Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Enjoy nature at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve with trails, wildlife and a stunning waterfall.
Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve
Discover the Preserve
History of the Preserve
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Fun for the Entire Family
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Discover the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is a picturesque park located north of San Diego and is open all year round.

The preserve covers about 4000 acres of the Peñasquitos and Lopez Canyons. The natural beauty of the reserve makes it a very popular destination for hikers, cyclists and equestrians alike.

Los Peñasquitos is made up of approximately 12 miles of trails which connect to an adobe ranch house where you can find gardens, farm animals and a museum dedicated to the area.

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History of the Preserve

Los Peñasquitos Canyon has been a destination for over 6000 years! You can still find remains of the prehistoric La Jolla culture, as well as the Kumeyaay people. Check out our article to learn more about the Kumeyaay Indians - the first people in San Diego.

In 1815, Rancho de los Peñasquitos was given to Francisco de Maria Ruiz. This was the first Mexican land grant in California history. Ruiz then built the Ruiz-Alvarado Adobe, which you can still see part of near where Los Peñasquitos and Lopez canyons meet.

In the 1860, the Johnson-Taylor Adobe was built and was used to raise cattle by a variety of owners for decades. One of those people was Charles Mohnike, who built the Mohn ike Adobe in 1910 and it still stands near Black Mountain Rd.

In 1970, San Diego began the process of purchasing the land. They started the Land Acquisition Report for Los Peñasquitos Regional Park program which was to purchase the 3400 acres for open space use. Finally, by 1982, the city of San Diego became the main owner of the land and continues to own it today.

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Nature at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is made up of some of the best scenery in all of California. It is also home to many endangered and rare species of wildlife and plant life.

The stream that runs through is home to tree frogs, crayfish and largemouth bass. The freshwater marshes are a nesting place for many local birds. The park is on record for being home to 175 different types of birds, some of which are endangered.

Local Tips
Did You Know
The Rancho de los Peñasquitos was the first Mexican land grant in California, granted to Francisco de Maria Ruiz, who in 1815 built what is known as the Ruiz-Alvarado Adobe near the confluence of Los Peñasquitos and Lopez canyons.

Many mammals also make their home in the area. Mule deer, bobcat, coyote and raccoon are very common to the area. Keep an eye out for some bigger creatures, as mountain lions have been spotted by visitors!

During your hike, you will encounter a forest of California live oak along the stream as well as groves of Sycamore trees. The preserve is also home to over 400 plant species.

The most spectacular site, however, is the waterfall over volcanic rock. It is a must see so make sure it is on your checklist!

Fun for the Entire Family at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

Lots of trails to explore

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is made up of 12 miles of trails over its 4000 acres of land. These trails are used for hiking, cycling and horseback riding.

Best trails

The most popular trail is the Los Penasquitos Canyon Trail, which runs approximately 7.5 miles. This trail is accessible for all skills levels, and you’ll discover the famous Peñasquitos Creek Waterfall as a reward.

Since this trail is relatively flat, you will get all kinds of visitors on the trail. Runners, hikers, walkers, cyclists and horse riders can be found here.

The Canyon Trail is very well marked and direct. However, you can veer off the main trail for some more adventure. Eventually the trail will lead you back to the main drag.

An offshoot of this trail leads to Lopez Canyon Trail. This full loop is approximately 12 miles and is very popular with mountain bikers because of its rocky terrain. Be aware that there is not much shade on this trail, so load up on sunscreen!

One of the tougher trails as the preserve is the West Trail. This 5.5 mil trail is primarily used for hiking, walking and enjoying the nature around you. If you want to see wildlife, this is the trail for you.

Here you can encounter deer, rabbits and many of the native birds of the area. There is less foot traffic on this trail, so take your time and enjoy the views.

Schedule a guided hike

Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve organize daily hikes through the park. You can even schedule group gatherings (please call in advance). The best thing? These hikes are free!

Classes and activities offered

Friends of Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve also conduct activities and classes for visitors to enjoy.

Every quarter they have the Wildlife Volunteer Survey Training. This free half-day class prepares you to be able to monitor wildlife in open areas and preserves. You will also learn about habitats, data collection protocols, and conservation.

Twice a year they hold tracker/naturalist classes. This class cost $50 and is held at the Ranch House. The class covers three levels of wildlife tracking knowledge.

Tour the historic Adobe houses

Every Saturday and Sunday the San Diego County Park docents give a free guided tour of Ranch Santa Maria de Los Peñasquitos. This is the second oldest standing residence in San Diego. The free tour lasts approximately 45 minutes.

Learn about the Mexican era rancho, artifacts of Indians and other settlers and tour the grounds. You can find The Ranch House on Canyonside Drive off Black Mountain Road.

Helping take care of the park

Los Peñasquitos offers many opportunities for volunteer work at the preserve. Restoration projects are some of the most popular. Help clean up the area removing trash and weeds from the preserve.

Wildlife and plant surveys are also another opportunity to help the park. Track animals and plants to collect very important data that helps preserve the canyon.

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Getting to Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve

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Street Parking

Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is a quick 20-minute ride from downtown San Diego. Perfect for a day trip to get away from the everyday hustle and bustle of city life.

It is nestled between Rancho Peñasquitos and Sorrento Hills to the north. The south end of the park is located in Mira Mesa.

Take CA-163 North for 11 miles following signs for N Escondido. Merge onto I-15 North and follow for another five miles. Take exit 17 for Mercy Rd toward Scripps Poway Pkwy.

Follow the road to the left towards Mercy Rd and continue straight until you reach the reserve on the left.

You can also take a drive up I-5N to get to Los Peñasquitos Canyon. Take I-5N for 15 miles and follow signs for CA-56 E. Take CA-56 E for approximately 8 miles and take the Black Mountain Rd exit.

Follow Black Mountain Rd for about a mile and Los Peñasquitos Canyon Reserve will be on your right. Plenty of parking is available for all visitors and costs $5.

Things to know before heading to the Preserve

Do your part and protect the park

Please note all wildlife, plant life, rocks, artifacts and structures are protected. Do not remove, deface, collect or disturb any of the protected items in the park.

Rules and restrictions

Weapons of any kind are prohibited. Including but not limited to firearms, air rifles, bows and slingshots. All fire and fireworks are prohibited.

Parking lot is closed from sunset to 8 am. Please keep noise level to a minimum. Loud noises and amplified music are prohibited in the park.

Overnight camping is not allowed. Please check out our articles on Camping in San Diego or RV Camping in San Diego to find a great spot to camp!

Please keep the park clean

No glass containers are allowed. Littering and stream pollution is strictly prohibited and are enforced by fines.

Have fun and be safe

Dogs are allowed but must be on a leash no longer than 8 ft. Bicycles are allowed, but please stay on the designated trails. Keep your speed to under 10 mph.

Due to the open terrain, please note that the area is prone to have wildlife. Rattlesnakes, mountain lions as well as poison oak have been known to be seen in the preserve. Keep an eye out and be alert.

Check the weather before leaving

Please note that trails close during rain events and remain closed for 48 hours because of flooding and unsafe conditions.

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