Annie’s Canyon via N Rios Avenue (San Elijo Lagoon)


Annie’s Canyon, formerly known as the “Mushroom Caves,” in San Elijo Lagoon has quickly become one of San Diego’s “must-do” hikes. For years, the narrow sandstone slot canyon was officially closed to the public, but served as an illicit party spot. Thanks to a generous donation by someone known only as “Annie,” as well as tremendous effort by volunteers, the area has been cleaned up and a new trail known as “Annie’s Canyon Trail” has been established. The hope is that by opening the area to the public it will no longer be a desirable hangout for illegal activities.

We had previously hiked Annie’s Canyon by starting at the Solana Hills trailhead east of the canyon. Unfortunately, that trailhead has been temporarily closed due construction work. So we decided to do a shorter, easier route to Annie’s Canyon starting from the N Rios Avenue trailhead to the west.

We arrived early in the morning, hoping to beat the crowds, and parked along the street at the end of N Rios Avenue. The trail began at the end of the cul de sac, and we took the right fork leading east.

We had our first wildlife encounter right off the bat. A Mourning Dove perched on the fencepost, hardly flinching as we approached.

We followed the trail down a short hill.

The trail leveled out, and the brush cleared long enough to allow us a view of the wetlands.

We came upon a flock of Mourning Doves hanging out along the trail.

As we approached, the birds scattered, most taking up position in a dead tree on the side of the trail.

At .22 miles we came to a “Y” junction where the Gemma Parks interpretive loop split off on the left. This reconnects to the main trail further up, and we intended to return by that route. For now we stayed to the right for a more direct route to Annie’s Canyon.

The brush was lower growing along this section of trail, with buckwheat, sage and baccharis replacing the taller elderberry and willow trees we’d seen earlier.

At .32 miles we came to another “Y” junction. The right fork led up to another neighborhood access point. We stayed left.

Soon we could see I-5 in the distance. Birds in the lagoon below didn’t seem to be disturbed by the nearby traffic.

There were plenty of benches along the trail, offering some quiet spots to sit and enjoy the views. At .44 miles, across from one of these benches, we noticed a side trail leading off to the left. This led to the Gemma Parks Interpretive trail we had noticed earlier, and we made a note of this junction so we could take it on our way back.

At just over .5 mile, we came to the turn-off for Annie’s Canyon on our right.

We followed the path to the start of the loop that traveled through the canyon. If you don’t want to squeeze through the slot (which I do not recommend if you have a dog with you), you can head left to just visit the view point. We were going all the way though, so we turned right to head into the canyon.

The canyon started off nice and wide, with sandstone walls towering above us.

But as we continued, the trail began to narrow.

The trail bent east, narrowing down to the point where we had to squeeze through.

As we made our way through the narrowing canyon, we found the “mushroom cave” on the left. Despite all the restoration work that had been done in the canyon, the cave ceiling remained charred and the walls still showed deep carvings and paint, leading me to imagine how horribly defaced the entire area must have been before the restoration work had been done.

Past the cave, we continued to squeeze our way through the canyon, climbing upwards.

It didn’t take too long to reach the metal ladder that led us out of the tightest section of the slot.

From there it was just a bit further to the viewing area at the top.

At the top, we had a terrific view of the sculpted sandstone canyon walls.

We continued along the trail, following it down the outside of the canyon.

We soon found ourselves back on the main trail under a grove of towering Eucalyptus trees.

We turned left, retracing our route back towards the start, but around .9 mile we took a side trail on our right. This led to a section of the Gemma Parks Interpretive Loop, where we could enjoy some better views of the wetlands on our return journey.

We quickly came upon a “T” junction and turned left, heading west.

Soon, we found ourselves alongside a wide channel of water.

Ducks floated in the water, while various shorebirds wandered through the shallows looking for food.

Around 1.2 miles, the side trail curved back towards the north and rejoined the main trail. We turned right, and retraced our path back to the staging area.


View the full photo gallery

Directions:
From I-5, take the Lomas Santa Fe Dr exit, and head west on Lomas Santa Fe Drive. Turn right onto N Rios Avenue and continue to the end of the road and park along the street. The trailhead will be at the end of the cul-de-sac. map

Total Distance: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 180 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs are allowed, but not recommended through the canyon
Bike Friendly?: Bikes not allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None
Date Hiked: July 16, 2017

For more information, visit:
San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy – Annie’s Canyon Trail
San Diego County Parks and Recreation – San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
Virtual Tour of Annie’s Canyon
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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