Of the many canyon open spaces in the City of San Diego, Los Penasquitos is the largest. Stretching some 7 miles between the 805 and 15 freeways, the Preserve contains a wide array of interesting scenery to enjoy. It is home to grassy hillsides, chaparral covered slopes, enormous groves of Sycamore trees, and expansive stands of oaks. Penasquitos Creek, a year-round stream, runs through the center of the canyon and provides the Preserve’s most alluring feature: an easily accessible waterfall.
Los Penasquitos is a fun place because its so large. Trails run along both the north and south sides of the creek, and a series of small footbridges periodically span the water, connecting the north and south trails. There are numerous access points into the canyon from dedicated parking lots, local parks, and residential neighborhoods. This makes it easy to plan a hike that is as long or as short as you like.
We set out one late winter morning to hike a loop that would encompass the western side of the Preserve, stopping at the waterfall to check out the flow, then crossing the creek and coming back up the other side. We began from the parking lot on Sorrento Valley Boulevard.
We stepped through the metal gate and started down the wide dirt trail. Tall, leafless sycamore trees hung over our heads, and a multitude of dormant bushes stood tangled in the creek on either side of us.
We emerged from the overpass and we found a much more pleasant vista before us. Winter rains had left the hillsides green and lush. We climbed a small hill and left the noise of Sorrento Valley Boulevard behind.
Climbing back down the other side of the hill, we could see the trail leading down closer to the creek. Sycamores grew thick along the creekside, and we found ourselves entering more dense vegetation. It was noticeably cooler and damper in the shade of the oaks, sycamores and willows in this area, and we encountered a few small muddy patches in the middle of the trail. The sound of running water on our left mixed with the constant chirps and songs of birds that hopped through the brush around us.
At just over 2 miles we came to the Sycamore Crossing. Appropriate quantities of Sycamore Trees, with a few Eucalyptus mixed in for good measure, lined the creek in this area. But once again, we continued straight along the south side trail.
Soon enough the trees gave way to low growing chaparral and coastal sage scrub habitat. The cool damp of the shady trees dissipated and we found ourselves quickly warming up in the more exposed environment.
After hanging out for a bit and having a snack, we climbed back up to the trail and turned left, continuing eastward. Around 2.9 miles we came to a junction. To the left was a single track while the main road continued on the right. Both paths eventually reconnect, so we could go either way, but the single track looked quieter and less traveled (and no bikes were allowed), so we decided to go that way.
As we had hoped, this path was much quieter, and we didn’t encounter anyone on this section of trail. We briefly passed through an idyllic grove of oaks before the trail met up again with the main path.
Eventually we moved on and emerged from the trees on the other side of the creek. Once again, we had our choice of a narrower, bike-free path, or the wider dirt road beyond. We took the first option and turned left down the narrower path.
The trail wound westward, paralleling the course of the creek on our left. At first we were along the outside edge of the oak trees that lined the creek, but soon we found ourselves enveloped in the tall trees.
From here the trail rose slightly higher above the course of the creek to our right. Instead of the shady oaks we had been enjoying earlier, we were once again surrounded by vast swaths of chaparral. Two narrow footbridges spanned some of the canyon’s natural contours and made for an easy journey.
From here, we retraced our original path less than a mile back to the parking area.
From 805-N, take exit 27B for Sorrento Valley Road. Turn left onto Vista Sorrento Parkway and continue for approximately 1 mile. Turn right onto Sorrento Valley Blvd. The trailhead will be on your right in just under 1 mile. map
|Total Distance:||7.4 miles|
|Total Ascent:||300 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Port-a-potty in parking lot, no water|
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