San Diego’s 5 Most Popular Hiking Trails

Credit: AlexBrylov

San Diego is often referred to as “America’s finest city,” and it’s easy to see why with miles of shoreline, mountains thick with pine trees, and nearby deserts. Part of the appeal of San Diego are its hiking spots and the short amount of time it takes to get to your destination. These five popular hiking spots are but a few that San Diego has to offer, so lace up your hiking boots, pack plenty of water and your trekking poles, and set off on one of these very fine trails.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
It’s doubtful that you will find better views in San Diego than on the trails along the cliffs above Torrey Pines State Beach. With more than 1500 acres of coastal wilderness set high above the Pacific Ocean, there are eight trails for hikers of every level of experience. This is a day use park only, and parking can be a problem. If you want to avoid the fee in the state park go early midweek and park along Highway 101. This will give you a mini workout as you walk up the hill to the trails, which is what the locals recommend.

Mount Woodson
This hiking trail is rated moderate to difficult, so it’s not the place for small children unless you want to carry them almost 8 miles, much of it uphill. Most hikers head out on the trail that ends up at Potato Chip Rock, a rather precarious looking ledge of rock that hangs out over the hillside. Go during the week if you can, because it seems that every hiker wants to have their picture balancing on the rock. Unless its winter, the weather can be quite warm in this part of San Diego so be sure to take plenty of water and your camera for the money shot on Potato Chip Rock.

Cowles Mountain
If you want to get a good workout in a short amount of time, Cowles Mountain is probably the best hiking area in San Diego for you. The hike is only three miles round-trip, but it’s straight uphill, but the workout and the view at the top are worth it. Plenty of people in San Diego take this hike each day, so you’ll find plenty of other people, and even dogs on a leash. If you do this hike early in the morning, you have plenty of time to lie on the beach in the afternoon.

Palomar Mountain State Park
Palomar Mountain State Park is best to be explored during warm weather, because most winters it snows on this mountain. You can camp in the state park or just make a day of it since it’s only about a one hour drive from downtown San Diego. There are 11 miles of trails for beginners to experienced hikers, but all paths will take you through dense forests filled with wildflowers in the spring and summer and colorful leaves in the fall.

Balboa Park Trails
Balboa Park is located only a few miles from downtown San Diego, but the trails in this 1200 acre park, can fool you into thinking you are miles away. The hiking trails in the park—which is also filled with museums and history—vary in their degree of difficulty from an easy two mile hike to a difficult six mile trek. Most of the trails are kid and dog (leashed) friendly, making this spot the perfect place to explore on foot.

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