Perhaps the most popular draw to the Del Mar Mesa Preserve is the series of trails known as the ‘Tunnel’ trails. Hikers, bikers, runners and equestrians can enter via Rancho Toyon Place as outlined below. These trails offer a full experience of the variety of nature that the Preserve has to offer!
The Tunnel trails at the Del Mar Mesa Preserve are the result of 20 years of activists and community members working alongside local governments and conservationists. Both hikers and mountain bikers will enter the trails off Rancho Toyon Place, and keep straight at the kiosk, noting the coastal chaparral and vernal pool habitats along the way. The Preserve is home to many vernal pool habitats, which are shallow, temporary bodies of water that shelter interesting creatures, such as ephemeral fairy shrimp that appear and disappear along with the vernal pools.
After traveling for a mile, hang left at the junction, and start heading north towards a flat area of red sandstone. Soon you'll encounter a steep trail, which is known as "Cardiac Hill". The trail splits, and to the right leads into Deer Creek Canyon.
Remember this is a Nature Preserve
Users of these trails should keep in mind that the area is a nature prerserve. Stay on legally defined trails, clean up after animals and take everything brought in out.
Deer Creek is a single-track trail, and runs through a forest of scrub oak, which closely resembles a twisty fairy woodland! Lichens cover the scrub oaks, giving them a beautiful green hue. It is easy to feel like you are in a haunted fairy tale when passing through this contorted forest!
After passing the scrub oaks, the trail curves towards the left and becomes the Tunnel 4 Trail, which is a major attraction for mountain bikers. It is a single-track trail, and visibility can be poor. Bikers are encouraged to use the bell system when passing hikers, and all should remain aware of their surroundings and share the trail!
The Tunnel 4 Trail climbs in the beginning, up to 11' elevation! It is quite rocky and windy, and should be reserved for intermediate/advanced riders. Bikers should also be aware of tree roots, rocks and tree branches that graze riders. Tunnel 4 can also be muddy after rain, and most local bikers wait a full 48 hours after rainfalls before riding.
After passing the eucalyptus grove, visitors will see a sign protecting the vernal pools. Please respect this boundary and do not cross! Development and regrading of land threaten vernal pools and their inhabitants, and the Preserve is doing a great job in keeping these areas pristine and safe.
Finally, you will reach a junction that will lead you back to the bridle trail that ultimately sends you back to the Rancho Toyon entrance. This loop was recently created in 2019, at the request of mountain bikers who were frustrated with the previous out and back trail. These well-planned trails are frequently enjoyed and well loved by hikers, nature seekers, equestrians and mountain bikers!