Like its name implies, Horsethief Canyon was once used by thieves to corral stolen horses before heading for the Mexican border. These days the area has a less notorious reputation, and is more frequently visited by hikers than criminals. This hike travels along the western section of the Espinosa trail, through some stunning oak woodlands to the beautiful Pine Creek. As with most water sources in San Diego, you’ll want to do this hike in winter or early spring to maximize your chances of actually finding water. Also note that this is a “reverse” hike – you’ll be doing the easy downhill hike into the canyon at the start, and the more rigorous uphill climb out of the canyon comes at the end.
Following the sign that said “Espinosa Trail to Secret Canyon Trail,” we passed through a metal pipe gate, then walked downhill a short ways to where we connected with the fire road. It was a beautiful, clear morning that was quickly warming up.
We were losing elevation quickly and even though this was a short hike, we were already somewhat dreading having to climb back up this slope on the way out. Hills always seem much more formidable when they’re at the very end of a hike, standing in between you and your air conditioned car.
From here it was a short descent to the creek. As we came down the hill we were pleased to see there was still some water in the creek. There was only a small stream flowing, but a wide pool of cool clear water remained, awaiting hot hikers.
There was a use trail traveling upstream which we explored for a little bit, but soon got turned around by some prolific poison oak. We decided to take the hint and just enjoy the pool near the trail.
The Espinosa Trail crosses the creek here and continues on the other side, where it eventually reaches the trail head for Corte Madera and Los Pinos Peak. With two cars and some planning you can do a nearly 8 mile point to point along the trail. We were being less ambitious today however, and made this our turnaround point. After a relaxing break, we returned the way we had come.
Take I-8 east to the Tavern Road exit. Turn right (south) onto Tavern Road. Continue on Tavern Road for approximately 2.8 miles where it will turn into Japatul Road. Continue on Japatul Road for approximately 7 miles. Turn right onto Lyons Valley Road and continue for 1.5 miles until you see the sign for the Japatul Fire Station on the left. Turn left onto the Forest Service Road 16S04 and the large parking area will be on your left. map
|Total Distance:||3.6 miles|
|Total Ascent:||613 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes not allowed|
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