Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve (West)

20150125DSC_6546Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6463Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6464Los Penasquitos

After a couple of hundred feet we came to a “T” junction. To the right was the fork leading to Lopez Canyon, and to the left lay our current destination – Los Penasquitos Canyon.20150125DSC_6466Los Penasquitos

Turning left, the trail wound around below an overpass. The still waters of Penasquitos Creek lay to our left.20150125DSC_6470Los Penasquitos

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. 20150125DSC_6476Los Penasquitos

At .75 mile we encountered the first of the creek crossings – Wagon Wheel Crossing. We’d be coming back from that direction, but for now continued straight along the south side trail.20150125DSC_6485Los Penasquitos

At 1.1 mile we climbed a relatively small hill. It was still enough to give us some nice views of the creek and canyon the lie to the north.20150125DSC_6510Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6522Los Penasquitos

At 1.75 mile we encountered another fork. We stayed straight on the main trail as the fork was just a small use trail that reconnected shortly.20150125DSC_6526Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6536Los Penasquitos

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. 20150125DSC_6538Los Penasquitos

Before long we found ourselves climbing another hill. At 2.45 miles, as we reached the top, we got a glimpse of the waterfall area ahead.20150125DSC_6542Los Penasquitos

After one more short hill, we came to a sign guiding us to the left towards the falls. We made our way down the rocky steps to the creek below. 20150125DSC_6561Los Penasquitos

The water level wasn’t terribly high, not surprising considering the disappointing winter. But there was still enough to appreciate as it cascaded over the rocks. 20150125DSC_6555Los Penasquitos

There were several groups of people on both sides of the creek, climbing over the rocks and exploring the area. We climbed up along some rocks downstream to get a better view.20150125DSC_6559Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6564Los Penasquitos

The trail skirted the edge of a grassy meadow, with the oak and sycamore lined creek hidden from view on our left. 20150125DSC_6567Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6577Los Penasquitos

Back on the main path, we continued for a short while in the shade of overhanging trees.20150125DSC_6582Los Penasquitos

Soon the trees gave way to more open grass, and at 3.5 miles we found the sign for Carson’s Crossing on our left.20150125DSC_6587Los Penasquitos

We followed the path into the dense foliage along the creek to a wooden footbridge that spanned the water.20150125DSC_6595Los Penasquitos

We paused for a few moments on the bridge to enjoy the tranquil spot. The clear water moved placidly downstream, and the banks of the creek were covered in long green grass. 20150125DSC_6597Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6605Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6608Los Penasquitos

At 4.2 miles we reconnected with the main trail and continued west.20150125DSC_6616Los Penasquitos

A few more minutes brought us to the north side of the waterfall, and we headed down for another look.20150125DSC_6619Los Penasquitos

There were quite a few more people on the opposite bank then when we had been there a short while earlier. We snapped a few quick pictures and continued on our way.20150125DSC_6623Los Penasquitos20150125DSC_6624Los Penasquitos

The trail soon split again, and again, both paths would end up in the same spot. 20150125DSC_6625Los Penasquitos

We took the left fork so we could try and get some more views of the waterfall from afar.20150125DSC_6631Los Penasquitos

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.20150125DSC_6637Los Penasquitos

Soon we could see the skeletal shapes of leafless, late-winter sycamore trees lining the creek to our left. We passed the aptly named Sycamore Crossing and continued on.20150125DSC_6652Los Penasquitos

The trail wound its way gently up a small rise surrounded by green grass.20150125DSC_6664Los Penasquitos

Around 5.75 miles we noted a side trail marked “Side Hill” leading up the hill towards a local residential area.20150125DSC_6671Los Penasquitos

Eventually the trail dropped back down to the floor of the canyon, and became enveloped once again in brush.20150125DSC_6688Los Penasquitos

When we emerged from the thick bushes, we could see some of Sorrento Valley’s many office buildings in the distance atop the canyon wall.20150125DSC_6689Los Penasquitos

Finally, at 6.6 miles we came to the Wagon Wheel Crossing.20150125DSC_6693Los Penasquitos

We followed the narrow path through the riparian brush to a small wooden footbridge.20150125DSC_6696Los Penasquitos

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
Difficulty: Moderate
Total Ascent: 300 feet
Dog Friendly?: Leashed dogs allowed
Bike Friendly?: Bikes allowed
Facilities: Port-a-potty in parking lot, no water
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

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