5 Great San Diego Hikes

With one of the sunniest climates in the United States, San Diego is brimming with opportunities to explore the great outdoors. Miles of hiking trails exist to suit all levels of adventurers, but it’s the terrain options that make SD a geographic wonderland. With an overwhelming laundry list of options to consider, here are five first rate hikes guaranteed to provide panoramic beauty combined with moderate exercise. We give you 5 great San Diego hikes.


1 – Devil’s Punchbowl (Romona Waterfall)

Location – Ramona Waterfall

Distance – 4.2 Miles

Difficulty – Moderate

Don’t let the ominous name fool you – Devil’s Punchbowl is one of the more entertaining hikes in all of San Diego. Located inside the Cleveland National Forest, this gorgeous trail is an easy day trip for San Diegans in Southern or Central County. Regardless of your experience level, this 4.2 mile hike is rewarding, refreshing and engaging. However, a majority of this trail is uphill, so make sure to bring plenty of water, some comfortable shoes and a decent pair of shades. As a bonus, this trailhead ends at a gorgeous, cascading waterfall with a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. I’d highly suggest tackling this hike in the late spring when the water is just warm enough to be invigorating. Probably my personal favorite in all of San Diego.



2 – Potato Chip Rock (Mt. Woodson)

Location – Mt. Woodson

Distance – 6.9 Miles

Difficulty – Moderate

One of the more popular hikes in San Diego, the Mount Woodson Trail offers a nice challenge and a welcoming environment for newcomers. Since it is a trendy trail, don’t be surprised if you find yourself fighting the crowds. There’s a reason many San Diegans select this hike though – “Potato Chip Rock” boasts an outstanding 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding chaparral. As a result, it’s not unusual to see tourists and locals alike striking a pose for the camera on the now famous rock. Make sure to bring your camera, your best smile and a little originality. Maybe some patience too. This may not be the best path for beginners as it does get a bit strenuous and is fairly busy – but all the sweat is worth it for the jaw dropping vistas. A great hike for anyone new to the San Diego area or anyone with healthy visitors.



3 – Lake Poway Loop

Location – Poway

Distance – 2.7 Miles

Difficulty – Easy

If you’re more interested in a stroll than a challenging uphill battle, the Lake Poway Loop is right up your alley. Only reaching a maximum elevation of 509 feet, this trail is fairly flat with a relaxing free flowing atmosphere. Not as crowded or difficult as Potato Chip Rock, Lake Poway Loop is often frequented by joggers, runners and ambitious bikers looking for a light daily workout. The main loop is fantastic but it’s the trails connectivity that makes The Loop memorable. The trail boasts a multitude of less-frequented offshoots that taunt hikers to abandon the main path and blaze their own way. In addition, the Poway Loop links up with other prominent trails such as the Warren Canyon and Espola Trail so hikers have scads of options. Another one of the trails’ selling points is the location. Located on a beautiful park/campground, Lake Poway is perfect for a picnic, a day of relaxing fishing or a ride around in a paddleboat or canoe. The climate does tend to run a little on the sunny side though – so sunscreen is a must!



4 – The Slot

Location – Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Distance – 2.3 Miles

Difficulty – Easy

If you want to make a full day trip out of your hike, the Borrego Slot Canyon might be the way to go. Located in the Anza-Borrego desert, this trail is for adventurers that don’t mind a little dry heat. The Slot Canyons show a different side of San Diego and are a great reminder of San Diego’s diverse landscape. Though the hike is listed as a 2.3 mile journey, there is no formal trailhead or established markers. This can be a liberating experience to explore the desert surroundings outside of the normal, well-worn canyon path. A great isolated location far from the city, The Slot is also a great spot for camping. If you’re comfortable navigating the desert, The Slot is a fantastic option for either a day or overnight trip.



5 – Annie’s Canyon Trail (Mushroom Caves)

Location – Encinitas, CA

Distance – 4.0 Miles

Difficulty – Easy

One of San Diego’s best hidden gems, the mushroom caves are a fascinating dose of being encased in nature. Located just off the I-5 Freeway, the trail takes you past the San Elijo Lagoon to a collection of elevated sandstone caves. Previously off-limits, littered with trash and vandalized with graffiti, the trail has been cleaned and restored to its natural state. With a newly established trailhead and convenient climbing ropes, the hike now feels safe and respectable. Much like the Borrego hike, the mushroom caves are a “choose your own adventure” with a fair amount of offshoots and winding paths to different caves. The caves themselves are a marvel to crawl around or simply use for rest – plus they provide bonus views of the peaceful lagoon. Some of the graffiti still remains in the higher caves that reminds us that some damage cannot be undone. So if you choose to explore Annie’s Canyon Trail, please remember to be respectful of your surroundings.

Happy hiking and happy larking!