Del Mar Mesa Preserve offers 8 miles of trails that wind through protected vernal pool habitat, oak riparian woodland, and chaparral covered hillsides. This area seems to be a favorite with local mountain bikers, so you’ll need to be prepared to share the trail, but there’s plenty of scenery to go around. The highlight of this area is the enchanting Tunnel 4 trail, which travels through a dense thicket of scrub oak and manzanita which form a natural tunnel.
We set off on an overcast morning, living up to San Diego’s traditional “May Gray.” We parked our car in front of some houses about half a block before the intersection of Rancho Toyon Place and Toyon Mesa Court.
We walked up Rancho Toyon Place and found the start of the trail on the right, just past the intersection.
From here the trail paralleled the road for about a quarter of a mile. We had some nice views down into the canyon below.
The trail left the road and turned right, passing behind a winding row of luxury homes.
The houses were pretty well hidden by brush and a hill to our left. On the right was the rugged slope leading down into the canyon. There were a few turn-offs on the right which we ignored.
Finally, around .9 mile we spotted a large intersection with a kiosk denoting the entrance to the Del Mar Mesa Preserve on our right.
From the kiosk, we stayed to the left, following the wide dirt fire road slightly uphill.
In a short distance where the road leveled out, we came upon a “Y” junction. The left fork leads to the Bowtie Rim Trail, which reconnects to the fire road eventually, so you can take that way if you want to add a small amount of distance to your hike. We stayed right, taking the more direct route.
In the distance we could see a grove of tall, towering eucalyptus trees.
We continued along the fire road until 1.2 miles when we came upon a 4-way junction. To the left was the other end of the Bowtie Rim Trail, and the path to the right led to the Eucalyptus Grove – this is the path we’d be returning on. For now, we continued straight along the fire road.
There were numerous deep puddles along this stretch of road.
At 1.45 miles we came upon another large “Y” junction, and kept to the right.
As we passed one of the puddles along the road, I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. Upon close inspection, we found a small toad quickly making his way towards the brush on the side of the road.
We continued straight along the fire road until 1.75 miles, where we came upon a large junction near the power lines. We turned right.
We quickly came upon another “Y” junction where we stayed right again to descend Cardiac Hill.
From the top of the hill, we had some excellent views into the canyon area below.
We made our way down the rocky hill. We were passed by numerous mountain bikers grinding their way up the long, steep incline.
At the bottom of the hill was Deer Creek. There were some stones and shallow spots on the right edge of the trail that made for a relatively easy crossing.
On the far side of the creek, we went uphill a short way until we found a narrow single track branching off to the right.
We turned right onto the Deer Canyon Trail.
We were surrounded by the lush, green brush we’d been admiring from the top of Cardiac Hill. The chamise was beginning to bloom, and we noted small colorful flowers along the edges of the trail.
We followed the undulating course of the trail until about 2.35 miles, where we found an unmarked “T” junction.
We turned right following the path downhill into a magical tunnel of trees.
We went downhill a short way and crossed back over Deer Creek.
Shortly after the creek crossing was another “T” junction. We turned right, continuing through the tunnel of trees.
Twisted scrub oaks blocked the sun, creating an otherworldly effect.
Around 2.5 miles the trail turned left, turning into the “Tunnel 4” Trail. We also found a wooden bench, creating a fantastic spot to sit and enjoy the surroundings (and watch the endless stream of mountain bikers ride by).
Continuing on, we found more of the lovely dark tunnel of trees, now draped in flowing wild grape vines.
The trail wound gently uphill. We had to stop pretty frequently to let bikers pass, but they were all very polite and friendly so we had no problems sharing the trail.
Finally, at just over 3 miles, we emerged from the enchanting tunnel of brush.
We followed the trail uphill a short ways to find ourselves at the eucalyptus grove we had noted near the start of our hike.
The road continued through the grove and then to the 4-way intersection where we had started our loop. We turned left onto the large fire road, and retraced our route back to our starting point.
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From CA-56, take the Carmel Country Road exit. Head south on Carmel Country Road for approximately .4 miles. Turn left onto Del Mar Mesa Road. Follow Del Mar Mesa Road for approximately 1.7 miles until it turns right and becomes Little McGonigle Ranch Road. Continue on Little McGonigle Ranch Road for approximately .3 miles, then turn left onto Del Vino Court. After .1 mile, turn right onto Rancho Toyon Place. Go about .2 miles down Rancho Toyon Place and park along the street where you can, before the intersection with Toyon Mesa Court. Find the start of the trail on the right side of Rancho Toyon Place just past Toyon Mesa Court. map
||Leashed dogs allowed
For more information, visit:
Friends of Del Mar Mesa
View route or download GPX from CalTopo