Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve

Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon

The Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve, managed jointly by the County of San Diego and cities of Poway and Santee, lies just west of Highway 67. The Preserve contains a wide variety of scenery and habitat, including mixed sage scrub and chaparral covered hills, open grasslands, and riparian creekside. It has an extensive history as well, it has been home to the Kumeyaay Indians and was a working ranch for many years. Nowadays, the Preserve is a popular hiking and mountain biking destination.

There are two main trailheads and approximately 10 miles of trails at Sycamore Canyon. We were looking for a somewhat long hike, so decided to do a large loop encompassing the majority of the Preserve. We started at the Highway 67 staging area, but could have just as easily started at the Goodan Staging area on the north side of the Preserve, since the loop passes through both. Either way results in ending with an uphill climb, but neither hill is terrible.

We missed the turn-off from Highway 67 the first time around, and had to double back to find the entrance. This might be a good reason to start at the other trailhead, but we were already there. We drove down a dirt road, which was a bit bumpy but otherwise well-maintained, and found the large parking area at the end of the road. The trailhead was located at the southwestern end of the parking lot.

We set off along the aptly named Ridge Trail. The trail undulated along the hilltops, surrounded by a uniform carpet of chaparral all around us, with the occasional yucca or prickly pear cactus to keep us on our toes.

The trail was steep and rocky in sections, gentle and level in others. To the north we could see down into Sycamore Canyon, and to the the south were rolling green hills. At 1.2 miles we turned right and began descending down a steep and rocky hill. The trail made a couple of switchbacks, providing some nice views of a dry creekbed below. At 1.8 miles we crossed a metal gate and encountered a wider dirt path, where we turned right.

There were a couple of small single track trails that branched off to the left. Staying on the main trail soon brought us to a large gate.

At 2.1 miles we found a marked intersection and turned left to take the Western Trail. We could have stayed on the fire road and ended up in pretty much the same place as they parallel each other, but we went for the more intimate single track option provided by the Western Trail.

Upon reaching the Western Trail we turned right.

We began to encounter more oak trees as we walked, and at 2.6 miles noted the Goodan Ranch Center (a Visitor Center like building, combining a museum and office space) to our right. We headed down along a small use trail to reach the Visitors’s Center and the remnants of the Goodan Family’s stone house, which had burned in the Cedar Fire.
Remains of the Goodan House

We spent a little while checking out the old house and exploring the Visitor’s Center. Besides bathrooms and water, they had a number of displays relating to the history of the ranch as well as wildlife in the area. They even had some live rattlesnakes in terrariums, and other interesting exhibits.

After exploring the Visitor’s Center we retraced our steps back to the trail, and continued on our way. The trail went up a small hill that was just high enough to give us a nice vantage of the valley.

Right around the 3 mile point we reached the Main Road Crossing.

This 5-way intersection offered a lot of choices. To the right was the main road heading back towards the Visitor’s Center. Across the road, heading southeast was a direct route up to Cardiac Hill and back to our starting point – but we weren’t ready to head home quite yet. The leftmost fork went northwest into the new Mission Trails West Sycamore trail system (writeup coming soon!). We turned left on the main Sycamore Canyon Road towards the Goodan staging area.

This was a wide dirt road in relatively good condition, where we encountered vehicles, equestrians, hikers, dogs, and mountain bikers. We enjoyed a flat, easy stroll for about ½ a mile, then climbed a steep uphill grade to reach the Staging Area.

The staging area was full of large groups of mountain bikers preparing for their rides. We picked up the Martha’s Grove Trail on the right side of the parking area. This trail was narrow, windy and had many small ups and downs, seemingly an ideal place for mountain bikers. This assumption was confirmed by the numerous riders that passed us yelling “Woohooooooo” as they raced down the trail.

As we wound our way along the hillside, we could see down into the canyon below us to the small grove of oak trees for which the trail was named. The oaks had lost their leaves in the fall, leaving only their limbs, blackened by fire, poking up from the canyon bottom.

We continued down the hill, pausing occasionally to let mountain bikers pass, and at 4.6 miles reached the Marth Harville Memorial Oak Grove. The Grove is dedicated to a park ranger, Martha Harville, who worked at the park. There was a sign with a detailed account of her career, as well as benches and a picnic table, providing an idyllic spot for some rest and reflection.

Beyond the grove, the trail wound through the canyon bottom along a dry creek. We passed a few more sporadic oak trees, but mostly the trail was exposed chaparral.

As we continued on, the brush began to thin out and give way to sparse green grass. At 5.6 miles we came upon another large intersection, where we turned left to ascend Cardiac Hill.

The hill itself was not quite as bad as the name implied. While it was a solid one mile uphill climb, it was only really steep at the very beginning and then again near the end. Most of it was a gradual incline.

As we got close to the top, we were able to get some beautiful views of the valley below us.

At 6.8 miles we passed through a gate and reached the Sycamore Park Drive – the road we’d come in on. Turning right, it was just another .1 mile to reach the parking area and our car.

View the full photo gallery

The entrance is located on the west side of Highway 67, approximately .7 miles south of Scripps Poway Parkway. The entrance is bit difficult to see, so look for the brown directional signs about 1/2 mile before the turn off both north and south of the turn off. Then keep your eyes open for the break in the yellow line dividing the lanes which indicates where to make the turn. Follow the dirt road 1.3 miles to where it ends at the parking lot. map

Total Distance: 6.9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 1630 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Porta-Potty at trailhead, water and bathrooms at Visitor’s Center 2.6 miles in
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
County of San Diego – Goodan Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve
Trail Map

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