So I have to admit, when I think of great places to hike in San Diego, Chula Vista doesn’t always pop up real high on the list. But since we often find ourselves with the desire to go outisde and play, but not a lot of time to spend driving out to the mountains, I was happy to find a large swath of green showing up on Google Maps within a short distance of our house.
Further investigation showed that swath of green to be Otay Valley Regional Park, a riparian expanse straddling the southern border of Chula Vista. After a quick perusal of the available trail map, and with Google’s assurance that it was but a brief 15 minutes away, we grabbed our packs and headed out to explore.
We began our adventure at the park’s eastern most trailhead on Rancho Drive. One side of the street housed a large apartment building, the other side held the river valley. Right away we were confronted with several use paths and other trail branches that led in various directions, but the main trail was easy to pick out here since it was large, covered in gravel, and headed downwards towards the river.
We soon encountered a rather picturesque bridge which crossed Poggi Creek and were shortly confronted with another branch in the trail. As we soon discovered, there are a LOT of trail branches in the park. It is an elaborate spider web of use trails and access paths leading to local residential areas.
Once over the Poggi Creek bridge, we headed left since that headed deeper into the valley. The brush is so dense that you rarely actually encounter any water unless you’re crossing right over it… which we soon were, going over a small footbridge that led through an idyllic tunnel of overhanging trees.
And once again, the trail branched east and west. The eastern fork looked slightly more official, so that’s the direction we chose. The trail soon swung south and passed what appeared to be a partially harvested grove of eucalyptis trees and dune like mounds in the dirt, probably a fun place to mess around on a bike. Beyond the trees we could see the 805, but it was far enough away so as to not heavily detract from the sense of being in nature.
The trail led to the south side of the valley, where houses lined the hilltop. A path led east up the hill providing access to the canyon from the residential area, but we turned west and continued along the valley floor. Sure enough, before long another trail branched off on the left and paralleld the main trail. We stayed on the lower path since it seemed to have more flowers and plant life to enjoy.
At about 1 mile in, we finally came to the intersection we were looking for which leads to Finney Overlook. We headed left and up a bit of an incline before we came to the base of the narrow path which ascends about 130 feet to the top of the canyon in about .1 of a mile. Standing at the bottom and looking up, this looked like an intimidating climb, but it only took a couple of minutes and didn’t hurt too badly. Upon reaching the top of the canyon wall, we found a fenced off area partially blocking access to an outcropping which we assumed was Finney Overlook. The views from here were impressive, allowing us to see almost all of the valley as well as surrounding neighborhoods. The day was a bit hazy, but we could still see the coastline to the west and the distinctive profile of Mt. Miguel in the northeast.
We hung about enjoying the view and watching birds soaring at eye level for a little while, and satsified, headed back down to the valley. Sadly, once I got home and did some additional research, I found that this was not in fact Finney Overlook, it was apparently just a scenic patch of dirt on the way to Finney Overlook. The proper Finney Overlook has an elaborate picnic area and two amphitheatres “with interpretive shade structures” which apparently are the strange objects we had been puzzling over during the entire hike. Guess we have a reason to go back!
We continued along the trail, the next point of interest we were hoping to encounter was Le May Pond. At around 2 miles the trail split again – the main trail headed upwards to the left, and a narrow single track led towards the river on the right. As it appeared much more interesting, we chose the single track.
It wasn’t long before we reached the pond, but not before having the pleasure of being buzzed by a red-tailed hawk. And upon reaching Le May pond, we startled a Great Blue Heron who quickly flew away upon seeing our approach.
The path led right up to an open dirt patch along the edge of the pond, making for a very pleasant spot to sit and relax. I suspect this would be an awesome spot to set up for some bird photography as well.
Back on the trail again, we found yet another major split and stayed to the left to pass under the roadway (Beyer Way). Before going under the road, the trail made a sharp right, paralelling the road for a bit, and we discovered a shady patch full of flowers in bloom.
Traversing the underpass, we were quickly reminded that despite the beautiful pond and blooming flowers, this wasn’t exactly wilderness territory.
On the west side of the underpass, there was another major trail split, and we ended up turning right which took us to the north side of the valley. In retrospect, we should have turned left and stayed on the southern trail. We continued on through an increasingly urban stretch, enjoying such sights as construction equipment, abandoned shopping carts, and forsaken pants.
We eventually decided to turn around and head back the way we came. The only noteworthy events of the return trip were cutting accross the river once we reached the Finney Overlook, which shaved about 3/4 mile off the journey, and seeing an Egret flitting through the trees. As we climbed the path that would take us out of the valley and back to our car, I checked my GPS to see what our final mileage was… 6.66 miles. Seriously.
All in all it was a worthwhile endeavor. We intend to go back and do the trek in the opposite direction, from the Ranger Station along the south side of the river up to Finney Overlook and back. We will of course share that adventure here as well.
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Have you ever been to Otay Valley Regional Park? What else did we miss that we should look for next time? Let us know in the comments below!