales and dolphins can sometimes be seen from shore.

Cabrillo National Monument–– At the southern tip of Point Loma is the Bayside trail leading to the Cabrillo National Monument. The 2.8-mile bayside trail features Cabrillo Monument, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and offers views of San Diego harbor, downtown San Diego, and Coronado. It is also a prime location for whale watching.

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