Lake Calavera Open Space Preserve is a very popular North County destination for hiking, biking, dog walking and trail running. There is an elaborate network of formal and use trails running throughout the preserve which makes it an excellent spot for exploration if you are so inclined. The route we followed is a fairly straightforward course that visits the area’s major features: Mount Calavera and Lake Calavera.
There are a number of trail heads one can use for accessing the preserve (see trail map for details), but only one has a formal parking lot, water, and restrooms: Oak Riparian Park in Oceanside. Starting here would also cause us to pass through some beautiful riparian oak woodland (the park is indeed appropriately named), so it seemed like a no-brainer.
Around .4 mile the boardwalk ended and we emerged from the dense foliage of the marsh. Ahead of us we could see our destination – the imposing form of Mount Calavera rising in the distance. It’s not actually a mountain, but a volcanic plug formed by the cooled and hardened lava that once flowed from the volcano’s opening.
A short way ahead we came to another junction just beneath a row of power lines. A wide dirt path to the left followed the course of the power lines up the hill. Also towards our left was a narrower single track which continued towards Mount Calavera. To the right a wide dirt path headed towards the lake. We’d be returning on the right fork, but for now took the narrow path to the left towards Mount Calavera.
We could clearly see the route up the hillside from here, but as we would soon discover once we were among the tall brush the elaborate network of use trails would make navigation a bit tricky. We ended up hitting a dead end or two and having to backtrack. In an attempt to spare you, Dear Reader, the same frustration, here is a rough diagram of the route that successfully got us up the mountain:
From the trail marker pictured above, we headed straight and then turned left at the first intersection. Just beyond that junction, we took the right hand fork going uphill. From there it was just a matter of choosing the most obvious route that went up. We quickly found ourselves on the wide, rocky path we had seen from the base of the mountain, and knew we were on the right track.
From below, the trail had looked very steep and sketchy and I had been a little concerned about slipping. However once on the trail, my fears were allayed as I found that the rocks here were quite firmly embedded in the ground and provided solid footing. While it was indeed steep, the ground was firm and we were able to ascend quickly.
We took a few minutes to enjoy the views. To the west we could see the Pacific Ocean and the communities of Carlsbad and Oceanside. Towards the northeast was Mount Palomar, and we could even see the snow-topped ridge of San Jacinto way in the distance.
Once again, there was a web of use trails crisscrossing the slope. We made our way towards the northwest edge of the ridge where we found a wide clearing.On the right side of this clearing we found a steep and somewhat eroded path that would eventually converge with the path that traveled along the cliffs.
We soon came to the quarry area, and could see the silhouettes of hikers who had chosen the more exciting route. Dirt and rock from the quarry had been used to build the dam below that created Lake Calavera.
We took a quick side trip through the brush here to find find some of the rock art that adorned the floor of the quarry. Among stacked cairns and other patterns laid out on the ground, we found the most impressive of the displays to be this labyrinth-like spiral design.
Crossing the dam, we were able to get a great view of the lake below. Numerous birds gathered along the shoreline and cruised through the water. We spotted Coots and Night Heron on the shore near us, and there were plenty of other birds far too away for us to identify.
There were a couple of trail branches off to the left that reconnected with the main trail, but we continued straight until we reached a major “T” junction. Here we turned right, following signs for the Creek Crossing.
From Highway 78 take the Emerald Drive exit. Head south on Emerald Drive and continue as it turns into Sunset Drive. Approximately .6 mile after exiting the freeway, turn right onto Emerald Drive again. Turn left onto Lake Blvd, and the park will be on your right in about .3 mile. If the parking lot is full, you can find street parking in the nearby residential area. map
|Total Distance:||3.4 miles|
|Difficulty:||Easy – Moderate|
|Total Ascent:||459 feet|
|Dog Friendly?:||Leashed dogs allowed|
|Bike Friendly?:||Bikes allowed|
|Facilities:||Bathrooms and drinking fountain at park|