Chollas Lake

20150712_DSC2732-EditChollasSoutheast San Diego isn’t exactly renowned for its outdoor recreational opportunities. But like so many other areas in the county, one can find small islands of natural areas tucked away amid the urban sprawl. One such example is Chollas Lake Park, located about a quarter mile up the road from a large shopping center in Oak Park, just off Highway 94.

Despite having lived within 10 minutes of this park for the past 19 years, we had only recently learned of its existence. One Sunday morning, when it was too warm to tackle a more ambitious hike, we decided to head out and explore the park.

There are several separate parking areas at the lake, but we chose the eastern lot since it was the first one we came to. From the parking lot, we headed down towards the water to pick up the trail. The path loops around the lake so you can start at whatever point you like. In addition to the loop around the lake, there are some additional side trails and loops on the west side that you can combine for hikes of various lengths.

We set off in a clockwise direction. The path was cool and shaded by towering eucalyptus trees on both sides. The trail was busy with walkers, runners, and dog-walkers, but it still managed to provide a feeling of quiet peacefulness.20150712DSC_1699Chollas

Rounding the first bend, an alternate course (the “Nature Trail”) branched off to the right. This trail went up the hillside a ways and eventually reconnected with the main trail. We wanted to stay along the water, however, so continued on the main path.20150712_DSC2657-EditChollas

Along the shore of the lake was a flock of geese, most of which were settled down for a snooze. A couple of the birds were still awake, however, and posed for some pictures.20150712_DSC2662-EditChollas

The designated duck section was apparently a few dozen feet away, and they were having nap time too.20150712_DSC2656-EditChollas

Picnic tables were located at various points along the trail. Some were near the water, but a handful were in slightly more secluded spots among the trees.20150712DSC_1714Chollas

Several fishing piers jutted out from the lake’s shore.20150712DSC_1717Chollas

Just past the .3 mile marker we reached the far edge of the lake. You can cut across the dam here and head back for a short .8 mile loop.20150712_DSC2689-EditChollas

But we decided to keep going on a bit and explore the nearby urban canyon area. As we passed the dam, on our right was a group picnic area where a large group of people were doing Tai Chi.20150712_DSC2688-EditChollas

We went downhill, through a large grove of eucalyptus trees.20150712_DSC2691-EditChollas

We passed through an open chain-link fence, and the trees gave way to a wide, open urban canyon.20150712_DSC2692-EditChollas

Walking through the chaparral filled canyon, watching butterflies flit through the brush, it was hard to believe we were only about a mile away from Wal-Mart.20150712_DSC2695-EditChollas

We soon came to another parking lot near the baseball diamond. We continued straight, past the ball field and across the lot, until we picked up the trail again on the other side.20150712_DSC2696-EditChollas

We passed through another chain link fence and encountered a “T” junction. The right fork led up the hill to a loop around the baseball field, which would then loop back the way we had come. We decided to go left, back into the shady eucalyptus trees, and loop back on the south side of the park.20150712_DSC2698-EditChollas

We crossed a small wooden footbridge and turned right.20150712_DSC2702-EditChollas

We soon came to a chain link fence. On the other side were some houses and a residential area. There was a rather elaborate network of use trails around here, so we chose one at random that pointed back the way we had come to begin our return trip.20150712_DSC2704-EditChollas

We quickly met up with a wide dirt path heading east and strolled along in the cool shade.20150712_DSC2709-EditChollas

Soon enough we were back at the parking lot near the baseball diamond, and picked up the trail again. Rather than retracing our original route, we found a path that looked like it passed along the south edge of the park and headed that way.20150712_DSC2711-EditChollas

The path began to climb upwards towards the rim of the canyon.20150712_DSC2714-EditChollas

At the top of the hill, we found yet another open chain link gate.20150712_DSC2718-EditChollas

Just beyond was a steep set of wooden risers that led to the park’s other parking area – Gloria’s Mesa.20150712_DSC2720-EditChollas

We stayed on the path near the fence, passing through some unused picnic areas and stopping to to admire some of the local wildlife.20150712_DSC2723-EditChollas

We followed the path back down the hill and reconnected with the south end of the lake.20150712_DSC2731-EditChollas

We went out onto the dam a little ways just to check out the view.20150712_DSC2733-EditChollas

Then we continued down the path along the southern shore. Here, the tranquility of the park was slightly disrupted by the sound of traffic on the nearby College Grove Drive, but overall it was still pretty quiet.20150712_DSC2746-EditChollas

There were some thick reeds along the edge of the water here.20150712_DSC2750Chollas

More picnic and barbecue areas could be found amid the trees on the water’s edge.20150712DSC_1763Chollas

There was even a small playground for kids to enjoy.20150712_DSC2753Chollas

Soon enough, we were back at the parking lot, and headed back to the car.

View the full photo gallery

From Highway 94, take the College Ave exit. Head north on College Ave, then turn left onto College Grove Drive. Proceed .7 miles, the entrance to Chollas Lake Park will be on the right. map

Total Distance: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Total Ascent: Negligible
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Bathrooms and drinking fountains at lake
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of San Diego Parks & Recreation: Chollas Lake Park
View trail map

One thought on “Chollas Lake

  1. Noreen M. Anthony-Tabar says:

    I just read about Chollas Lake park, and I was at those spot the author was at. It surprised me on this park, at least this year 2015 I came back to it. The last time I was there about 3 years ago, there was a cabin and what looked like a homeless man living out of it is now locked with window bars and door locked. So a little safer, and there is a couch with a book shelf with books in them. Interesting. Thanks for the review.