Once threatened by development, Daley Ranch is now a 3058 acre habitat conservation area in northeastern Escondido. With over 20 miles of trails to explore, it is a popular spot for hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers. The Boulder Loop Trail is a scenic hike in the southwestern portion of the property with some decent hills to conquer.
We were getting somewhat of a late start, arriving at the trailhead around 10 am. The parking lot was quite full at this point, but we managed to snag a spot as someone was leaving. There is additional parking available across the street at Dixon Lake, but they charge $5 on weekends and holidays, so I recommend getting an early start if you’re not doing this hike on a weekday.
We set off up the paved Ranch House Road.
The climbing began immediately and it felt good put our legs to work.
The hills on either side of us were covered in the typical mix of coastal sage scrub and chaparral. In late summer, the brush was mostly deep gold and browns of dried grass, sagebrush, and buckwheat, but green stands of laurel sumac and the occasional oak could be seen as well.
Around .4 mile we crested the first hill and began a gentle descent. We came to a bench and a small overlook area on the right side of the trail and took a moment to enjoy the views.
At .5 mile the Middle Pond Trail branched off to the right. We continued straight along the main road.
The landscape gradually transitioned into riparian oak habitat as we continued. Tangles of Engelmann and Coast Live Oaks surrounded us.
At .65 mile we found the southern end of the Boulder Loop trail on the left.
We turned here and began to climb up the wide, dirt trail.
The main road had been pretty busy with other hikers and runners, but once we turned onto the Boulder Loop Trail the crowds thinned considerably.
Around .83 miles the road made a hard right turn and continued steeply uphill.
Pausing to turn around and enjoy the views, we could see Dixon Lake in the southeast.
The trail climbed steadily until about the 1 mile mark, where it mostly leveled off.
We enjoyed the brief respite, and were able to admire the prolific bushes of white sage growing along the trail and boulder-dotted hillsides that no doubt were the inspiration for the trail’s name.
Just under 1.2 miles the Rock Ridge Trail split off to the right. This trail bisects the Boulder Loop so you can have a somewhat shorter loop or just do something different.
We continued straight along the Boulder Loop Trail, heading for a tree where a large flock of birds was hanging out.
Continuing on, the trail sloped very gently uphill.
Around 1.5 miles we had a short but steep ascent as the trail bent to the right (north).
More boulder studded hills dominated the landscape.
Just under 1.9 miles, an unmarked trail branched off to the left. The left fork just leads a short way to a closed gate and closed area, so we kept to the right.
The trail started uphill again, with more boulders and oak trees adorning the trailside.
At 2.1 miles, the other end of the Rock Ridge Loop reconnected with the Boulder Loop. Again, we continued straight.
Most of the climbing was behind us at this point, and we were able to just relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
At 2.4 miles we encountered one more small hill with a shaded bench at the top.
At the top of the hill, the Cougar Ridge Trail branched off to the left.
The views from the hilltop were fantastic. Stanley Peak stood prominently in the east.
The trail quickly turned southeast, heading back towards the Ranch House Road. The clouds were burning off quickly and this section of trail was completely exposed to the sun. I was glad we were headed downhill.
As we continued down the slope, more oak trees began to appear to offer us some welcome shade. At the bottom as the trail leveled out, we once again found ourselves in a shady riparian area.
But all too soon the trail left the cool corridor of oak trees and into an open grassy area alongside the trees.
At 3.25 miles the Crest trail branched off to the left, heading back towards the Cougar Ridge Trail. We continued straight.
In a short distance we reached the paved Ranch House Road.
We turned right and in less than .1 mile passed the southern end of the Boulder Loop where we had started. From here, we retraced our route along the Ranch House Road back to the parking area.
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From I-15, take the exit for El Norte Parkway and head east on El Norte Parkway for approximately 3.2 miles. Turn left onto La Honda Drive and follow La Honda for approximately 1.3 miles to the Daley Ranch entrance. Parking for Daley Ranch will be on the left at the end of the road, additional parking can be found to the right at Dixon Lake, however there is a fee ($5) to park there during weekends and holidays. map
||Leashed dogs allowed
||Water spigot at trailhead, restrooms at Dixon Lake
For more information, visit:
City of Escondido: Daley Ranch
Friends of Daley Ranch
View route or download GPX from CalTopo