Best Hikes in San Diego

Uncover the best hiking trails in San Diego including easy to advanced options, many featuring ocean, mountain & panoramic views and all ready for adventure!
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Go Hiking in San Diego!

San Diego is well-known for its sunny skies and mild temperature year-round, perfect for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding on the many trails that surround this great city!

Hiking trails for all skill levels can be found from easy hikes for casual walkers, short hikes for an afternoon stroll and even great trails for senior citizens to much more challenging intermediate and advanced level hiking options. The more advanced trails often include challenging terrain which has elevation gain or steep declines as well as trails of longer distances.

As a location with beautiful scenery, incredible wildlife and picturesque views, San Diego offers hikes with great Pacific Ocean, mountain and panoramic views, all ready for great family photos to capture the memories of your day in the warm sunshine on the trail!

Some of the trails will take you through areas with historical significance to San Diego such as trails by the California Missions where you can take in the history that lies in these very special lands. Many trails will provide historical markers for your reference.

Hikes along the coast can even include maritime history as you smell the sea the mariners of the past once sailed upon as they arrived in San Diego.

No matter which San Diego hike you choose, you’re sure to have an experience you won’t soon forget. Read on for our list of the best hikes in San Diego!

11 Best Hikes in San Diego

1) Sunset Cliffs Coastal Trail

Neighborhood: Sunset Cliffs
Address:
Ladera St, San Diego, CA 92107
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Dogs: On a leash during specific hours only.

As its namesake may hint, Sunset Cliffs Coastal Trail that is located in Sunset Cliffs Natural Park offers breathtaking sunset views you won’t want to miss! Although the trail has no official opening and closing hours, it is best to hike during daylight hours for maximum visibility, the best views and for the safety of you and your family.

The 3-mile, mostly flat, cliffside trail is very popular with locals and visitors so expect amazing views and not to be on the trail alone! This family-friendly hike is relatively easy, but for its total distance, well maintained and good for all ages and ability levels. Parents should be extra careful to watch their children as this is a ‘cliffside trail’.

Hikers can plan to see arches and bluffs as well as tide pools, sea caves and of course, sandstone cliffs!

We recommend starting the hike at Ladera Street and Sunset Cliffs Blvd, in the Hillside section. Plan to take your time and consider taking one of the staircases along the trail down to the shore where you can explore the sea caves, tide pools and secluded beaches.

Take in the view and take a family photo at the Sandstone Arch, known locally as ‘that great photo spot’. Grab another photo at Cormorant Rock which is part of the California Coastal National Monument.

One additional tip is to not miss the 'secret' sea cave which can be found from Luscombs Point.

2) The Balboa Park Hiking Trails

Neighborhood: Balboa Park
Address:
1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
Difficulty Rating: Easy / Intermediate
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Balboa Park is home to a number of trails that range from easy to intermediate in difficulty. The park has over 1,200 acres that house the world-famous San Diego Zoo, restaurants, museums and more. To say there is plenty to choose from would be an understatement!

Trail #12 is popular for families and is known to be fairly moderate. Another popular hiking trail for families in Balboa Park is #33 which takes hikers through Florida Canyon. Hikers will go through an area that is unpaved and experience less-frequently seen sights of the park.

For a hiker who are looking to pick up the pace, trail #2 is 4.1 miles of intermediate difficulty that features rolling slopes. It’s a great choice for individuals who want to get a view of museums and gardens. Although the terrain is mostly tame, Balboa Park hiking trails are ideal for families who want to get out in nature and experience San Diego County.

As a featured area in all of San Diego, Balboa Park is a great place to stay for your San Diego vacation. Check out our complete article on the Best Hotels near San Diego Zoo, located in Balboa Park, for great hotel options for you and your family!

3) Mission Trails Regional Park

Neighborhood: Mission Valley
Address:
1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119
Difficulty Rating: Easy / Moderate / Difficult
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Mission Trails Regional Park is home to over 8,000 acres of natural and developed recreational zones. The park boasts around 60 miles of hiking trails that are rated from easy to difficult. Hikers can bring their dogs along for the fun as long as they are leashed.

The park is the sixth largest municipally owned park in the United States, and is the largest in California. There are three separate regions in Mission Trails to choose from: Fortuna Region, Mission Gorge Region and Cowles Mountain Region. Each region has various trails to choose from that range in difficulty and distance.

Mission Trails Regional Park is a hiking trail that is favored by families. Whether visitors are searching for a leisurely trail to explore the outdoors or a more challenging experience, Mission Trails has something for everyone.

With so many trials and options for all skill levels, check out our complete article on the Mission Trails Regional Park to learn more about the extensive list of options the park has to offer including the 5-Peak Challenge, created for hikers that are really looking for a complete hiking adventure!

4) Hikes with History in Mission Trails

Address:
1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119
Difficulty Rating: Easy / Moderate / Difficult
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

If you like hikes that include a little history, head to the Old Mission Dam in Mission Gorge just off the Father Junipero Serra Trail near the Kwaay Paay Peak Trailhead. Father Junipero Serra was a Franciscan priest whose goal was to bring Christianity to the native people in the mid 1700’s and walked and preached on these very lands.

This historical dam was completed in 1815 and was the biggest project of its era! For more on the history of the missions, checkout our article on California Missions History.

5) Cowles Mountain Backside Loop

Address:
1 Father Junipero Serra Trail, San Diego, CA 92119
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Cowles Mountain Backside Loop is located in Mission Trails Regional Park, south of Scripps Ranch and north of La Mesa, a short drive to the northeast from Downtown San Diego. The trail is worth spending an afternoon with friends or perhaps as a couple if you like hikes with amazing views!

The hike is a 3-mile round trip, out-and-back and is best for intermediate level hikers. The trail is also dog-friendly as long as they are on a leash.

While there are many great trails in the Mission Trails Regional Park, this special trail is well-traveled and yet still offers an “off the beaten path” feel with a summit finish! The trail begins at the Barker Way trailhead featuring views of downtown Santee until the mountain is reached.

Recognized as one of the most popular trails at the park, the pay-off is a 360 degree panoramic view of San Diego, North County San Diego and Orange County with views all the way to Mexico, all from the peak of Cowles Mountain!

This Southern California trail is a popular choice for families who are searching for an intermediate hike that will take them to an amazing view.

For individuals or groups searching for more challenging trails, there are many other amazing options to explore in the Mission Trails Regional Park that will surely put your hiking skills to the test!

6) Torrey Pine State Reserve Loop

Neighborhood: La Jolla
Address:
12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla 92037
Difficulty Rating: Easy / Intermediate
Dogs: Not Allowed

Torrey Pine State Reserve Loop is located inside of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve which is home to the nation’s rarest pines, the Torrey Pine. The length of the trail is about 2.4 miles round-trip and is rated as an easy to intermediate hike. Popular amongst families due to its accessibility, Torrey Pines is filled with oceanside hiking along the beach in La Jolla.

The trailhead for the loop can be found at the north end of the reserve. However, hikers can also begin from the visitor center or the parking lot near the main road. During the beginning of the trail, hikers will follow a path that leads them through the main park road which leads to the Beach Trail.

The Beach Trail features views of the La Jolla coast and has a set of stairs which lead to the beach for hikers to cool off in the ocean. It’s important to note that rattlesnakes are native to this area so always remain aware of your surroundings.

7) Los Peñasquitos Canyon Trails

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley
Address:
12020 Black Mountain Rd, San Diego, CA 92129
Difficulty Rating: Easy / Intermediate
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is a 4000 acres park with 12 trails used most often by hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. The park is located just north of the Mira Mesa neighborhood and just east of the Carmel Valley, not far from the intersection of the 15 and SR 56, also known as the Ted Williams Parkway.

The most popular trail in the park for hiking is the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail, a 7.5-mile trail good for all skill levels with famous Peñasquitos Creek Waterfall as the reward for making the journey!

The trail is well marked and well-traveled with many offshoots to explore, all of which will eventually lead you back to a main trail.

For the more advanced hikers looking for an additional challenge, consider the West Trail. This 5.5-mile trail is great for viewing wildlife such as deer and native birds. Take your time and enjoy the views on this less trafficked trail and remember to bring extra sunscreen as the sun can be very hot and shade can be hard to come by.

8) Three Sisters Falls

Address:
Boulder Creek Rd, Santa Ysabel, CA 92070
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate / Difficult
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Three Sisters Falls can be found about 54 miles Northeast of downtown San Diego in Cleveland National Forest. Northeast of Escondido and the very popular San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the hike is a 3.7-mile adventure that is best for intermediate hikers looking for a challenging hike. In addition, dogs can join in on the hiking as long as they are leashed.

Although it’s a challenging hike, the end result is worth it! Hikers will begin at the Three Sisters Falls trailhead and hike down steep slopes until they reach Boulder Creek. Once hikers reach Boulder Creek, there are three waterfalls which can be seen cascading into the creek where many hikers will dip their toes in for a refresh.

Keep in mind that the hike to Boulder Creek is downhill, so the hike back will primarily be uphill. In addition, it’s important to bring an ample amount of water for everyone to stay hydrated as the mountainous terrain can get very hot, especially in the warmer summer months! Southern California can be dry and the sun very hot against the skin so be especially careful and come prepared with snacks and water when hiking during the hotter times of the day.

This trail is growing in popularity therefore potential hikers should note that it can get fairly crowded on the weekends. Come early or choose a weekday for the best experience with smaller crowds.

9) Palm Canyon Loop

Address:
200 Palm Canyon Dr. Borrego Springs, CA 92004
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
Dogs: Not Allowed

Palm Canyon Loop is located in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park and it is a bit of a drive from San Diego but for those hikers really looking for an amazing experience, this beautiful 3-mile trail may be just what you are looking for! This hike is best for intermediate level hikers. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on Palm Canyon Loop.

Even though the hike is rated intermediate, it’s widely popular amongst families and small groups with basic hiking experience. Palm Canyon Loop is located on the Palm Canyon Trail to the northeast of Downtown San Diego and features a desert and mountain canyon feel.

Upon arrival, hikers will find that the trail is marked towards the northeast portion of the parking lot.

Be sure to bring plenty of food, water and sunscreen for this San Diego hike. It’s important to note that while the San Diego coastline features mild temperature year-round, the desert features much broader temperature swings depending on the time of year you visit as well as the time of day you arrive.

This is a desert hike up a canyon with elevation gain which leads to a desert oasis, therefore the trail can get pretty hot no matter what time of year you plan to visit!

10) Potato Chip Rock

Address:
14644 Lake Poway Road Poway, CA 92064
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate / Difficult
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Potato Chip Rock is located in Lake Poway Park just northeast of San Diego County. The length of the trail is 7.1 miles roundtrip and is best for intermediate to advanced hikers due to the trail’s difficulty. In addition, dogs are allowed to join in on the hike as long as they are leashed.

This is probably one of the most photo-worthy, memorable trails in San Diego. Upon reaching the summit, guests will feast their eyes on the hike’s namesake, Potato Chip Rock which is a protruding rock that imitates a potato chip.

The trailhead for this San Diego hike is located at the Lake Poway Staging Area. Hikers will have astonishing views of Lake Poway throughout the entire trail so be sure to take breaks and enjoy the scenery around you!

11) Miner’s Ridge Loop Trail

Neighborhood: Carmel Valley
Address:
12115 Black Mountain Rd. San Diego, CA 92129
Difficulty Rating: Easy / Intermediate
Dogs: Allowed on Leash

Miner’s Ridge Loop Trail is located in Black Mountain Open Space Park in San Diego, California. The length of the trail is about 4.25 miles and ranges in difficulty from easy to intermediate. Dogs are allowed to join in on the family fun as long as they are on a leash.

The trailhead for Miner’s Ridge can be found by the base of the northeast face of the mountain and leads to the summit. Throughout the hike, visitors will notice beautiful mountain scenery and will feel further away from Downtown San Diego in feel than they actually are!

Miner’s Ridge Loop Trail is a great option for families visiting San Diego because it is kid friendly. Keep in mind the loop is a popular hiking trail, so there may be a bit of traffic, especially on weekends and holidays.

In addition, there are various other loops that hikers can choose from in Black Mountain depending on their interests.

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San Diego is not just sunny beaches, but home to some of the best hiking in the country. With Go Pass, choose from two trails for your hike. Mission Trails Regional Park and Tecolote Canyon Trails offer trails for beginners and experts!
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There’s a variety of activities included with the Go San Diego Pass such as: The San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, SeaWorld, Hiking Tours, Whale Watching, Snorkel Rentals, Museum Tours, Speed Boat Adventures and more!

For the most popular attractions and water-sport rentals as well as the biggest discounts, consider the All-Inclusive Pass.

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