Del Dios Highlands Preserve

Del Dios Highlands is a 774 acre preserve adjacent to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. The Preserve has one trail, a wide fire road, which begins along the Del Dios Highway and climbs just over 900 feet to an unnamed peak. The road then goes on to connect to the Elfin Forest trail system. Surrounded by a mix of chaparral and coastal sage scrub, the trail offers some superb views of nearby Lake Hodges and Olivenhain Reservoir.

The Preserve opens at 8am, and we got there shortly thereafter. While the weather had recently been cooler, we still wanted an early start on this exposed trail with its steep hills. We passed through the gate at the edge of the parking lot and set off on our way. The trail wasted no time before beginning to ascend.

We climbed steadily for about .15 miles until we had a brief level stretch. Looking southeast we had a nice view of Lake Hodges.

The respite didn’t last long and we were once again climbing uphill.

Around .35 miles we found a small overlook with more great views of lake Hodges. There was also a bench for those who were ready for a break.

We then continued our ascent up the hill. We found some trail markers indicating our progress at .5 miles, a nice touch seeing as there weren’t a lot of landmarks.

It was more and more uphill until about .75 miles, and the views grew increasingly more impressive.

The trail turned southwest, wrapping around the outside of the small peak we were slowly ascending. Turning the corner we found… more hills!

We now had great views of Harmony Grove to the north.

We soon came to what what was the steepest section of trail, made more fun by the presence of loose dirt and gravel. We were very glad we had brought our trekking poles.

The crazy steep section wasn’t terribly long, and we soon returned to normal steepness. We passed the 1 mile marker, knowing we were getting close to the top.

We now had great views to the west. We could see the parking lot and entrance to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in the valley below us, and looking out over the mountain tops we could see the blue of the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

The grade of the trail began to lessen as it made the few final twists to the top.

As we neared the summit we could see Olivenhain Reservoir just south of us.

Finally, around 1.2 miles, we reached the top. A large sign identified many of the major peaks surrounding us. We spent several minutes enjoying the views and picking out the nearby peaks.

If you’re not planning on extending your hike and visiting the Elfin Forest, this viewpoint would make an ideal turnaround point for normal people. We’re not normal of course, and wanted to continue on to the boundary of the preserve to ensure we’d hiked every inch of the trail. So we continued on for approximately an additional .1 mile until we reached the boundary between the Del Dios Highlands Preserve and Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. Then, having completed our goal, we retraced our route back to the car.

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From I-15, take the Via Rancho Pkwy exit, and head west on Via Rancho Parkway. Follow Via Rancho for approximately 3.3 miles, then turn left onto Del Dios Highway. Follow Del Dios Highway for approximately .5 mile – the entrance to Del Dios Highlands County Preserve will be on the right. map

Total Distance: 2.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 910 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: None
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
San Diego County Parks and Recreation – Del Dios Highlands Preserve
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

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