Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve (East)

Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, with its long, looping trail system, year-round creek, and easily accessible waterfall, is a highly popular hiking destination. In addition to all of its many natural attractions, it is also home to the historic Rancho Penasquitos Adobe Ranch House. The Ranch House has a long history as a private residence and bunkhouse for ranch hands. You can incorporate a tour of the Ranch House into your hike if you like, or maybe just stop by to visit some of the barnyard animals that live on the grounds. Even if you bypass the Ranch House, the eastern half of Penasquitos Canyon offers a scenic and interesting hike along Penasquitos Creek to a small but scenic waterfall.

We began at the trailhead in the southwest corner of Canyonside Community Park. There’s another trailhead a little to the north on the west edge of the park you can start at (which skips the Ranch House), or you can follow the driveway that leads to the Ranch House from here. We decided to follow this trail south from the parking lot however.

We followed the path south for about .1 mile until we found a side trail on the right leading towards the Ranch House.

The path led us through some oaks and sycamores along Penasquitos Creek.

At .25 mile we came to the edge of the Ranch House parking lot.

The trail continued on the opposite side of the parking area, but we took a little detour to visit the Ranch House first by continuing west.

Across from the ranch house were some enclosures with goats and chickens, so we took a few minutes to say hello.

After visiting with the farm critters, we found the continuation of the trail on the far side of parking area and continued our hike.

The trail led north through a wide, dry field, ending at a “T” junction. We turned left, heading west.

A row of houses lay a short distance to the right – how awesome would it be to have such a nice set of trails in your backyard?

A little past the 1 mile point, the trail bent south and led back towards the creek.

Around 1.25 miles we came to a “Y” junction. The left fork led to the Penasquitos Creek Park crossing. We stayed to the right, heading west along the creek.

Being close to the creek meant we had some tall oaks to provide us shade.

Around 1.4 miles the trail moved away from the riparian strip and back into the more open fields. We came to a series of junctions where several side trails converged. You can take the narrow single track to the left to stick closer the creek, as well as avoid mountain bikers as they’re not allowed on the single tracks. We elected to continue straight on the main trail though. The paths converge farther up so take whichever you like. We elected to take the wider path this time, just because we’d done the single track on a previous trip and felt like mixing things up.

Around 2.4 miles we came to another large 4-way intersection. Carson’s Crossing lay to the left, and the waterfall was straight ahead. The path on the right led northward all the way to Del Mar Mesa Preserve. We continued straight.

Just a little past the 3 mile point we finally reached the turnoff for the waterfall, and turned left towards the creek.

The rocky slopes surrounding the waterfall area were packed with people, and even more were playing in the water below.

We took a few minutes to explore and get some pictures.

The water in the creek was shallow enough that it was possible to cross over to the other side and pick up the trail over there, but given the slippery rocks we decided not to risk our cameras unnecessarily. We headed back to the trail we’d come in on and retraced our route east.

Around 3.35 miles we reached the point where the single track trail and the wider path diverged, and this time we took the single track for a change of pace.

There were fewer people here, and no bikers.

Around 3.9 miles we reached Carson’s Crossing, and turned right to cross over to the other side of the creek for our return trip.

Here, near the water, the vegetation was lush and green, and towering oak trees provided welcome shade.

We followed the wooden footbridge across the creek and emerged from the riparian growth at a “T” junction.

We turned left to continue east, and found another junction where a single track spit off to the left along the creek, and a wider dirt path led straight. We took the single track to the left, but again, either route will get you back to the starting point.

We passed through a short, open grassy stretch, but soon found ourselves amid the lush riparian oak strip again.

Around 5.25 miles we came to a “T” junction near the Penasquitos Creek Park Crossing. The path to the right led out to the wider trail that paralleled the single track we were on. We took the left fork.

The trail led a short distance to another junction. The creek crossing lay to the left, and the single track trail we’d been travelling continued to the right. We turned right to continue on.

There were a number of partially bare Sycamore trees lining the trail around us, and we heard the tell-tale sounds of woodpeckers. We glanced around among the tree trunks above us, and sure enough spotted some acorn woodpeckers doing their thing.

The trail continued east through thick oaks and brush.

Around 5.75 miles the single track came to an end, merging with the main trail. We continued east on the wider dirt path.

A short distance beyond, another single track split off to the left. As before, either path will get you where you’re going. We took the single track on the left again, enjoying the quiet we’d been finding on the path less traveled.

This stretch of single track was fairly short, and we found ourselves reconnecting with the main trail once again at just under 6 miles.

Continuing east we found a stretch of the creek unobscured by vegetation.

On the right hand side of the trail, just past the creek, we found a sign pointing us towards Eichar’s Grave site.

A short distance to the side of the trail we found the grave site. A nearby plaque had some information about the man buried here, John Joseph Eichar, who was thought to be an employee at the Ranch House in the 1800’s.

After paying our respects to Mr. Eichar, we resumed our journey eastward.

Around 6.1 miles we came to another single track branching off to the left and followed it.

We got some more close up views of the flowing creek.

A very short distance beyond we came to the turn off for the Ranch House Crossing, and turned left to finally make our way back across the creek and to our starting point.

Once across the creek we followed the trail straight back to the parking lot at Canyonside Park where we had begun.

View the full photo gallery

From I-15 take the Mercy Rd/Scripps Poway Pkwy exit, and turn left onto Mercy Road. Follow Mercy Road for approximately 1.4 miles, then turn right onto Black Mountain Road. After .2 miles, turn left into Canyonside Park and find parking. The trailhead is located in the southwest corner of the park. map

Total Distance: 6.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 190 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed on main trail
Facilities: Bathrooms and water at park
Fees/Permits: None

For more information, visit:
City of San Diego Parks & Recreation: Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
County of San Diego Parks & Recreation: Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
Friends of Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve
Trail Map
View route or download GPX from CalTopo

Comments are closed.