A local favorite — especially among dog owners — Los Peñasquitos Canyon is a nature preserve in the middle of the northern San Diego suburbs. Los Peñasquitos means “little cliffs” in Spanish, referring to the series of big volcanic boulders that the small waterfall tumbles down. At 4,000 acres and over seven miles long, Los Peñasquitos Canyon is one of the largest urban parks in the world. This shady, multi-use trail is open to hikers, bikers, and horse riders.
Pass through a canyon rich in plants and wildlife
From the Los Peñasquitos Canyon trailhead, fill up your water bottles and head west on the dirt road. You’ll pass through a forest of giant California Live Oaks. The preserve is also home to over 500 plant species and 170 different species of birds. Native American history in the canyon goes back 7,000 years. Side trails lead to historic sites like an adobe ranch house, a museum, and community garden.
Even when other trails feel too hot to hike, I like visiting this trail because it is shaded and relatively flat. It’s part of the Trans San Diego County Trail. This 140-mile long-distance hiking route goes from the eastern edge of the county at the Salton Sea, across Anza Borrego Desert State Park, over the Cuyamaca Mountains and Pacific Crest Trail, and down to the Pacific Ocean.
A great trail for hiking with friends
The trail is wide enough to walk side-by-side with other hikers in your party. In this peaceful wooded area, it’s easy to get caught up in conversation with your trail buddies. Signs along the way point to side-trails. Mile markers make it easy to track your progress.
After about three miles, you’ll see a signed intersection for the waterfall. Head right towards some stone stairs to the top of the bouldery falls. The trail continues across the water, so bring sturdy shoes and get ready to get wet. You can keep going. But, for a moderate hike, this is a good place to turn around and return to your car.