San Dieguito River Park

Enjoy unspoiled nature and miles of trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians at San Dieguito River Park, including Canyon Crest.
San Dieguito River Park
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History of the Park
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Nature Along the River
All You can Do
Getting to the Park
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Explore the San Dieguito River Park

San Dieguito River Park is a natural open space park created in the San Dieguito River Valley. The park starts at the coast in Del Mar and extends to the Volcan Mountain, which is located just north of Julian.

The 55-mile space includes Crest Canyon, Lake Hodges, San Pasqual Valley, Boden Canyon and Pamo Valley.

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History of San Dieguito River Park

In 1991, the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority purchased the first major piece of land. It was located just west of I-5 to restore the lagoons. In 1993, Highland Valley trails opened up. This is the first trail built by San Dieguito River Park JPA.

In 2007, during the California wildfires, the Witch Creek fire destroyed 62% of the River Park. It also destroyed historic landmarks such as the Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead and the park Headquarters.

In 2010, the park began recovering, and the new Park Headquarters and Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead re-opened to the public.

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Nature All Along the River

There are five vegetation communities present in the park. They range in colors, textures and each grow during specific times of the year.

Salt marsh contains very specialized plant life that grows low to the ground. Pickleweed and Salt Grass are examples of plants that grow in the salt marsh. If you are lucky, you will be able to see the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow who nest in these areas.

Coast Sage Scrub extends around the coastal marsh and inland. Lemonberry, Black Sage and Bush Sunflower are some of the flowers that make up this area of the park.

Chaparral plants are found inland and are made up of plants tolerant to excessive heat. Roman Lilac, White Sage, and Shooting Star are some of the flowers located in these areas.

Oak Woodlands are located in the high elevations of the River Park. Five oak species can be seen if you take a hike on Five Oak Trail on Volcan Mountain. Some plants in this area include the Grape Soda Lupine and the Sierra Gooseberry.

Riparian plants are water loving and found throughout the park located along streams, ponds and in the finger canyons. One important plant to the area is the Arroyo Willow. This plant is a nesting home for the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo.

The California Wild Grape and the California Sycamore are also common to the Riparian areas of the park.

Check out all you can do at San Dieguito River Park

Trails for everyone

San Dieguito River Park is home to 65 miles of trails that are open to hikers, bikers and equestrians. Please note, you need to stay on the designated paths and follow posted rules to help preserve the area.

Looking for some of the best trails and hiking in San Diego? Check out our Best Hikes in San Diego article for some of our favorites!

Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail - most popular!

Bernardo Mountain Summit Trail is one of the more popular trails in the park. It runs a little over 7 miles and is popular with hikers and bikers. On this trail, you will pass Lake Hodges, and you can scale the mountain to get a spectacular view of the surrounding areas.

Local Tips
Give Back to your River Park!
When visiting, remember to ask for volunteer opportunities for all ages and levels of involvement. Look for the best program for you and your needs.

Mountain Bikers Favorites

Del Dios Gorge Trail is an easier trail that runs about 10.5 miles. It is a mostly flat trail and is popular with bikers, so keep an eye out! Beautiful plat life can be seen along the way with clear signage with information about what you are seeing.

If you are a mountain biker looking for a tough, long ride, do we have a trail for you! Raptor Hill via Mule Hill Trail is a 20.4-mile trail that takes you through farmland and over a river that cuts through the park. A steep climb awaits to take you to the summit to see a fabulous view of the surrounding areas.

Fun with your Dog

Dogs are allowed on most trails at San Dieguito River Park, but please remember to keep them on a leash. River Park recommends taking hikes early in the morning or late afternoons with your dog because of the heat. Make sure to bring plenty of water for you and your best friend.

While dogs are allowed, there are dangers out there for them. Rattlesnakes are known to be in the area and have been known to bite dogs on the nose. Keeping them on a leash helps prevent them wandering off into unattended areas where the snakes tend to live.

Remember to always check your dogs for fleas and ticks after your hikes.

Events at the Park

San Dieguito River Park hosts many events and opportunities to learn about the park throughout the year.

Farmers Market

Every Sunday, the North San Diego Certified Farmers Market is held at Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead. This is a great way to help support local communities and the economy.

Farmers, retailers and local bakers and chefs from the area gather together to help promote and sell their products. Once a month, the “Special Sunday” Market occurs with music and games for the whole family.

Calling Birdwatchers!

If you are interested in learning about birds, the River park hosts a Bird Count. On the first Sunday of every month, experts take visitors on a hike to San Dieguito Lagoon.

During this trip, you will learn about the habitat, migration traits, and behaviors of the lagoon birds. The hosts will also assist you in identifying the native lagoon birds.

Lend a hand!

San Dieguito River Park hosts volunteer opportunities for visitors to help give back. The Volunteer Habitat Restoration meets once a month on the first Saturday. Join a Park Ranger to help maintain the area.

During this experience, you will remove intrusive trash and plant life that could affect the wildlife of the area. You will also be planting native plants to help maintain the new restored area.

You can also volunteer to help maintain the trails throughout the park. While working with a Park Ranger, you will clear trash and brush off the trails and maintain their beauty.

The park will provide proper tools, gloves and training for both of these projects.

San Dieguito River Park also offers multiple opportunities for long term volunteer work.

Check out Crest Canyon

Crest Canyon is a small park located within the residential area of Del Mar and is part of San Dieguito River Park.

The canyon is made up of native coastal sage scrub and chaparral. Some of this plant life includes California sagebrush, buckwheat, black and white sage, goldenbush, toyon, California sunflower, Mexican elderberry, cudweed aster, and telegraph weed.

The rare Torrey Pine trees fill the bowl of the canyon. From down below, you can also look up and see prickly pear plants as well as Mojave yucca.

Crest Canyon is also an excellent park for bird watching, especially in the wintertime. Egrets, ducks and other shore birds take refuge in the canyon during those months.

While hiking through the canyon, keep an eye out for other wildlife. The area is known to have coyotes and a variety of snakes.

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Getting to San Dieguito River Park

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Driving to the park

San Dieguito River Park is located northwest of downtown San Diego and is approximately 30 minutes away from city life.

Take CA-163 N for about 11 miles until you reach the merge onto I-15N. From there, take I-15N for about 14 miles until you reach the W Bernardo Dr./Pomerado Rd (Exit 26).

Make a right onto Pomerado Rd until you reach Highland Valley Rd. Take that for approximately a mile and a half until you reach Sycamore Creek Rd. Follow for about 2 miles, and you will see the entrance to the park on your left.

If you are in the mood for a longer, more scenic route, you can travel via I-5N. This ride will take you along the coast where you can see beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean and native plant life. Take your time and cruise your way up as you enjoy beautiful San Diego.

Get on I-5N towards Los Angeles and take it for about 14 miles. Keep right at the fork to continue on I-5 Local Bypass N and follow signs for CA-56 E.

Keep right and continue on CA-56E/Ted Williams Freeway for about 10 miles. Take the exit for I-15N and follow the directions above. This leads you to the center entrance of the park.

The San Dieguito Lagoon can be accessed from San Andres Dr., off Via de la Valle.

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Things to know before departing for the River Park

Stay safe when visiting the park!

When traveling through San Dieguito River Park there are rules to help keep you safe that must be followed. Please remember to stay on designated trails and follow all information posted. This is for your own safety. Also, please remember to stay off the trails after nightfall.

Prohibited activities

Possession of firearms are strictly prohibited. Weapons of any kind are not allowed in the park. Open campfires and smoking are not allowed in the park. Also, please be aware that no overnight camping is allowed. There is no overnight parking in staging areas. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on any trails with the exception of service and emergency vehicles. Off-road vehicles are also prohibited.

Keep the park clean!

Please place all trash in proper receptacles. Destruction of any property is also prohibited and punishable by fine. This includes trail markers, fences, signs, and resources, which are all protected.

The collection of animals, plants or specimens in the park is strictly prohibited. These plants and wildlife are native to the area and removal causes harm to the ecosystem.

Bring along a 4-legged Friend

Dogs are allowed on the trails at San Dieguito River Park but must remain on a leash. Please keep leashed under 6ft long. Horses are also allowed on designated trails with the River Park.

Gone Fishin’

River Park is also home to designated fishing areas. Fishing and boating are allowed at Hodges Reservoir February-October on Wednesdays, Saturdays and at Sutherland Reservoir March-September on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

No boat? No Problem. Fishing is also allowed between the railroad tracks and Jimmy Durante Blvd. on the south side of the San Dieguito River. Also, near the river mouth west of Camino Del Mar at the San Dieguito Lagoon.

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