Daley Ranch – Engelmann Oak Loop

Hiking at Daley RanchDaley Ranch is a 3000 acre preserve in north eastern Escondido. It has over 25 miles of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, and leashed dogs. The preserve contains a variety of habitats including oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, grasslands, and riparian areas. It holds several ponds, and sits adjacent to Dixon Lake. You can view a map of the Ranch’s trails here.

We began at the Cougar Ridge trail head at the most northeastern part of the preserve. Our early morning start resulted in a heavy cloud cover and wonderfully cool temperatures. Knowing that the fog would burn off before long, we took advantage of the comfortable conditions while we could and set a brisk pace.

The Engelmann Oak Loop trail head at Daley Ranch

The trail wound around through some chaparral and oak trees before passing into a wide open grassy area. The grass and buckwheat surrounding us were various shades of gold, red and brown after a long hot summer, but the multitude of oak trees were still a lush green.
Cougar Ridge trail at Daley Ranch

The trail dipped down and passed through a tunnel of trees. Dried leaves scattered along the trail crunched beneath our feet as we passed.
Oak tress along the Cougar Ridge Trail

At aproximately ½ mile, we emerged from the cover of the trees and progressed up a steep incline for the next .1 mile or so. The misty fog shrouded the hill tops surrounding us, making it almost feel like a winter morning instead of late August.
A foggy morning at Daley Ranch

At ¾ mile, we came upon the intersection for the Engelmann Oak trail. This trail forms a loop which can be taken in either direction, connecting again with the Cougar Ridge trail about .8 miles from our current location. We took this first branch to traverse the loop clockwise.
Intersection for the Engelmann Oak trail

The trail immediately began a steep ascent, and we were grateful for the cool fog. We climbed steadily for about .15 miles.
Climbing the hills along the Engelmann Oak trail

The trail leveled out for a brief stretch, but then started to climb again. We alternated between inclines and level patches for the next ½ mile or so.
The Engelmann Oak trail

As we got higher, the fog got thicker, creating an eerie, other-worldly effect.
Fog shrouded trees at Daley Ranch

The trees were ghostly silhouettes all around us.
Fog obscured oak tree

To complete the early Halloween theme, enormous spiderwebs glistened in the grass on either side of the trail.
Branches covered in spider webs

Periodically we caught glimpses of blue as the sun valiantly fought to burn off the morning gloom.
Patches of blue sky seen through the fog

At 1.7 miles, we came to the turn off for the Bobcat trail on our right. This 1 mile single track cuts across the loop we were making and connects directly back to the Cougar Ridge trail. We were just getting warmed up at this point, so continued straight along the Engelmann Oak trail.
Intersection of the Bobcat trail

We climbed yet another small hill. The sun seemed to be winning its battle against the mist and the day was warming up.
Clear skies at Daley Ranch

After going back down another hill, we spotted a water tank ahead.
An old water tank along the Engellman Oak trail

Around 2 miles, oak trees began to line the side of the trail again. To the left, beyond the trees, we could just make out a valley still shrouded in fog.
Oak trees along the trail side

The Form of Burnt Mountain, spotted with white granite, began to emerge on our right. At 2.2 miles, we reached the intersection for the Burnt Mountain Trail. This is a short, ⅓ mile single track trail that cuts across the loop we were currently making. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go to the summit but skirts along the side of the mountain. We continued straight along the Engelmann Oak trail.
The Engelmann Oak trail

The trail soon started to turn towards the south and then west again. At 2.75 miles we passed the junction to the Hidden Spring trail which connects to the Jack Creek Meadow trail. Definitely an adventure for another day, as the temperature was continuing to rise.
Hidden Spring trail junction

We continued westward, with Burnt Mountain looming on our right. We shortly passed the other end of the Burnt Mountain trail, and then found ourselves walking through more shady oak goodness.
A shady oak grove at Daley Ranch

Around 3 miles the oaks gave way to more exposed chaparral again. Before long we came upon a break in the brush and caught a glimpse of Northern Escondido to the west.
View of northern Escondido

We found ourselves once again traversing some steep ups and downs along the trail. We were passed by a number of mountain bikers, most of whom were cautious and courteous as they came down the hills, but we did encounter one or two who were apparently practicing their ninja skills and did not attempt to try and make their presence known until they were right upon us. (My tip to bikers: If you’re not comfortable calling out to hikers “on your left” or something similar as you approach from behind, invest in some bells).
A rocky descent along the Engelmann Oak trail

At 3.4 miles, the Engelmann Oak trail came to an end as we reconnected with the Cougar Ridge trail. The left branch of Cougar Ridge continues on to connect with the Boulder Loop Trail and southern section of the ranch, but we headed right to get back to our starting point.
Reconnecting with the Cougar Ridge trail

We had some beautiful views to the west as made our way downhill.
Views to the west from the Cougar Ridge trail

The next ¼ mile was a steep and rocky descent.
A steep descent along the Cougar Ridge trail

Just shy of 4 miles we found the other end of the Bobcat trail. We soon entered another patch of thick oak trees.
Another shady expanse of oak trees

Emerging from the trees, we soon encountered the first turn off for the Engelmann Oak trail we had taken earlier, and continued straight along the Cougar Ridge Trail to return to the parking area.

View the full photo gallery

From I-15 take 78 East. 78 ends after approximately 1 mile. At this point turn left onto Broadway. Follow Broadway for approximately 6 miles to Cougar Pass Road. Turn right onto Cougar Pass and follow it to the trail head. Note: Cougar Pass Road is a rather narrow, winding road with some rocky, pitted spots. We made it successfully in a Honda Fit so its not that bad, just take it slow. map

Total Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Change: 1100 feet
Best Time of Year: Year Round. Hot in summer.
Dog Friendly?: Yes
Bike Friendly?: Yes
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of Escondido – Daley Ranch
Friends of Daley Ranch

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