Rancho La Costa is a habitat conservation area in Carlsbad and managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management, consisting of several non-contiguous parcels of land. We had previously hiked the Ridgeline Trail above Box Canyon. For this adventure we were hiking Denk Mountain, slightly east of the Ridgeline area.
Denk Mountain is home to a pretty extensive network of trails, so you can plot out routes of varying length and difficulty depending on what you’re after. This was our first time here, so we picked out a shorter route that looked like it would still hit the highlights as we explored the area: take the Switchbacks Trail to the viewpoint atop Denk Mountain, then descend along the Mule Deer Trail and connect back to the Switchbacks Trail.
We parked along the street amid a small throng of mountain bikers unloading their bikes. It should be noted that this is a very popular mountain biking spot, so be prepared to share the trail. The trailhead was easy to spot near the beginning of the street.
As promised by the name, the trail began to switch back up the flank of the diminutive mountain. It turned tightly at the end of each switchback, no doubt making for an exciting descent on bike. It also made for pretty easy going uphill on foot.
Our ascent was rewarded with some fantastic views. To the west we could see the blue expanse of Batiquitos Lagoon leading out towards the fogged-in Pacific Ocean.
At 1.15 miles, we came to a 4-way junction with the Mule Deer Trail. We made note of the crossing since we’d be returning on that trail, but for now we went straight, following the sign for “Switchbacks.”
We took the fire road to the right, aiming for the viewpoint. Almost near the top, we noted the Mule Deer Trail branching off to the side. We made a note of the junction as we’d be descending along that trail, but for now continued up the hill until we reached the top. The viewpoint consisted of a wide open area that allowed views in all directions. There was a kiosk with a trail map and other information, and a shaded picnic table on the north side.
This trail didn’t mess around with any gently graded curves winding leisurely along the hillside the way the Switchbacks Trail had. This trail cut diagonally down the flank of the mountain, descending quite efficiently. But although it was noticeably steeper than the Switchbacks had been, it really wasn’t all that bad – we dropped about 200 feet over the next .5 mile or so.
Around 2.6 miles, we found ourselves at the junction we had noticed on our way up where the Switchbacks and Mule Deer Trails crossed. You can take a left and follow the Switchbacks back to the start, but we were still in exploration mode and continued straight along the Mule Deer Trail.
Take 5 North to the the La Costa Ave exit. Turn right onto La Costa Ave and continue for 4 miles. Turn left onto Rancho Santa Fe Road. After .8 miles, turn right onto Camino Junipero, then in approximately .2 miles turn left onto Corte Romero. Park along the street and find the trail head at the beginning of Corte Romero. map
|Total Distance:||3.5 miles|
|Total Ascent:||690 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
For more information, visit:
City of Carlsbad – Rancho La Costa Preserve & Villages of La Costa Trail Guide
Center for Natural Lands Management – Rancho La Costa Preserve
View route or download GPX in CalTopo